Amanda Watson
News Editor
3 minute read
7 Mar 2016
5:52 pm

The war on poaching

Amanda Watson

By the end of December 2015, the number of poached rhinos was 1 175, of which 826 were in the Kruger National Park.

This week, The Citizen will be in Mozambique’s Parque Nacional do Limpopo to see firsthand the effect the Memorandum of Understanding signed by South Africa and Mozambique in 2014 and other interventions have had on poaching.

Last year, 315 poachers were arrested, with at least two killed this year in an exchange of gunfire after tourists reported a suspicious person in the bush, the first time tourists have come face to face with poachers.

By the end of December 2015, the number of poached rhinos was 1 175, of which 826 were in the Kruger National Park.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, police and army special forces, dog handlers, night search capable multi-million rand helicopters and multi-government co-operation, are all being used in an effort to catch insurgents bent on stripping South Africa of its prized natural resources.

It’s an all out war in anything but name in the jewel of South Africa’s National Parks, Kruger National Park as a relatively small team of less than 700 rangers battle an army of up to 1 500 poachers a year who move in groups of three from Mozambique on the hunt for that most useless of trophies, rhino horn, for use in east Asian markets.

In terms of an army presence, last tell was that “Operation Corona” consisted of Intelligence Tactical Regiment from Potchefstroom, Special Forces and 21 Battalion, and consisted of up to 300 soldiers.

A large part of the problem was the political instability of Kruger’s eastern neighbour, the war-torn Mozambique.

Since general elections last year, relative peace has been maintained with Mozambique able to give greater attention to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between South Africa and Mozambique in Skukuza.

“Mozambique is a key strategic partner for South Africa within the SADC region,” Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa said at the time. “It is within this context that South Africa recognised the need for engaging with Mozambique on wildlife management. “This is particularly with respect to addressing the scourge of rhino poaching within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP).

“Escalating incidences of poaching have become a major challenge within the GLTP, both to rhino and elephant populations.”

Kruger is home to between 8 400 and 9 300 white rhino, a large percentage of the approximately 19 000 South African population.

Up to 650 black rhino of 1 670 animals countrywide the are also found in Kruger.

SANParks has tried to mitigate the attacks by moving a large proportion of the rhino into a “ring of steel” in an undisclosed location within the park, where it is surrounded by armed rangers and hi-tech interventions, while moving others to state controlled land outside the park, location undisclosed again for the rhinos own safety.

Last year, perhaps a tragic sign of the success of the pressure on rhino poachers, SANParks reported 22 elephant had been slaughtered for their ivory.

Other incidences show poachers employing diversionary tactics when two lions and more than 100 vultures died after eating the poisoned carcass of an elephant, officials said on Wednesday, suggesting a new poaching trend in the heavily-guarded reserve.

Initial investigations showed the elephant was shot in the head, its tusks removed and its carcass laced with poison.

In Zimbabwe, more than 370 elephants were killed by poisoning during the past two years.

Last year, an elephant, four African lions and 46 vultures also died from poisoning in Kruger. amandaw@citizen.co.za