South Africa 13.6.2016 12:10 pm

Kruger now a poachers’ paradise

File photo: AFP

File photo: AFP

Rangers predict broken-down barrier will result in a ‘massive escalation in poaching’.

Reminiscent of politicians’ promises in an election year, the fence between South Africa and Mozambique along the eastern border of the Kruger National Park is full of holes, bent, and pointless.

According to one ranger, the rusty fence – trampled by elephants and uprooted by flash floods and fallen trees – should be replaced.

Kilometres of the fence, installed when the Transfrontier Peace Parks were created in 2002, are also missing, Mozambique authorities said there were about 1 400 elephant in the Limpopo National Park, thanks to the fence coming down.

This, while restoring in some small measure aeons-old migratory paths for elephants, meant it was a poachers’ haven.

With only 30 Mozambique rangers, a terrible road system and the mountainous area playing havoc with communication, Limpopo authorities could only confirm three elephants killed this year to The Citizen during a visit to the north of Kruger.

But information suggests the number could be as high as nine. Add that to those slaughtered this year in Kruger, and a bleak prediction by rangers of a massive escalation in poaching doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

“It is important to note this is only the beginning phase,” said Vlakteplaas section ranger Marius Snyders.

“If you look at last year, Kruger lost 22 or 24 elephants, we are looking at about 24 for this year already.” With finite resources focused on fighting off rhino poachers attacking the south of the park, the north has been more or less left to fend for itself.

No one wants to say it, but with an estimated 17 000 elephants in the park, someone has decided they can hold on a little longer.

“From my perspective, the fence should be replaced,” Snyders says. “Looking at the existing poaching, and that’s my perspective, I cannot talk for South African National Parks on that, but from experience here and what we hear on that side, the fence must be replaced until the poaching is under control.”

The 2014 South African Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mozambique on biodiversity management, conservation and protection seems as effective as the fence at the moment.

Contrary to previous reports, the cross-border hot pursuit of poachers remains a thing talked about over camp fires.

There are no MoUs signed with police, customs, military, and so on, meaning no Kruger rangers may cross into Mozambique without an escort, much less take their firearms, thanks to customs legislation.

And as the Mozambique rangers use AK-47s – illegal in SA – they too must move unarmed with an escort and are defenceless.

“When the fence was taken down, poaching wasn’t as relevant as now,” Snyders says. “Many times we’ll be working in the area and hear shots, but we’re not allowed to react because we’re not allowed to go into Mozambique at all.

“We have good relations, but their roads are horrific and our communication systems are not linked up. So, if we have to meet, we do it at the fence, where we discuss operational matters.”

Snyders said rhinos and elephants across the border stood a great chance of being shot.

“If the fence is re-erected and there is maintenance, it will be a huge financial burden but it will stop the bulk of the animals crossing the border. It will not stop the poaching,” says Snyders, adding that it will give them a good idea of where poachers have entered so they can be tracked and possibly stopped.

“One of our biggest challenges is our gates. Sometimes the poachers disguise themselves as tourists and are dropped off inside the park. When they are successful, they exit through the Mozambique boundary.”

– amandaw@citizen.co.za

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