Nothing is off the table anymore when it comes to protecting South Africa’s core population of black and white rhinoceros kept at South African National Parks’ Kruger National Park (KNP).
That’s according to Kruger head ranger Ken Maggs who said yesterday even the extreme idea of fencing populations in, surrounded by lights and rangers, was an option when it came to protecting the ungulate.
While he wasn’t allowed to give precise numbers for poaching this year, Maggs said indications showed a downward trend in rhino poaching was being maintained while worryingly, an upward trend in elephant poaching of 46% year-on-year was continuing.
And given the nature of poaching, it could change in an instant, Maggs noted.
“Wildlife crime isn’t seen as high a priority as some of the other criminality we have, particularly violent crimes such as murders and hijackings. Of course, the police must focus their attention there,” Maggs said.
“So it is understandable, but nevertheless, it does impact it.”
Yet, there is a financial cost to each animal killed for its horn or ivory.
In 2014, SANParks sold 354 rhinos for more than R81 million, working out to an average of about R228 000 each.
Prices for elephant are more difficult to come by, but to hunt one in Zimbabwe can cost upwards of R252 000.
“Rhino or elephant poaching is probably less risky for a hard-core criminal and the syndicates than doing an ATM bombing or a cash in transit heist, smuggling firearms, or human trafficking,” Maggs said.
He estimated it could take up to a month for a person who knew nothing about the bush to become an expert poacher.
Maggs noted Kruger was not a friendly environment for anti-poaching technology.
“Kruger is a beast. It’s not your friend. Applying technologies, you will be tested. Walking in the bush as a ranger you will be tested on a day to day basis,” Maggs said.
“At night, in the winter, in the summer, up in the Lebombo Mountains, lions and elephant, buffalo and crocodiles, you will be tested, it’s not your friend,” Maggs said, speaking of the issues facing technology in the bush.
“And it’s big: two million hectares is the size of a country.”