Amanda Watson
News Editor
2 minute read
9 Mar 2015
2:00 pm

Park under siege

Amanda Watson

An estimated 5 000 people intent on killing rhino for their horns entered the Kruger National Park (KNP) during 2014, says Ken Maggs, KNP chief of staff for special projects.

VULNERABLE. Rhinos in a holding compund at the Kruger National Park last week, ahead of World Wildlife Day celebrations.

This “very conservative” estimate was based on the number of tracks observed by rangers in the park during the year. Many poachers’ tracks were washed away during rains.

Speaking the day before World Wildlife Day, Maggs said poachers were changing tactics.

“Five years ago, the predominant weapon used was the older military weapon, AK47, the SKS, and so forth,” Maggs explains.

“But of late we’ve seen an increase in the use of heavy calibre hunting rifles. It’s simply the poacher’s effort to improve the effort versus reward; however we are still seeing lighter calibres.

“We have found silencers on the weapons … Crossbows have also been used in the past, which have not proved effective at all.”

Poachers are 23 years old on average, determined to succeed, and as at home in the bush as the animals they hunt, said Maggs.

Pressure from ground and air patrols made it difficult for poachers to move around during the day, so they were increasingly carrying out their activities at night, he added.

“This makes it difficult for everybody. The poacher isn’t scared of the night. Apart from not having any rules, he’s not really scared of wild animals, and we have the full range here. Walk into an elephant or a pride of lion at night; they are not your friend. This is the person we are up against,” said Maggs.

Meanwhile, confusion reigns in official circles about how many rhino are being poached.

Two senior SANParks staffers recently said 120 rhinos had been poached so far this year in Kruger Park alone. But Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told the parliamentary portfolio committee 158 rhino had been poached in 2015, 108 of them in the Kruger.

The department had not provided a definitive figure by the time of going to print.

Some 1 155 rhino were reported poached countrywide last year. That figure was 151 higher than the number of animals killed the previous year, The Citizen reported in January, using statistics provided by the department of environmental affairs.

The figure has since been adjusted higher, to 1 216.

The Shropshire Star reported last week that after visiting SA British parliamentarian Owen Paterson had called for “UK aid to states such as Vietnam, which have the demand for ivory, and states such as Mozambique, which supply it, to be conditional on control of wildlife crime”.

Paterson said he had witnessed the activities of the special projects unit at Kruger, which patrolled “an area the size of Wales”.

The unit was “well funded with a proper control centre and a thoroughly professional personnel of 700 rangers”, he said, yet it was “losing the battle”.

Demand for rhino horn was pushing the rhino to extinction, the report added, with only 4 800 black rhinos left in Africa.