World Ranger Day began yesterday with three South African National Parks helicopters flying side by side over the marquee at Kruger gate at Kruger National Park, with one peeling off to signify a fallen comrade.
It was to honour fallen ranger Respect Mathebula, who was shot and killed during a skirmish with poachers in 2018.
While others have been seriously wounded, one most recently shot through the forearm with a .458-caliber hunting rifle, Mathebula was the first ranger killed in 50 years.
Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy paid tribute to rangers worldwide.
She also released the latest rhino poaching statistics for January 1 to June 31.
The Western Cape remained at zero for the second year in a row, while Kruger remained the hardest hit, but down from 222 last year to 190 for the first six months this year.
KwaZulu-Natal experienced an increase from 64 to 66 rhinos poached. The Free State went from two to eight rhinos and Northern Cape also saw an increase from one to three rhinos poached.
Overall, poaching was down from 383 to 318 animals over the first six months of this year, compared with last year. This does not include the fetuses of slain pregnant rhinos, or how many orphans were found.
A total of 105 rhinos were exported between January 2018 and March 2019 for “zoological purposes” and for reintroduction to neighbouring states, which include Botswana, Namibia, and eSwatini.
A decision is apparently also pending about the two remaining rhinos of the six exported to Chad, of which four died.
“At the end of last year, South Africa recorded a decrease in rhino poaching incidents to 769, making it the third consecutive year that rhino poaching had declined,” Creecy said.
SANParks Ceo Fundisile Mketeni said 11 elephants had been poached countrywide, of which eight were killed in the Kruger for their ivory.
“Of the nine people arrested in connection with rhino horn trafficking, three Chinese nationals, four South Africans and two Mozambican nationals were level four and five traffickers,” Creecy said.
Level four is a South African syndicate leader, while level five is a syndicate boss, usually foreign.
Since setting aside the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn, 54 permits had been issued for national trade in 2,075 rhino horns.
“It is a serious concern that some of the rhino horn sold in terms of legal permits issued by the department have been linked to illegal activities,” Creecy said.
“The marking and identification enables us to quickly identify these horns and the Hawks are working closely with the Green Scorpions in relation to these investigations,” she said.