Rhino poachers are heartless and kill every rhino they see – young or old, horned or hornless – just to get rid of them from the reserve and “try to make it easier for them” when they return.

This was stated by Ezemvelo Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo.

This week, Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Chrissy said KwaZulu-Natal province had recorded the loss of 133 rhinos in the first half of the year – more than triple the 33 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2021.

Mntamba said rhino poaching is a huge problem that needs to be tackled and they need all the help they can get to fight the crime.

In the past we’ve had communities help us fight rhino poaching, but now it’s just us. However, sometimes the SAPS come and help us patrol the parks and the outskirts and we really appreciate the help … We had a case where a female rhino was shot and her calf was next to her, so they shot the calf too — not for its horn, because most of the time it is not there, because it is still small, but because the calf prevented them from breaking off the horn of the mother rhinoceros.

Mntambo said they suspect the poachers are working with members of the local community who know the area and
even if they sometimes get clues, it’s hard to tell which direction they might be coming from because the parks are big.

There are usually three, four or five groups of people using anti-material rifles. They come with transport and
park outside, cut the fence, climb the fence, jump down and enter.

He added that all of their parks are a “hot spot,” saying there is no specific location.
According to Mntambo, the approach to each poaching case is different and depends on the situation.

Obviously it would be to get resources and get to the area where we hear or see something, but we also deploy a helicopter/helicopter for every response to narrow down the area for us, and using a K9 helps a lot as well

He also added that perhaps the right infrared camera (FLIR) attached to the helicopter could help because it can also detect what is happening at night. The FLIR camera is mounted on the underside of the helicopter.

It also has a live display so both the pilot and the person in the control room can see what is happening on the ground and it will immediately pick up people hiding under bushes.

Mntambo added that the government should also consider deploying the army in the parks to patrol both inside and outside the park, saying this is because poaching is not only a provincial problem but an international problem.

KZN ‘softer target’

DA spokesman for economic development, tourism and environment in KwaZulu-Natal Heinz de Boer said he believed the level of rhino poaching was also linked to borders, the criminal justice system and poaching syndicates.

De Boer said rhino poaching in KZN was directly linked to poaching in the Kruger National Park.

The Kruger National Park has increased its security, surveillance and police, which
meant poaching syndicates had to find a softer target and unfortunately KZN was the softer target. As far as I know, the poachers now operate as syndicates, they are very similar to the gangs that attack our cash machines. From what I’ve been told, they’re not afraid of death or being arrested, and very often they work for real masterminds and have financial security for their families if they’re killed. They are insolent.

De Boer added that he was not stunned by the figures released by the minister because he has been tracking rhino poaching for about two and a half years.

I think we’re seeing some action now, there’s increased enforcement and there’s a lot of specialized operations in our core areas. However, this has only happened now, after killing so many rhinos.

He said a task force report on rhino poaching in KZN had been commissioned on the 5th
years ago should have been released a long time ago, not just recently. He said that the report could be
previously used to develop anti-poaching operations.

De Boer also added that another problem is that Ezemvelo does not have a lot of impact management
nor is there much consequence management for political rulers, especially economic ones
portfolio of development, tourism and environment.

If this was happening in any other country where there is accountability, the minister or the MEC would have resigned or been sacked because rhino poaching is nothing new in KZN. We have had a succession of MECs who have largely lacked the political fortitude, vision and foresight to insist that Ezemvelo gets adequate resources so that they can tackle poachers.

He said that the rangers who have been fully trained by Ezemvelo should be employed and that they should find the necessary funds for their work. He said the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies should be on the borders and criminal intelligence should start working more closely with Ezemvelo to track down the people behind the poaching syndicates.

After the arrest, the culprits should be brought to justice in a specialized court. I believe, and many people I’ve spoken to in the private sector believe, that rangers who work in the field do an excellent job in very difficult circumstances; they have not had adequate budgets for many years. Only recently some were issued firearms, body armor, ammunition, and all
purchased for them. So we are on the right track.

He said they needed to find a mechanism where the private sector could contribute more to NGOs that help rangers on the ground and those who help protect species.

These NGOs must be approved at the provincial government level so that people know that if they donate money to that particular NGO, that money will go to Ezemvelo to equip rangers and conduct anti-poaching operations.

This article was originally published on The Witness.

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