Additional support could mean renewed hope for rhinos in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The latest news is grim: Three rhinos murdered in four days in KwaZulu-Natal – two in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and another in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Now the region’s total stands at 27, a figure that represents nearly 10 percent of the reported 289 rhinos killed in South Africa this year.
Yet, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife CEO Dr. Bandile Mkhize is hopeful about the future.
At Dr. Mkhize’s recent presentation on KZN’s rhino killing crisis, financial support for ongoing rhino anti-poaching work in the KZN park system was enthusiastically promised by members of the South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI).
I am most grateful for the ongoing support and enthusiasm shown by both our public and business communities for this cause. Our rhinos are iconic animals in this province and their presence acts as a magnet to people wanting to visit our facilities as part of a conference or as tourists.
We will fight the war against poaching in this province until we win. No retreat. No surrender.
And there is more encouraging news from KZN Wildlife: Today, 18 additional field rangers are being deployed to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, along with the issuance of anti-poaching equipment.
So far this year, 25 suspected rhino killers have been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife field rangers arrested three suspected rhino killers on November 30th inside Tembe Elephant Park, near the Mozambique border.
The arrests happened after a group of three suspects opened fire on the rangers, who fired back and managed to shoot one of them. The wounded man was taken to hospital in Kwangwanase (Manguzi).
This case, along with the three rhino killings in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and iSimangaliso Wetland Parks, is under investigation by Ezemvelo KZNWildlife, the SAPS Hawks and Organised Crime Units from Richards Bay and Pietermaritzburg.
Illegal rhino horn trade driven by continued use of traditional ‘medicines’
In this year alone, the surge in rhino horn demand for use in traditional medicines has claimed the lives of almost 300 rhinos in South Africa, more than doubling the reported 2009 figure of 122. Zimbabwe is now down to its last 700 rhinos.
It has been noted that the spreading Chinese footprint has placed the demand for rhino horn perilously close to the supply, and counter poaching reports have also linked the increase in rhino and elephant killings to a flood of Chinese weapons in Southern Africa.
There are further concerns that a state-funded 2008 rhino horn research proposal from China served as one of the catalysts for the surge in rhino killings across Southern Africa by encouraging the use of rhino horn, and that the researchers are attempting to circumvent CITES research provisions by farming rhinos.
An additional factor which has stimulated the demand for rhino horn, is the suspected illegal sale of private rhino horn stockpiles held in South Africa.
Courts fail to deter rhino horn syndicates
Although police continue to make arrests, rhino horn syndicate cases lose steam once they hit the courts. There seems to be plenty of talk about cracking down on syndicates and taking out the kingpins, but so far, the courts have jailed only the lower level operatives.
In September, eleven alleged members of a rhino horn syndicate were granted bail by the Musina magistrate’s court and are scheduled to appear in court again on April 11th, 2011. The suspects included safari operator Dawie Groenewald, veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis, and professional hunter Tielman Erasmus.
They will face charges of to face charges of assault, fraud, corruption, malicious damage to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and contravening the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.
The following month, a rhino horn syndicate case involving suspects George Fletcher of Sandurst Safaris, Gert Saaiman of Saaiman Hunting Safaris, and Frans Deventer was thrown out by the North Gauteng High Court.
Multiple charges had been brought against Fletcher, Saaiman and van Deventer, including racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft, malicious damage to property and contraventions of the various provincial Conservation Acts and the Aviation Act.
However, less than two months ago, four Zimbabweans and a Mozambican were sentenced to prison for attempting to kill rhinos in Lephalale Game Reserve, Limpopo.
Source: KZN Wildlife Media Release