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Rhino poaching fight steps up

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Some success but at heavy cost - human loss included

World Ranger Day at the Kruger National Park.

The fight against the scourge of rhino poaching has intensified and is beginning to yield results – even if it is a costly exercise.

This much came through during the commemoration of World Ranger Day at the Kruger National Park (KNP) recently.

Poaching has not only cost the KNP dearly in monetary terms – human capital is also affected. A plaque was unveiled in memory of ranger Respect Mathebula who was killed in a skirmish with poachers last July.

Retired ranger Robert Mavimbela, now 74, has lived to tell the tale of how he was shot six times at close range by poachers.

Chief ranger Nicholas Funda says air support is crucial in the campaign against poaching. The 450-strong corps of field rangers are breadwinners who leave children as orphans when they are killed in the line of duty.

He places a lot of premium on air support and expressed gratitude when petroleum company Total, which has supported the Kruger with fuel for 60 years to date, also put their shoulder to the wheel as it committed further help.

It costs the KNP about R6 500 an hour to keep a helicopter in the air during anti-poaching drives, Funda says.

It emerged that of the 2 500 hours of flying the rangers do, 70% of it is in support of anti-poaching.

Reina Cullinan of Total says her company has committed R4.5 million to continue the fight against rhino poaching “with the sponsorship of jet fuel for the SANParks Air wing project over a period of three years, approximately 100 000 litres per year”.

In the keynote address at her first World Ranger Day as minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy weighed heavily into the issue of rhino poaching.

“Despite our best efforts, wildlife crime continues to threaten our
biodiversity. Rhino poaching in particular remains a critical problem in our protected areas.”

“In the past three years, South Africa has shown a measure of success in decreasing rhino poaching, not only in our national parks, but also in other protected areas, including provincial and municipal game reserves, and private conservation areas.”

According to statistics, 2018 was the third consecutive year that rhino poaching had decreased with 769 reported incidents.

“In the first six months of 2019, 318 rhino have been poached countrywide, a modest decline of 68 incidents over the same period last year.

“The same statistics indicate that from January to June 2019, 122 alleged poachers were arrested in the Kruger National Park,” Creecy says.

Nationally 253 arrests were made in the first half of the year in respect of both rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking, the minister says.

Sixty-one firearms were recovered during operations in the KNP over the same period. Creecy says the success of the anti poaching drive has been due to the implementation of the 2014 Integrated Management Plan “which combines the use of technology, extensive anti-poaching work, as well as the management of the rhino population”.

At the KNP, one of the arms working well against poaching is the use of dogs.

Johan de Beer, manager of the Canine Unit, says their work is primarily “try to arrest the poachers before they shoot the animals”.