Earlier this month Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, announced the rhino poaching statistics for the first quarter of 2015. By the end of April a staggering 393 rhino had been lost to poachers in parks across South Africa; that’s an 18% increase on the same period last year!
The numbers are shocking. But before throwing our hands up in dismay and casting blame, let’s take a look at the positive steps being made by those seeking to reverse this bloody trend.
Arrests & Seizures
In the same briefing South Africa’s police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, reported a 38% increase in arrests with 132 people detained for poaching-related activities (96 arrests were made in the same period last year).
There have also been significant seizures of rhino horn. The most notable of these was earlier this month in Mozambique where a record 65 horns were confiscated along with 340 elephant tusks. Since rhino are extinct in Mozambique it’s almost certain that these animals were poached in the Kruger Park; and it’s hoped that the arrest made will lead to further arrests higher up the syndicate.
Kruger’s Dogs & Choppers
Kruger is still the hardest hit of South Africa’s reserves. This massive park is extremely difficult to patrol but great work is being done through the co-ordinated efforts of SANParks air wing and canine units.
In March of this year, a R37.7m grant from the Howard G Buffet Foundation enabled SANParks to buy a second helicopter with night-flying ability. As for dogs, the Kruger canine unit it has more than a dozen hounds specifically trained to follow the trail of a poacher or sniff out guns and ammunition.
I was most interested to read about the “pack hounds”. Each of these dogs has a collar fitted with a GPS device and, once locked onto the scent, they’re allowed to run loose while being tracked by a helicopter. These dogs are becoming an increasingly vital part of Kruger’s anti-poaching strategy, and backed by aerial support, have already assisted in numerous arrests.
Relocation of Rhino
Within the Kruger Park rhino have already been moved from high risk areas to Intensive Protection Zones (IPVs). Then there’s the more ambitious cross-border relocation programme run by Great Plains Conservation and AndBeyond.
This programme, Rhinos Without Borders, aims to move 100 rhino from densely populated areas in South Africa to the relative safety of Botswana. Our neighbour is known for its low poaching numbers, due in part to strict policies backed by the country’s military and a controversial “shoot to kill” policy.
This relocation is understandably expensive, but crowd funding has already raised over US$270,000, and earlier this month phase one was completed with 10 rhinos safely released into their new homes.
Drones in Hluhluwe Imfolozi
Over the past six months, Hluhluwe Imfolozi has used drones operated by supercomputers with the ability to predict the likely location of poachers. These drones have thermal imaging cameras and, should poachers be detected, their GPS co-ordinates are sent back to local authorities.
This project is being run by the non-profit programme Air Shepherd who claims that the use of these drones has dropped the number of rhinos poached from between 12 and 19 a month to zero!
The protection of our rhino is an ongoing war fought over many a battle field and through a range of strategies. Let’s hope that through a combination of these efforts we will finally start to see a significant decline in their senseless slaughter.