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Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries report back on rhino poaching in South Africa in 2019

Rhino poaching in South Africa continues to decline as additional steps are taken by government to ensure the crime is effectively dealt with. 

The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy, says the steps to address rhino poaching and wildlife crime across the country are presently aligned to the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros as well as the principles set out in the draft National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT), which will be taken to Cabinet for consideration in the first half of this year. 

The NISCWT was a recommendation of the Committee of Inquiry into whether South Africa should table a recommendation for the legal trade, or not, of rhino horn to the 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on the Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in 2016.  It aims to strengthen the law enforcement aspects of the successful multi-disciplinary approach – the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros – and broadens the scope to combat other wildlife trafficking, not only rhino poaching.

“Because wildlife trafficking constitutes a highly sophisticated form of serious transnational organised crime that threatens national security, the aim is to establish an integrated strategic framework for an intelligence-led, well-resourced, multidisciplinary and consolidated law enforcement approach to focus and direct law enforcement’s ability supported by the whole of government and society,” said Minister Creecy.

The Minister has also paid tribute to rangers who battle poaching in the conservation areas on a daily basis.

In 2018, 769 rhino were killed for their horn in South Africa. During 2019, rhino poaching continued to decline, with 594 rhino poached nationally during the year. 

This decline can be attributed to a combination of measures implemented in line with government’s strategy, including improved capabilities to react to poaching incidents linked to better situational awareness and deployment of technology; improved information collection and sharing amongst law enforcement authorities; better regional and national cooperation and more meaningful involvement of the private sector, NGOs and donors.

“A decline in poaching for five consecutive years is a reflection of the diligent work of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to combat rhino poaching, often coming into direct contact with ruthless poachers,” said the Minister. 

Despite the two thousand and fourteen incursions and poacher activities recorded in the Park during the year, a total of 327 rhino were lost as a result of poaching in the Kruger National Park during 2019.

The provincial and national breakdown for 2019 is as follows:

 

PROVINCES AND

NATIONAL PARKS

2018

2019

 

SANParks

422

328

Gauteng

2

5

Limpopo

40

45

Mpumalanga

51

34

North West

65

32

Eastern Cape

19

2

Free State

16

11

Northern Cape

12

4

Kwa-Zulu Natal

142

133

Western Cape

0

0

 Total

769

594

With regard to elephant poaching, the Department can report that 31 elephant have been poached in South Africa in 2019 – 30 animals in the KNP and 1 in Mapungubwe National Park.  This is a decrease in the number of elephant poached in 2018, when 71 were killed for their tusks.

During 2019, a number of successes have also been recorded through the number of arrests and convictions linked to rhino poaching and the illicit trade in rhino horn which reflects the joint and integrated work of law enforcement entities, including the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit of SAPS, the Hawks, SANParks, provincial park authorities and Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) and Customs as well as the National Prosecuting Authority.

From January to December 2019, 178 alleged poachers were arrested within the Kruger National Park.  At a national level, 332 arrests were effected in respect of both rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking and in excess of 57 major investigations were undertaken across the country.

A total of 85 firearms were recovered during the year.

The arrests have resulted in a number of convictions as well as various high profile cases presently before the courts. For the period 1 January to 31 December 2019 the following sentences resulted from convictions related to rhino cases:

Imprisonment sentence in respect of rhino poaching and trafficking cases

Number of accused sentenced in 2019

2 to 5 years

75

6 to 10 years

32

11 to 15 years

32

15 years upwards

6

Among the successes of the past year are: 

  • Arrest of two Chinese nationals and a South African man for alleged rhino horn trafficking in March 2019 with the trial due to begin in March 2020.  During the arrest, five rhino horns, 14 pieces of abalone, three sea horses, two sea cucumbers, vehicles, weighing and processing equipment allegedly used in rhino trafficking operations were confiscated. 
  • Arrest of two men by the Hawks near Hartebeespoort in North West in April 2019 for possession of 181 rhino horns, the transporting of the rhino horns without a permit and for the possession of an undisclosed amount of money.  This case is due back in court on 31 January 2020.
  • Arrest of three alleged masterminds in a rhino poaching syndicate following a year-long investigation.  They were arrested during an integrated operation led by the Hawks in Gauteng in August 2019.   Two rhino horns, two vehicles and R70 000 in cash was seized during a raid on three premises. The accused remain in custody pending the finalization of their trial.
  • Arrest of three people during a rhino horn trafficking operation in Klerksdorp and Hartbeesfontein in November 2019. The first suspect arrested at a farm near Klerksdorp was found in possession of a hunting rifle, shotgun, revolver, pistol and a large quantity of empty cartridges and live ammunition.  Further investigations led the team to a farm in Hartbeesfontein where two additional suspects were arrested after an assortment of firearms and ammunition was found.   A total of 100 rhino horns, four tiger carcasses and one thousand US dollars were also seized. The accused will appear in court again in February 2020.

“The success of the operations demonstrates government’s ability to work together in fighting wildlife trafficking in South Africa,” said the Minister.

High-profile cases that remain on the court roll include:

  1. State v Groenewald and 8 others (Pretoria High Court) Trial date: 1 – 12 February 2021
  2. State v Ras and 9 others (Pretoria High Court)  Trial date: 30 Jan to 3 March 2023
  3. State v Gwala and others (Mtubatuba Regional Court) Trial date: 7th of February 2020 case has been remanded, Mtubatuba Regional Court
  4. State v Nyalungu and 9 others (Nelspruit Regional Court). Provisional date for trial:  25 May 2020. 
  5. State v Landela (Skukuza Regional Court) Trial date: 19 February 2020
  6. State v Petrus Sydney Mabuza, Nozwelo Mahumane, Moshe Thobela and Romez Khoza. Trial date in High Court, Mbombela: 27 July 2020 – 14 August 2020.
  7. State v Petrus Sydney Mabuza & Jospeh Nyalunga. Trial date in High Court, Mbombela: 25 May 2020 – 19 June 2020.
  8. State v Mandla Mashele and Kelvin Malapane (Daveyton Magistrates Court)  Trial date: 12 February 2020

Since the last report on the rhino poaching situation and efforts being made to address the crime, rhino horn samples have been received for analysis from Vietnam to determine if the horns confiscated are linked to crimes in South Africa.  The Hawks have also received very good co-operation from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan in their efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

While acutely aware that criminal elements within our society will continue to take advantage of the socio- economic pressures and drive demand for illegal wildlife products, the Department, working with a number of communities, NGO’s and donors, identified various community developmental programmes, including awareness programmes in Provinces such as Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Kwazulu Natal and North West through the integrated strategies adopted and facilitated in collaboration with its partners, SANParks, Provinces and neighbouring countries. 

** Members of the public can report any suspicious activities around wildlife to its environmental crime hotline which is 0800 205 005 or the SAPS number 10111.

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