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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

KZN reigns as epicentre of rhino poaching: A troubling increase in 2023

Government deeply concerned about this alarming trend and calls for intensified efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, says Minister Barbara Creecy.

South Africa witnessed a distressing increase in rhino poaching, with a total of 499 rhinos falling victim to this heinous crime in 2023.

This is according to Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who released the rhino poaching statistics on Tuesday.

Rise in rhino poaching

Speaking during a media briefing, Creecy said KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), in particular, faced the greatest impact, with Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park bearing the brunt of poaching cases, resulting in the loss of 307 rhinos.

The minister expressed concern over this alarming trend and highlighted the need for intensified efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

“This is the highest poaching loss within this province. While KZN recorded 49 arrests and 13 firearms seized, multi-disciplinary teams continue to work tirelessly in an attempt to slow this relentless pressure,” said Creecy.

ALSO READ: Harsh jail sentences way to end war on rhino poaching

In comparison to the previous year, the number of rhinos poached in 2023 increased by 51 more, reaching a total of 499.

The majority of the poaching incidents occurred on state properties, accounting for 406 rhinos, while 93 rhinos were killed on private property such as parks, reserves, and farms.

Notably, Kruger National Park (KNP) experienced a 37% decrease in poaching incidents, with 78 rhinos poached in 2023.

It is worth mentioning that no rhinos were poached in any other national parks.

Efforts to combat poaching

To address the escalating poaching crisis, the South African government says it has implemented various measures.

“As part of the poverty relief program, fence monitors from neighboring communities have been employed to patrol the western boundary fence of KNP. Their role includes reporting fence breakages, illegal tracks, trespassing, and animals escaping from the park,” Creecy said.

This collaborative approach aims to enhance surveillance and deter potential poachers.

READ MORE: Alleged rhino poachers nailed en route to Gauteng

The minister emphasised the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors, as well as the financial and transportation sectors, in combating international wildlife trafficking.

Partnerships have been formed with the aim to strengthen efforts in curbing the demand for rhino horns and other wildlife products.

The South African government has actively engaged with transit and consumer nations in South-East Asia, particularly the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Qatar, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Successful convictions

The concerted efforts of law enforcement agencies, including the South African Police Service (Saps), Hawks, SANParks, Environmental Enforcement Fusion Centre, Green Scorpions, customs officials, provincial park authorities, and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), have resulted in significant convictions, according to Creecy.

“In 36 cases, verdicts were handed down, with 35 resulting in guilty verdicts and one in a not guilty verdict. A total of 45 accused individuals involved in rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking were convicted, achieving an impressive conviction rate of 97%.”

ALSO READ: Mbombela trial against alleged rhino kingpin postponed

Furthermore, several high-profile cases exemplify the commitment to prosecuting those involved in rhino poaching.

In one case, a former field ranger in KNP was arrested for killing a rhino with his R1 rifle and concealing the incident.

Despite claiming that the rhino charged at him, the court rejected his defence, leading to a 10-year prison sentence for carrying out restricted activities with endangered or protected species.

In KZN, five suspects were convicted for conspiring to hunt a rhino, possession of firearms and ammunition, and for intentionally carrying a gun to commit a crime.

The DNA evidence found on hunting equipment matched that of the slain rhino, and ballistics analysis linked the firearms to the crime scene. The accused were sentenced to an effective imprisonment term of 10 years.

ALSO READ: Kruger Park records ‘steady decline’ in rhino poaching

Another suspects was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for the possession of two rhino horns.

“The alarming rise in rhino poaching in South Africa, with KZN as the epicenter, demands urgent action to preserve these magnificent creatures.”

World Wide Fund for Nature

Reacting to the statistics, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa said the rhino poaching pressure in KZN was of “grave concern”.

“The province of KwaZulu-Natal has a proud record of having played a critical role in rhino conservation in South Africa when rhino numbers had dwindled to just a few hundred animals.

“This is why we are committing resources towards supporting the authorities in their efforts to turn the tide on illegal killing of rhinos, particularly in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park,” WWF’s black rhino range expansion project leader, Jeff Cooke said in a statement.

READ MORE: You can be a game ranger, too

Cooke highlighted the importance of game rangers and the police working together to combat rhino poaching.

“It is also imperative that we continue to focus on growing rhino numbers and increasing range as quickly as possible in the hope of building resilience in the populations to guard against the poaching onslaught.”

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