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A white rhino grazes in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KZN. Photo: Hluhluwe Game Reserve
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Aside from the country’s national parks, rhino poaching incidents in KwaZulu-Natal are the highest by a long shot.
It is not yet clear why poaching in the province is significantly higher than other regions of the country.
While poaching continues to further endanger white and black rhinos, within KZN, the Ezemvelo Wildlife board remains suspended and aloof.
The board was suspended in August 2020 due to “prima facie allegations”, said tourism and environmental affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube in a statement at the time.
Finance MEC Ravi Pillay was instructed at the time to conduct a forensic investigation.
Concrete reasons for the board’s suspension were never revealed, nor whether a new board would be appointed, despite countless requests for information by The Citizen.
Ezemvelo is responsible for directing biodiversity conservation management in the province, and is central to the scourge against rhino poaching in the province.
“We have yet to be informed of who the new board members will be. I sincerely hope this will not be another political chess game. We need dedicated environmental specialists, lawyers and financial experts on the board,” said DA MPL for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs in the province, Heinz de Boer.
De Boer pointed to Ezemvelo admitting to corruption among its staff, with four members dismissed for a botched fence tender, and others have been implicated in aiding poachers, De Boer explained.
“As with most organised crime, it takes insiders to reveal the weaknesses of specific parks. Ezemvelo and even the Saps [South African Police Service] are suspected of being linked to these syndicates.
“Compounding the situation is the atrocious state of the Ezemvelo fences, the sheer size of the park and regional roads which sometimes run through reserves, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park being one of these.”
De Boer said that communities near the park sometimes aided poachers, and that there were not enough anti-poaching rangers to effectively combat “gangs” of poachers.
“Just this week, I have been informed of 63 potential rangers being fully trained in 2019, only to be waiting for employment with Ezemvelo.
“Rangers that are in the bush up against gangs are armed with ageing firearms. A contract to purchase approximately R6 million worth of arms and ammunition was placed on hold due to licensing issues.
“Combine all these factors, and one creates an environment conducive to poaching. It’s a low-key war being fought every week. And the poachers are winning,” he said.
True Green Alliance CEO Ron Thomson gave a different perspective to the escalating poaching incidents throughout the country, and especially in KwaZulu-Natal.
Thomson said poaching was high in national parks “because South Africa is still running its protected areas without involvement of the local African people”.
“Give ‘ownership’ of the national parks – even if it is just ‘emotional’ ownership of the park, and they will start to respect it.”
Thomson said it was the mismanagement of elephants in the province, as well as in the Kruger National Park, that was causing the extinction of black rhinos in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
“Our black rhinos will die out without a single poacher’s bullet every being fired. This is the whole story in itself.”
When asked of the Ezemvelo Wildlife board, he said there was “nothing ‘good’ about the old board”, and hoped that the new board was not the same, “or worse.”
He also said that there was a probable connection between corruption and the continued poaching of wildlife in South Africa.
Enquiries sent to the KZN EDTEA were acknowledged, but no responses were received.
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