The war against poachers in South Africa seems to have taken a turn in the right directionâ¦ with successful convictions in May, as well as several arrests.
Last week alone, South African National Parks (SANParks) arrested four other poaching suspects.
SANParks announced today (June 5, 2021) that well-executed operations at the end of May led to the arrest of four suspected poachers. The first incident took place last weekend, Sunday May 30 in the Pretoriuskop section, and the other Monday in the Houtboschrand section, both located south of the Kruger National Park (KNP).
SANParks said rangers (with support from K9) responded to a visual of two suspected rhino poachers last Sunday and started chasing them. The Airwing unit was called in to support the ground crews; and before long the two suspects were arrested without incident.
Mortally wounded rhino poaching suspect
The next day, three traces of suspected poachers were identified by the Rangers (still with the support of K9). They followed in their footsteps and made contact with three suspects. During the altercation, a suspect was fatally injured.
A long follow-up ensued with the support of the Airwing unit, using helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft as well as the support of additional line K9s and free scent hounds. This led to the arrest of the two remaining suspects.
During both operations, a large caliber hunting rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment were seized.
All suspects have been turned over to the South African Police Service (SAPS) for further processing and the suspects will appear in court in due course.
Poachers target weekends
KNP Head Ranger, Cathy Dreyer (aka the “Rhino Whisperer”) congratulated everyone who took part in the operations. She said:
âWe are proud of the teamwork and dedication of our Rangers Corp, Airmen and K9 units, who carry out our anti-poaching efforts under extremely difficult conditions. We are aware that poachers currently target weekends for their misdeeds mistakenly believing rangers are not working during this time.
“It is only through discipline, teamwork and tenacity that we can help stem the tide of rhino poaching in the KNP and we have members of our teams in the field all day all week long. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, who are committed to protecting and conserving our flora and fauna. “
Rhinoceros poaching suspects successfully convicted
May also saw the culmination of two long-running rhino poaching trials by the Skukuza Regional Court (which reopened on April 1). A rhino poacher was sentenced on May 14 to 13 years, while three – including a former SANParks employee – were sentenced to 16 years each on May 17.
Well-known Stroop filmmaker and conservationist BonnÃ© de Bod said: âIt’s good to see proper convictions and punishments for rhino poachers passed last month – well done to everyone involvedâ¦ Hopefully this serves as a strong message, our rhinos need it. “
Rhino poaching in South Africa on the rise since lockdown laws eased
Rhino poaching has unfortunately increased since the easing of containment regulations. According to Jo Shaw, Africa Rhino Lead for WWF International Network: âSince November, December of last year and until 2021, this landscape and in particular Kruger National Park have seen a significant number of rhino poaching incidents. .
Number of rhinos in Kruger Park and South Africa
The drought has also hit the region’s rhino population hard. With relentless poaching, the number of rhinos in Kruger National Park have fallen by almost two-thirds over the past decade to around 3,800 in 2019, up from 11,800 rhinos in 2008, a report from South Africa‘s national parks showed.
South Africa has around 16,000 rhinos nationwide, the Environment Department told Reuters in May.
Increasingly, reserves are using dehorning as one of the methods to deter poachers, Princess Charlene of Monaco being the latest celebrity to accompany a dehorning team into the bush to raise awareness of the plight of the South African rhino.
Possibility of radioactive markers in rhino horns
The feasibility of using radioactive markers in rhino horns, to make smuggled horns detectable at global entry points, is also currently being tested by researchers in South Africa. While cutting horns to prevent poaching should be done every 18 months, radioactive markers should only be inserted every five years, according to James Larkin, director of the radiation protection and health physics unit of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Condemned elephant poachers
Two elephant poachers were also successfully sentenced this week to eight years each, for killing an elephant in Skukuza National Park in November 2018.
Applications are now open if you would like to nominate a rhino conservation hero.