Kruger National Park: Ground Zero
Out of the rhino poached this year, 550 of them have been killed in Kruger National Park.
In the last five years, a total of 1457 were reported killed in KNP.
83% of the worlds remaining rhinos exist in South Africa, making Kruger the epicenter for illegal poaching.
“The game is different here at Kruger National Park because the poachers that come from other countries, particularly Mozambique, are armed with AK47s, grenades and axes. They don’t play, these poachers mean business” says Colonel Bolelo, ,who is heading anti-poaching operations at SansPark (who operates Kruger National Park).
What’s Being Done
In March of 2013, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed 265 soldiers into the Park and around the borders after a plea for help from the South African National Parks (SanParks). The soldiers are there to train, support and backup the rangers.
A new high-tech Gazelle helicopter has been donated to the fight. With high-speed, night vision capabilities, it should make pursuit of poachers easier and quicker.
Previously high-tech, low-speed recon planes were deployed to help track poachers in the region. The Seeker, as it was called, was donated by Paramount, the same group who donated as the Gazelle.
So with the manpower combined with technology, why is poaching still so prevalent?
The Crux of the Problem
Size: at 7580 sq mi, there is hardly enough manpower to monitor the vastness of the Park.
Location: Being bordered by areas of high unemployment and poverty (Zimbabwe, Limpopo and Mozambique), the rhino in the Park are like diamonds in a mine waiting to be taken.
Most problematic is Mozambique, which is the origin of the majority of poachers entering Kruger, confirmed last month by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano. Speaking at the launch of a wildlife preservation foundation in Maputo, he said 70% of rhino killing in South Africa could be attributed to Mozambicans. This is borne out by South African arrest figures in connection with cases of suspected rhino poaching which show that 68% are from Mozambique.
Prosecution: While the forces are working hard to apprehend the poachers, justice is rarely served. According to Colonel Bolelo “Within two months we had over 56 arrests but the dockets got lost. Once the dockets have gone missing the case is over and the suspects are released.” With this level of corruption, poachers are rarely sentenced, and IF they are, the low-level fines and minimal jail time are not a deterrent.
In the midst of this war, there are rumors of drones being dysfunctional, soldiers not being deployed at the borders, helicopters not in operation due to funding, and of course the usual suspected corruption.
With that being said, the rhino poaching rate continues to soar, currently reported at 920. Yet, South Africa claims to be able to cut its rhino poaching by 20% next year, according to General Johan Jooste, who heads the Kruger National Park anti-poaching task team.
What will make the difference?
In January, Bolelo will find out if hot pursuit will be allowed for his troops. While currently rangers and military are not allowed to cross the border into Mozambique (as their laws are different and far more tolerant to poaching) the hot pursuit option will mean approval to track suspected poachers across the international border without fear of reprisal.
Following talks between South Africa and Mozambique, it is hopeful there will be increased cooperation between the countries which could lead to more arrests and ultimately more convictions.
In addition, cash rewards for information are being offered to the public to the tune of R100 000 for a successful arrest of a suspected poacher, as well as a whopping R1,000,000 for a successful conviction of a poaching syndicate mastermind.
Finally, the Paramount group is promising more donations in the form of ranger training, canine units for tracking, and more technology.
“The war against poaching is not yet won, but we can reduce the figures… it’s an ongoing process,” said Jooste. “This fight against poaching is not about an individual and success depends on the collective collaboration and commitment from the men and women tasked with the responsibility of conserving our heritage.”