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10-5-2015

Pretoria-. Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa says her department continues to make progress in the war against rhino poaching.

The minister held a media briefing on Sunday in which she said the department remained committed in providing accurate information in relation to the scourge of poaching.

She said the fight against rhino poaching needed to be waged by every one in society saying that government alone will not win the battle.

The minister said  that the department recorded a number of successes as its strategies to disrupt criminal syndicates were starting to bear fruit.

"Be that as it may, by the end of April 2015, the number of rhino we lost to poachers was 393 for the whole country, of these, 290 were poached in the Kruger National Park,” she said.

By last year this time, the number of rhino lost to poachers were 331 for the whole of the country and 212 for the Kruger National Park 

Minister Molewa said government was not losing the battle. “We are not losing the battle, we are soldiering on as you would have noticed that by the end of April this year, we’ve a total of 132 people were arrested for rhino-poaching related activities,” she said adding that 62 were arrested in the Kruger National Park as at the end of April this year,” she said.

However, losses continue to increase in the Kruger National Park, figures in the rest of the country show either a decrease or stabilisation compared to last year’s pattern.

“What is encouraging through is the increase in the number of arrests we’ve recorded this year. To assist in the fight against poaching, our security forces working with SANParks have upped their technological game,” she said.

Minister Molewa  said given the magnitude of the problem, as well as the fact that rhino poaching is inextricably linked to organised transnational crime, it requires an escalation of everyone efforts to achieve the objective.

National Commissioner, General Riah Phiyega said in recent years, the trend for poaching has accelerated due to the high value of ivory and rhino horn on the international black market especially in Asia.

“We are equally vigilant outside the Kruger National Park, between January and April this year, we’ve already arrested 64 people inside the Park, while we’ve arrested 66 outside the Park. Within the four months period recovered 16 firearms, 99 rounds of ammunition, nine vehicles, and 13 rounds of horns, 27 axes and knives.

“Between July and December 2014, we recovered 53 firearms, 228 ammunition, nine vehicles, 20 horns, 42 axes and knives,” she said.

Improved technology to curb poaching

Minister Molewa said to assist in the fight against poaching,  security forces working with SANParks have upped their technological game. "We received an initial grant funding of R254.8 million in 2014 to support anti-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park. This incorporated the establishment of ‘Air Mobility’ capacity’ and included the purchase of a first helicopter through the grant funding in September 2014."Subsequent to the initial grant funding, the Howard G Buffet Foundation granted SANParks an additional R37.7 million to purchase a second Airbus AS350 B3e helicopter to further increase the capacity of flight operations in the KNP.

In March this year, SANParks received this second new Airbus AS-350B3e helicopter with night flying capability. It has subsequently been commissioned and has been assisting in the fight against poaching. In addition to increasing current flight crew capability of flying at night, the helicopter is expected to improve response time in dealing with contacts and other incidents in the park. "Just recently, the helicopter assisted in a dramatic pre-dusk swoop inside the KNP that netted four suspected poachers as well as a range of poaching equipment.

The improved aerial support to the rangers of the ground, and the increasing capacity of the canine unit have assisted in improving the effectiveness of the anti-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park, with 28 arrests having been effected in the month of April of this year." The SANDF, SANParks and the CSIR are piloting and evaluating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as instruments in rhino protection efforts under a range of operational conditions. This is subject to finalisation of arrangements with the Department of Transport.

To further bolster the abilities of the rangers to conduct their work,  Minister Molewas said field rangers and law- enforcement personnel have undergone rapid skills assessment to determine their current skill levels and training requirements by the Southern African Wildlife College and the Kruger National Park. Further training in this regard is continuing.

Source -SAnews.gov.za

Johannesburg – Lifting the existing ban on trade in rhino horn is a hot topic in South Africa and the rest of the world. 

- Hanti Schrader

Many say it is an exercise in futility because even if the ban were to be lifted, it would take at least 10 years to finalize administrative arrangements, and by then it could be too late to save the rhino.

Lobbyists for or against trade made presentations before the Rhino Horn Trade Committee of Inquiry (RHTC) on March 25 and 26. The current regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) forbids trade, Lowvelder reported.

Anti-trade activist and conservationist Ian Michler told Lowvelder: “A change in the regulations must be motivated by showing that poaching will be significantly reduced, and the long-term survival chances of rhino will be increased. This should be done in the same way that a judge cannot convict on circumstantial evidence.”

In his presentation to RHTC, the biggest farmer of rhino in the world, John Hume, also a member of the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA) and pro-trading, said it had been in the first place wrong to stop the legal supply of horn and that it was a hysterical step taken by CITES in 1977 and 2008.

“The demand is not going to go away, but what we have done was to give poachers a foot in the door in the first place.”

Hume added that most of the communities close to the Kruger National Park (KNP), the Limpopo or Mozambican Transfrontier Park have always successfully farmed with cattle, and so it would be easy to convince them to farm with rhino, as the money they could make would make a big difference to their financial status.

Other pro-traders suggested treating poachers and poaching as a level 5 crime with a minimum sentence of 15 years and to label legal rhino horn as such so that users could differentiate between poached and legally harvested horns. Anti-traders suggested that legalising trade in horns could increase the market for the product.

Last year, more than 1 200 rhino were poached in South Africa alone. In Africa an estimated 28 500 rhino are still standing, of which 21 000 are from South Africa.

Caxton News Service

How corruption is undermining every aspect of conservation

Bob Smith, University of Kent

African elephants are in serious danger. The magnificent creatures are found in 37 countries – and most of these populations are threatened by poaching. The problem is that protecting elephants isn’t cheap and conservationists struggle to fund their work.

In Africa, budgets are tight and governments have bigger priorities such as funding health and education. At an international level public sympathy for elephants rarely translates into cash, so donor funding is normally short-term and unpredictable.

This is why many African governments stockpiled ivory that was confiscated from poachers or came from elephants that died of natural causes before selling their ivory legally and using the money to pay for conservation work. This last happened in 2008 but several African countries are stockpiling more of their ivory for the future. Many countries outside Africa – prominent among them China – have markets for antique and legally stockpiled ivory.

So the sale of ivory can provide a reliable source of funding for elephant conservation. But outside Africa this trade is often passionately opposed. This partly comes from lack of awareness – many people think all ivory comes from poaching, whereas some comes from elephant deaths and herd conservation and management. Many people are also uneasy about the idea of making money from wildlife and are particularly uncomfortable when it involves animals as majestic as elephants.

This is one reason why in the last year several countries have destroyed their ivory stockpiles in the hope it will discourage trade and reduce poaching. In contrast, countries such as Botswana and South Africa, which have large and growing elephant populations, continue to store theirs.

Corruption in conservation

A more specific issue has come to light, however. We now have good evidence that the trade is being undermined by corruption. Poached ivory is being laundered as legal ivory and park staff, customs officials and politicians have been implicated. Some conservationists argue this corruption can’t be tackled and have called for a complete trade ban.

The fact that people are exposing these examples of corruption is a great step forward. This is because conservationists are generally wary of publicising the problem. However, together with colleagues, I recently argued that we should not single out the ivory trade. Corruption could be undermining every aspect of elephant conservation and we have no evidence that this trade is more affected.

Successful elephant conservation is based on funding park management, enforcing laws and sharing benefits with local people. All of these can be undermined by bribery, cronyism and embezzlement.

This is illustrated by a 2010 study that looked at how well African national parks protected their wildlife. It showed that all animals are in decline in the more corrupt countries, including lower-profile species such as antelopes and zebras. This suggests elephant numbers would be dropping anyway in these countries, independent of international wildlife trade policy.

Fortunately, evidence from business and anti-poverty projects does show that corruption can be tackled. An important first step is breaking up the problem into specific issues, such as embezzlement of national park budgets or bribery of police to turn a blind eye to poaching. This makes the task less daunting, changing the idea that corruption is a huge, unsolvable problem. Many of these problems can then be reduced by adopting good business practice. These include commonsense actions such as checking project bank accounts and sacking rule-breakers.

Another approach is to focus on where conservation groups have the most influence. Police and customs officials put most of their efforts into stopping crimes against people, not animals. So it makes sense for conservationists to try and stop elephants being poached in the first place.

Increasing success on the ground ensures healthy elephant populations and local people’s support for their conservation. It also tackles the problem of ivory laundering at source.

Tackling the problem

All of this suggests we can tackle corruption in elephant conservation but need to change how conservationists deal with the problem. A good start would be following the example of anti-poverty groups, such as CAFOD, Tearfund and Christian Aid. They recognised that corporate bribery was stopping them achieving their goals and took action. This is why they played an active role in publicising the problem and supporting new anti-corruption initiatives, such as the recent UK Bribery Act.

Just as importantly, the international community needs to consider corruption when developing elephant conservation strategies. At the moment, it takes a crisis before new policies and projects are developed. These initiatives then focus on countries with the biggest poaching problems and assume more money and stricter laws will help.

But such policies actually play into the hands of corrupt officials. It is much easier to steal money in a crisis and stricter laws just create more opportunities for bribery. Burning ivory reduces the supply and could increase prices on the black market. So unless corruption is tackled, investing in elephant poaching hot-spots will be a short-term solution at best.

Instead, we need projects to understand and tackle corruption. We should learn from countries with successful elephant conservation policies and give them a greater voice in international debates. Finally, we should discuss corruption more openly and use our head as well as our heart when trying to save Africa’s elephants.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.