In my capacity as the MEC for Environmental Affairs, I wish to congratulate law enforcement agencies for working with communities and Game Rangers attached to our entity Ezemvelo Wildlife. This weekend I was informed about the arrest of a 30-year old man who was found in possession of Rhino horn with the value of R1, 2 million.
It should be remembered that on the 23rd of September 2020, I visited game rangers and law enforcement agencies at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. I was impressed and encouraged by an integrated approach that has been adopted and implemented in fighting wildlife crime.
Figures have shown that money earned in the illicit animal trade is more than 10 billion US Dollars. Such illegal activities have resulted in the loss of biodiversity and destruction of the ecosystem.
As guided by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, we are obliged to sustain our fight against wildlife crime. In terms of the Act, the illegal trade in ivory is a criminal offence and anyone found guilty could spend a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail or a fine of R10 million.
We wish to commend communities that are working with us to fight rhino poaching. Critically, we will continue with efforts aimed at ensuring that communities benefit from our eco-system. This forms part of the implementation of the KZN economic reconstruction and transformation plan.
Our entity, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, manages the largest eco-tourism operations which give this province a competitive edge. The entity manages more than 114 protected areas and close to 40 facilities that provide accommodation to 6500 people per night.
These include campsites, Didima, Giant’s Castle and Hilltop in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and Ntshondwe in Ithala Game Reserve.
On the issue of fighting rhino poaching, when I was at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park I inspected a Smart Park connectivity and the integration of systems. This cutting edge technology is the first of its kind and it has ensured early detection of any suspected rhino poaching attempt and rapid response.
One of the key instruments being used is the installation of infrared trap cameras linked directly to the Parks Operational Centre. These cameras using artificial intelligence (AI) identify people and send an immediate alert to the Operations Centre who then rapidly alerts and activates the relevant Reaction Units and associated resources.
Over the past months, through an infrared camera, we detected three armed poaching suspects and automatically alerted the Operations Centre, providing a number of persons, grid reference and direction of the incursion.
The Reaction Unit was immediately briefed and dispatched. The suspects were located in the area and challenged. The Reaction Unit members who came under immediate threat defended themselves which resulted in the two suspects being mortally wounded.
Importantly, the implementation of these smart technologies could not have been done without the long-standing support from these key agencies who have invested resources, technical support and the channelling of donor funding to these key initiatives – the results of which has resulted in a decline in poaching loss over the last few years.
However, it must be noted while this decline is evident, the pressure on our rhino is ever-present. Ezemvelo staff will continue with the steady and stable implementation of these technologies to ensure that critical support is provided to our Operations Team.