Mike Loewe, Dispatch Live | July 5, 2020
An extraordinary environmental crime state-private network in the Eastern Cape has been accredited for the massive reduction in rhino and cycad poaching in the province in 2019 and again this year.
Since rhino poaching got going in the province in 2008, 100 rhinos have been slaughtered by the horn robbers, with the crime peaking in 2019 when 19 were killed.
However, this death toll has been brought down to two, in 2020, since the province, working under the co-ordinated leadership of the Green Scorpions, started fighting back.
This was reported by the East Cape Game Management Association in their six-page submission for the entire provincial government unit to win the 2020 conservation practitioner award at the internationally recognised Rhino Conservation Award to be held on World Ranger Day on July 31.
The Green Scorpions, a unit of 30 men and women environmental inspectors in the compliance and enforcement directorate of the department of economic development, environmental affairs & tourism, had forged a unique path which had seen the inspectors extricate themselves from tedious government bureaucracy and branch out into the public realm for active support, argued the game managers association.
They stated that the unit, under the leadership of senior manager Div de Villiers, had activated a network of honorary conservationists over the last few years which had worked together to bring down at least three poaching syndicates, resulting in a massive decline in destruction of rhino and theft and dislocation of ancient cycads.
Jaap Pienaar, a former deputy director of the unit who retired in 2015, said the nonprofit company, the Volunteer Green Scorpions Association which he co-ordinated, had grown to 70 members who had actively supported the Scorpions with funds to hire aircraft and on the ground with personnel.
The Green Scorpions had already made use of the Eastern Cape Environmental Crime Working Group set up at the dawn of the SA democracy in 1995, when the working group was mobilised across numerous government departments to pursue environmental crimes.
The unit carried their own case dockets and investigated them themselves, and had dedicated access to state advocate Buks Coetzee in getting cases before judges.
In other provinces the police took over these green dockets, the association stated.
This set-up, especially the creation of a special investigations unit of environmental inspectors, had been endorsed by then-Dedeat MEC Mcebisi Jonas and recently by former MEC, now premier Oscar Mabuyane.
They led a protest match to the seat of the Eastern Cape high court in Makhanda calling for heavy sentences for the notorious Ndlovu rhino poaching gang.
Sentences of 25 years in jail were handed down, creating a public “euphoria”.
The unit had also moved into the arena of biodiversity crimes, leading to heavy sentences for cycad thieves, such as 18 years in jail for syndicate boss Sam Homela, and the recovery and replanting of 1,000 cycads.
Since 2010 42 cycad thieves had been jailed.
Pienaar said that during the lockdown the volunteers had assisted the Scorpions in 19 cases of environmental crime, particularly illegal hunting.
In their application for the award, the game managers said the Green Scorpions had provided specialist training to the SAPS stock theft unit, asset forfeiture unit, the department of forestry and fisheries, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, and Sanparks.
The unit is competing for the award against the Marula South IPZ rangers in the Kruger National Park and SANParks Airwing (SA) pilots working in the Kruger National Park.