anti-poaching efforts Archives - Rhino Review

Jaldapara National Park vigil stepped up (State of West Bengal, India)

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The Telegraph India | March 5, 2020

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The forest department has decided to increase the manpower at Jaldapara National Park — the largest habitat of rhinos in Bengal — and constitute more anti-poaching teams in the run-up to Holi.

The department has sought the help of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which guards the India-Bhutan border, and the district police to intensify vigil at the park, particularly after Monday’s forest fire.

Original photo as published by The Telegraph: Forest guards mounted on elephants patrol an area in Jaldapara. (Picture courtesy: Bengal forest department)

The fire destroyed around 80 hectares of grassland. The authorities suspect that the blaze had been lit in view of the traditional pre-Holi hunting expeditions undertaken by sections of tribals.

Smaller herbivores like rabbits and deer are usually targeted during such expeditions and fires are usually lit to bring them out in the open for hunting.

Department sources said they had identified as “sensitive” some entry points at the Kodalbusty and Jaldapara North ranges. “These are sensitive points that lead to animal habitats. We will intensify vigil, along with the police, at these points to prevent people from sneaking into the park,” a forester said.

There are 21 permanent and five temporary watchtowers at the park. Forest guards man them round the clock.

“We have plans to temporarily erect some more towers. Also, people will be engaged on a daily basis for patrolling along with our regular staff. In total, 45 anti-poaching teams will be formed,” said Kumar Vimal, the divisional forest officer of the Jaldapara wildlife division.

“The dog squad of our department will also be engaged to trace the presence of outsiders,” he added.

A group of around 15 tribals on Tuesday evening handed over arms used for hunting to foresters at the Kodalbusty range, promising to refrain from hunting, the DFO said.

Forest minister Rajib Banerjee has said the department will award the employees who brought the fire under control.

No Entry at Gorumara

Vigil has also been stepped up at Gorumara National Park, another rhino habitat.

During Holi on March 9 and 10, tourists will not be allowed to enter Gorumara, a forest official said. “Also, we will make announcements in the fringe areas that no one should enter the park ahead of Holi for hunting or any other illegal purpose,” the official added.


Poaching and the problem with conservation in Africa (Commentary)

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Richard Fynn & Oluwatoyin Kolawole, Mongabay | March 3, 2020

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Poaching is threatening wildlife conservation in Africa. Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and rhino (Ceratotherium simum and Diceros bicornis) populations have been devastated and the bushmeat trade is severely impacting wildlife populations. Who is to blame? Will international funding of anti-poaching forces help to solve the problem?

Crime syndicates may be fuelling the poaching of elephant and rhino but they are not the source of the problem. Rather than treat the symptoms by spending millions on weapons and anti-poaching forces, which experience has repeatedly shown does not stop poaching, there is a need to understand the underlying causes of the poaching problem if it is to be solved.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

Kruger National Park in South Africa, which spends over $13.5 million annually on anti-poaching, has the most highly-trained and dedicated anti-poaching force in Africa, including dividing the park into 22 sections, each with its own section ranger and a team of field rangers, use of dog tracker packs, helicopter support, and the South African defense force to offer assistance.

Yet with all this money spent and all the manpower effort, 504, 421 and 327 rhino were poached in Kruger in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Although the number of poached rhinos is going down each year, it is partly because there are fewer and fewer rhinos left to poach, with their numbers having declined exponentially in Kruger since 2011.

This underscores our point that if all the money spent on the massive, highly coordinated anti-poaching effort in Kruger cannot prevent the poaching of rhino, how much more difficult will it be to save elephant and rhino populations in other African countries that do not have access to this sort of funding?

For example, in spite of all the efforts of national defence forces and wildlife departments, elephant numbers are in a catastrophic decline. The main mandate of the Botswana Defence Force is anti-poaching. Yet, they have been unable to curb rhino and bush meat poaching in Botswana. So why is poaching such a problem?

In his paper “Everyday Forms of Resistance,” Professor James Scott, a political scientist at Yale, outlined the reasons for poaching and why it is so difficult to control. Scott noted that poaching (as a form of resistance) metamorphoses into a form of class conflict between the local, rural disenfranchised class and the external, affluent class. We need to first understand that, local people across Africa were moved out to create protected areas (PAs).

Today, international tourism companies and national governments make millions from the resources (wildlife and scenery) within these PAs while local communities are pushed to the periphery and do not benefit from them. The disenfranchisement of the Maasai in both Kenya and Tanzania is a case in point and well known; a recent article on this issue was recently published right here on Mongabay.com.

Evidence of local communities’ displacement abound. For instance, the book Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Displacement, Forced Settlement, and Sustainable Development provides many case studies, highlighting the devastating effects of displacement by PAs on peoples’ livelihoods through the ensuing loss of access to traditional resources and adaptive strategies, such as key forage resources for livestock in wetlands during drought years.

To make things worse, not only do local communities not benefit from conservation, but they are confronted with a serious challenge of having to contend with conflict with wildlife. Marauding elephants damage farmers’ crops and kill people. Lions and other carnivores kill people and their livestock, while wildlife-related diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, only translate to receiving a pittance for the sale of livestock as compared to regions where wildlife is absent. Thus, local communities are carrying a very heavy burden of conservation while elites carry very little of the burden, resulting in the cost-benefit ratio of conservation being strongly skewed in favor of tourism companies, national governments, and the international conservation community.

While this situation is not ethically and morally acceptable, it is also not in any way sustainable. A recent article in the Ngami Times, “Okavango Delta robbed to feed the rich” (January 17-24, 2020), lamented the fact that outside people and elites are getting rich from the Okavango Delta while the local people are kept in poverty. This is true across Africa.

Recently, the governor of Kajiado County in Kenya, Joseph ole Lenku, threatened to order his people to start killing wildlife unless they are given much better benefits from wildlife conservation. As local people continue to be disenfranchised by conservation policies and practice, they are angry because they see others benefiting from their resources, while they receive very little or nothing therefrom; they only witness the damage caused by wildlife on their livelihoods.

As James Scott noted:

To do so affirms the fact that class conflict is, first and foremost, a struggle over the appropriation of work, property, production, and taxes. Consumption, from this perspective, is both the goal and the outcome of resistance and counter-resistance. Petty thefts of grain or pilfering on the threshing floor may seem like trivial ‘coping’ mechanisms from one vantage point; but from a broader view of class relations, how the harvest is actually divided belongs at the center. [Our emphasis.]

Scott also provided some insights into why poaching becomes so difficult to control when rural people are disenfranchised by an inequitable conservation harvest:

The problems of enforcement, however, are not entirely attributable to geography and demography; they are due at least as much to tacit complicity, and, occasionally active cooperation among the population from which the poachers come. Consider the difficulties that poachers would face if local residents were actively hostile to them and willing to give evidence in court. Poaching as a systematic pattern of reappropriation is simply unimaginable without a normative consensus that encourages it or, at a minimum, tolerates it. Otherwise it would be a simple matter to apprehend offenders. The forms such coordination and cooperation might take are extremely difficult to bring to light. [Our emphasis.]

Given that local people are probably poaching mainly for socioeconomic benefits (selling of bush meat, ivory, or rhino horn), such acts would be extremely difficult to sustain without cooperation and complicity among the population from which the poachers come. This demonstrates that resistance of authorities is a key element sustaining the viability of poaching. Poaching, as an act of resistance, is achieved through informal rural social networks; they hide and even encourage poachers and the middlemen to hunt game and buy meat, ivory, and rhino horn.

Herein lies the answer to the poaching problem: Local communities, who are born and bred in the area, know the landscapes intimately, have well-developed local social networks in these areas, and, as such, are ultimately able to outwit government conservation agencies who don’t know the area and don’t have the local social networks and sufficient funding or manpower to operate at every local situation. Thus, the level of legal authority is mismatched with the level of management requirements (a scale mismatch). Local communities, with their social networks and local support, hide the middlemen buying the meat, ivory, and rhino horn. They have information through their networks on where government patrols are, and by that means find it easy to avoid them. If caught, they have the local police on their side, who are their own people and who sympathize with them, hence poachers, in many cases, are let off the hook and their weapons returned to them. Consequently, government conservation agencies are rarely able to effectively control poaching, as witnessed in the incessant rhino, elephant, and bush meat poaching occurring across Africa.

These same factors that enable local communities to outwit government conservation agencies also make them much more effective conservators, because they are better matched to the local scale than centralized, state-led institutions. For instance, the greater knowledge of local communities about their local landscapes, combined with the practicalities of living on site, resulted in wildlife scouts from a community wildlife management area (WMA) in the Luangwa Valley of Zambia to clock more working hours and arrest more poachers than government scouts.

These local communities were given ownership rights and decision-making power over wildlife in their area and derived benefits from wildlife conservation through tourism, trophy hunting, and meat from hunted animals. Soon the chief ordered his people to no longer poach and to report the presence of poachers. With their strong social networks, it became impossible for external poachers to remain undetected. This resulted in a tenfold reduction of rhino and elephant poaching. Similarly, Namibian conservancies, where local communities have been given ownership over wildlife, have seen a great reduction in poaching of rhino, with some having not lost a single rhino in the last two years.

The significance of the positive outcomes in these community conservation projects becomes clearly apparent when contrasted with the indelible flood of rhino poaching in Botswana and South Africa, where local communities neither have ownership and decision-making powers over wildlife nor derive any benefit from wildlife. Another example is the Rovuma elephant project, which is a community project in Tanzania. Here local communities are involved in decision-making and their village members engage in anti-poaching activities. While elephants are being devastated by poaching all around their area in the government-controlled PAs of the Selous Game Reserve, elephant poaching in their immediate local area has dropped dramatically.

These testaments are living proof. The reasons for conservation problems in Africa are not far-fetched. The problems are inextricably linked to government control of conservation and the associated moral and ethical problems of displacement and disenfranchisement of local communities by PAs while elites benefit from their resources — a colonial conservation mindset that is no longer acceptable. Thus, it is time to give local communities’ lands back to them and allow them to conserve and derive benefits from wildlife conservation in their local areas, where they have the decision-making rights over wildlife management. True and valid devolution of decision-making rights to local communities means that they, not governments, decide on who they will partner with in tourism and they, not consultants, decide on how they will manage their areas.

This also means that local communities must decide whether they want to have trophy hunting in their area. It is a direct violation of decision-making rights of local communities for governments to implement nation-wide hunting bans, as this greatly undermines the former’s ability to demonstrate ownership of and derive value from wildlife. The hunting ban in Botswana caused loss of access to game meat and collapsed income flows from wildlife to local communities, causing resentment of external control of conservation, implemented from the top down, against their wishes, which has resulted in increased poaching.

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) thrives when full decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife are devolved to local communities. Theory and factual evidence show that this is the only solution to ensuring that wildlife conservation is sustainable.

Science-based frameworks, such as the social-ecological systems framework (SESF), clearly articulate the governance principles for sustainable conservation, highlighting the importance of devolving autonomy of decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife to local communities. So successful has this framework been for community conservation worldwide that Elinor Ostrom, one of its key proponents, was awarded a Nobel Prize. Similarly, decades of research on CBNRM in Africa have confirmed the importance of local people’s decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife for promoting successful local community conservation projects. Ostrom and Nagendra reached similar conclusions in south Asia from studies of forest use by local communities under different governance regimes. They note:

If the formal rules limiting access and harvest levels are not known or considered legitimate by local resource users, substantial investment in fences and official guards to patrol boundaries are needed to prevent ‘illegal’ harvesting. Without these expensive inputs, government-owned, ‘protected’ forests may not be protected in practice… when the users themselves have a role in making local rules, or at least consider the rules to be legitimate, they are frequently willing to engage themselves in monitoring and sanctioning of uses considered illegal, even of public property.

By contrast, if these principles are overridden and centralized by government agencies, then local communities are likely to resist conservation objectives, even causing a collapse of conservation efforts.

Across Africa, national governments refuse to devolve decision-making power and benefits from wildlife to local communities. Thus, poaching is unsurprisingly out of control. African governments have, therefore, reaped, and are still reaping, the harvest of their bad policy decisions. So far, only the Namibian government has been brave enough to bring in proper science-based policies that devolve ownership, decision-making rights, and benefits from wildlife to local communities. The Namibian government now reaps the benefits as witnessed in very low poaching rates and growing rhino populations in their country. Wise and proper policies bring good results!

Indeed, it is now time to give local communities large concession areas in and around PAs, over which they have autonomy of decision-making rights, managed through their local institutions, and through which they could benefit from tourism, trophy hunting, fishing, collection of veldt products such as thatching grass, reeds, and wild food plants, and, importantly, access to key traditional grazing resources for their livestock (planned in a manner that facilitates co-existence with wildlife).

It must be emphasized that the role of national governments in conservation is not eclipsed by these community-centered approaches to conservation, but rather re-aligned from managing local scale problems, such as anti-poaching patrols, to playing overseeing, coordinating, and supporting roles at national scales. This could involve coordinating cross-scale conservation networks that include various government departments, parastatals, local and international NGOs, researchers, and private sector interests that support and promote the success of community conservation projects.

Tourist companies are not threatened by such an arrangement either. Instead of partnering with governments and paying government concession fees, they can now partner with local communities and pay them directly. This ensures that local communities get much better financial benefit from conservation — a critical ingredient for sustainability.

The proof of concept for giving back lands to local communities within PAs can be seen in the Makuleke example, where the Makuleke community were given back the northern section of Kruger from which they had been displaced. They have successfully run this section of Kruger in partnership with South African National Parks, with support from conservation NGOs.

Giving local communities land within PAs can also play a key role in negotiating for conserving important land for wildlife, such as migration corridors, in community areas outside PAs, which was observed when the Makuleke community added some of their land outside Kruger to their repatriated land within Kruger.

Devolving power and benefits to local communities will enable local communities to acquire full responsibility for anti-poaching operations, which they are much better positioned to do than external agencies who do not have the social networks and local knowledge needed to effectively perform oversight functions in the local area. As witnessed in the Luangwa Valley and Namibian conservancies, there is every likelihood that there will be a significant decline in poaching once community conservation is properly implemented.

Ultimately, the solution to significantly reduce poaching across Africa is not going to be about increasing state-led anti-poaching forces and their automatic weapons. As witnessed in Kruger, the cost of relying on government-controlled anti-poaching forces is immense and ineffective. These unnecessary costs could have been avoided under community conservation and the money more effectively invested into developing community conservation programs.

Richard Fynn is an Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Oluwatoyin Kolawole is a Professor of Rural Development, both at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, Maun.


Gov’t buys more body bags as war against rhino poachers intensifies (Botswana)

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Mbongeni Mguni, Mmegi Online | February 7, 2020

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Government has purchased more body bags and more military personnel are due to be deployed to rhino poaching hotspots as the State mounts a ‘war’ to save rhinos whose population is reportedly on the brink of extinction in the country.

Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism permanent secretary, Oduetse Koboto told Mmegi that strategic interventions on the rhino crisis are being finalised, but in the meantime more body bags had been already ordered to cater for the expected higher fatalities amongst poachers.

Original photo as published by Mmegi Online: More poachers to be shot.

Cabinet is due to soon consider a raft of interventions proposed by the ministry and other experts to stem the poaching crisis in which 35 or so rhinos have been slaughtered in the past nine months, leaving the overall population at dangerously low levels. Since April last year, the country has been losing up to two rhinos per week, prompting government to issue a rare admission last October that the frequency would wipe out the beasts in “one or two years”.

Government officials, from the ministry up to President Mokgweetsi Masisi are playing their cards close to their chests on what the planned interventions are, saying any revelations would forearm poachers.

However, Koboto said ahead of the decision on which interventions to adopt, the “shoot-to-kill” policy had been fortified.

“The issue of the number of bodybags does not have to wait for the strategic interventions; that one we have already done it,” he told Mmegi.

“If anything happens, we will not shy away from taking these people out when they put our people at risk. “Anyone who puts our people in danger, we expect that they will be brought in alive or dead. The bags are to collect them.”

It is understood the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has stepped up its intelligence gathering efforts to root out the drivers of the onslaught on rhinos and the strategic interventions to be considered will speak to the data gathered.

“Poaching is not a straightforward activity when it is being done by professionals,” Koboto said. “Sometimes, these people even go beyond what we would
anticipate, in terms of their planning. They invest in these plans because the activity is high risk and they come up with strategies to beat ours.

“In some cases they may even infiltrate our operations to try and get information about what we are planning.” He added: “We are working to establish networks and we have an idea of what is going on. Our strategic actions will look at that.

“These incidents previously were not happening and we have to invest in this area of knowledge. “We want to know how they are operating and the information they have.”

Koboto said strategic decisions were due to be taken urgently as the crisis was continuing. “We may announce the nitty gritty of what we will do because they will try and counter that. However, we will be clear on the objective.

“There are trials of some actions also taking place on the ground because this is an ongoing concern.

“As we sit here, the problem is going on.”

The latest rhino crisis is not without precedent, as in 1992, poachers ran black rhino numbers to zero and white rhinos to just 27. Aggressive interventions by the Botswana Defence Force, government policy to move the beasts into sanctuaries saw numbers gradually rise.

Relocation exercises from South Africa also helped shore up the numbers, before the crisis which came to light last year.

“People may think we are not doing anything about this problem, but it does take time.

“We are also working with our partners in the private sector on this.

“This type of situation is not like buying bread from a tuckshop; it’s a difficult matter and we are also asking the media not to sensationalise it.

“We don’t want to lose our men on the ground and in fact, the security of our people is the priority here,” Koboto said.


Tshekedi blames Masisi (Botswana)

By Antipoaching, Conservation One Comment
Phillimon Mmeso, The Patriot | February 6, 2020

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Former Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT) Tshekedi Khama has blamed skyrocketing incidents of poaching, where 39 rhinos have already been killed in the Okavango Delta, on ‘poor’ decisions by President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Specifically, Tshekedi put the blame on the disarmament of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) anti-poaching unit and dismantling of the Wildlife Intelligence Unit by government last year. In an exclusive interview, Tshekedi said the disarmament of the DWNP Anti-Poaching Unit has overburdened the Botswana Defence Force’s (BDF) Anti-Poaching Unit who are now the only disciplined force guarding the country’s fauna. “We had the best intelligence unit in the country and the only wildlife intelligence unit in Africa specializing on wildlife. The reason they were the best is because they solely focused on wildlife and managed to contain poaching in the country,” he said.

Original photo as published by The Patriot: Former Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama.

He said DWNP Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) was well equipped and could detect any threat to the wildlife and with the collaboration with other law enforcement agencies they managed to contain poaching. “That is why in 2017 through our intelligence unit we managed to arrest DIS officers at Makalamabedi with ivory which they failed to account for,” he said.

Before the change of administration in April 2018, MEWT was planning to build Anti-poaching camps in Kasane, Maun and Kang. The design for the three camps which were each to cost P70 million has already been completed and just awaiting construction.

The outspoken Serowe West MP said members of the APU are now only equipped with hunting raffles that cannot match the firepower of poachers who are well equipped with military training background and weapons of war. He also argues that the shoot to kill policy worked for Botswana because poachers knew that once they cross into the country their earthly departure could be fastracked by the anti-poaching operations.

Defending the move to disarm the DWNP APU, Masisi said it was against the law to equip wildlife officers with weapons of war. “You cannot promote illegality and claim to be law abiding. I am an addict to the rule of law and cannot be associated with banditry and illegality. The stretch of imagination that I can be associated with illegality is utter nonsense,” he said.

There are allegations that some of law enforcement agents could be part of the poaching cartels and giving Intel to poachers. In response TK said it could be possible but was quick to state that he is no longer part of government and cannot say if it is true. “Remember that our Intelligence Unit once arrested DIS officers with ivory and they failed to account for it. We handed the case to the police and it just disappeared and when we enquired we were told kgang eo e ko bagolong,” said TK, throwing his hands in the air in despair before adding that the then Deputy Commissioner of Police – Bruno Paledi – ordered that the suspects be released from police custody.

Another sting operation by DWNP intelligence Unit uncovered a secret stash of elephant tusks at a DISS camp in Ngwashe, near Nata village in northern Botswana. If during that time DIS could be caught with ivory that they could not account for, TK says anything is possible. The current situation, according to the former cabinet minister, is scary and could negatively affect Botswana tourism. “If we cannot protect our animals what about the citizens,” he asked rhetorically.

Tshekedi, who is now a Member of Parliament under the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), said he is considering writing to President Mokgweetsi Masisi volunteering to help. “I am ready to work with President Masisi to find solutions to the high rate of poaching because it is threatening our tourism industry. This is not a partisan issue but rather an issue of patriotism,” he revealed, adding that he is in good terms with President Masisi.

TK finds a statement released by the MEWT calling on citizens to help arrest poachers as reckless and unfortunate. “They are now telling the poachers that they are helpless and are now running to the public for help,” he said.

Last week a Wildlife and Livestock Veterinarian Erik Verreynne put the blame on the previous administration that TK was part of, for believing that Botswana was a safe haven for wildlife saying it was naïve and arrogant. TK does not take kindly to the suggestion, saying Erik thinks highly of himself but he is just a veterinarian. “Who is he, what experience and expertise does he have? He is just a vet and one of the issues I had with him is that he wanted to be used when doing relocation of rhinos but I refused and appointed a Motswana Dr Reuben as the rhino relocation coordinator,” hit out TK saying Verreynne is chewing sour grapes.

Efforts to get comment from DWNP were fruitless as they did not respond to the questionnaire sent to them last week. The publication wanted to know if there has been any arrests made regarding the killing of the 39 elephants and if it is true that some DWNP officers might be part of the poaching cartel.

Responding to the escalating poaching especially of rhinos in the delta, President Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed that the country is looking at changing strategies on anti-poaching as well as renegotiating partnerships the country has with other stakeholders.

He argued that the escalation in the number of poaching incidents is not due to any change in policies towards anti-poaching as some may believe. Masisi indicated that due to the recent rise in rhino poaching, there is an imminent need to change strategies, but due to security reasons he could not reveal the new strategies to fight against poaching.

Taking a pot shot at his predecessor former president Ian Khama and those close to him, Masisi said that there is a worrying emergence of a small grouping that always have commentary of the poaching situation in Botswana intended to tarnish the country as a good haven for animals and in turn call for boycotting of Botswana tourism.


Pics: Too early to celebrate decline in rhino poaching numbers – WWF (South Africa)

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Nica Schreuder, The Citizen | February 4, 2020

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Organised crime syndicates continue to thrive, capitalising on poverty and desperation facing both South Africa and Mozambique, the conservation body says.

Although concerted efforts are being made to curb poaching, both in Mozambique and South Africa, issues are being exacerbated by poachers posing as ordinary tourists, or using villages to gain entry into the Kruger National Park.

This as a dismal yet familiar scene of yet another poached rhino met Kruger National Park (KNP) rangers on 19 January.

Suspects involved in the killing are still on the loose, crime scene investigators said on 3 February, while describing what evidence has so far been gathered.

At present, a case docket has been opened, and two bullet slugs were found at the scene.

Original picture as published by The Citizen: SAPS Forensic Services, Police Crime Scene Investigator and Sanpark investigative team at Western Boundary were a Rhino was shot and killed by poachers at the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga, 3 February 2020. (Picture: Nigel Sibanda)

South African National Parks (SANParks) communications and marketing general manager, Ike Phaahla, said that while radar and early detection warning systems are being used to prevent poaching incidents, this is not limited to rhino preservation. Many other species are currently under threat, most notably elephants and pangolins.

Phaahla said initiatives have been put in place to engage with Mozambique since 2012. Those efforts finally yielded results in 2017 when rhino poaching was recognised as a criminal offence.

Liaisons between Mozambique and the KNP are crucial, as the boundary frustrates efforts to curb poaching on both sides.

As such, Phaahla explained that because SANParks are not allowed on the Mozambican side of the border, they are alerted by Mozambican authorities if suspected poachers have entered the park.

If a spoor is picked up, KNP makes Mozambique aware of this to follow up and hopefully convict potential poachers. Mozambique also makes KNP aware if spoor is picked up on their side of the border.

Anti-poaching efforts can only succeed if Mozambique and South Africa’s agreement stays strong. Territorial infringement is not an option, but more authorities are being engaged with to ensure that efforts to curb poaching are not affected by political challenges. Phaahla was optimistic that political and operational cooperation was being achieved.

Poachers from Mozambique often use villages on the western boundary of the park to enter the KNP, and although there are South African poachers, Phaahla said most poaching incidents were still traced back to Mozambique.

Frustrations are, however, running high, with poachers being able to easily hide in plain sight, posing as tourists with no ill intentions.

Environmental monitors made up of villagers living in the KNP vicinity could potentially help curb even the well-hidden poachers.

Phaahla explained that the monitors patrol fences and boundaries, letting the KNP know if any tracks were picked up, and are the region’s “eyes and ears”.

The efficiency of anti-poaching efforts have slightly improved rhino poaching statistics, released on 3 February by the department of environment, forestry and fisheries (Deff), with a noted decline in rhino poaching incidents.

Deff Minister Barbara Creecy said efforts to curb poaching are in line with the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros, as well as the draft of the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT). The draft was recommended in 2016, but has yet to be officially implemented.

However, celebrations over the positive news of a slight decline in rhino poaching numbers may be short-lived.

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) reaction to the statistics for 2019, the fact that the NISCWT has not yet been adopted in parliament is worrying.

This, compounded with the sobering reality that rhino poaching numbers could only be dropping due to there being less living rhinos in the country, means current poaching numbers may not be as positive as initially thought.

This point was not touched on by Creecy, the organisation noted with concern.

In 2018, 769 rhino were killed, against 594 killed in 2019. Creecy said 327 rhino were poached in the KNP last year. Despite cautious optimism, the WWF said, organised crime syndicates continue to thrive, capitalising on poverty and desperation facing both South Africa and Mozambique.

The availability of suitable habitats for threatened species in the long term also remains uncertain.

The South African Police Service’s Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit, Hawks, the Green Scorpions, customs and the National Prosecuting Authority cannot solely be relied on to successfully curb poaching.

Serious and complex social and economic drivers allowing the organised crime syndicates to thrive must be addressed with urgency in order for statistics to accurately reflect the wellbeing of rhino and other animals currently in high demand.

“The role of corruption — inevitably associated with organised crime syndicates — must also be addressed,” noted WWF’s statement reacting to the Deff release.