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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.

 

SANParks cracks down on rhino poachers, seven arrested

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Azarrah Karrim, News24 | January 10, 2020

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SANParks says it has kicked off the new year on a positive note, arresting seven suspected rhino poachers in the first nine days of 2020.

On January 2, three suspected poachers were arrested in the Lower Sabie/Skukuza area during a day-long operation conducted by rangers, K9 support and air wing rapid reaction units.

“During the contact, which happened just before last light, a heavy calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment were recovered,” SANParks said in a statement.

On January 7, three more suspects were arrested by the Stolznek and Pretoriuskop ranger team supported by K9 and air wing rapid reaction units. “This group was found in possession of a high calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment.”

One more arrest was made on January 9 during another crackdown operation in the Tshokwane section of the park.

The seven suspects have since been handed over to the police who will investigate the case. They will be appearing in court soon.

SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni called on residents to co-operate with the authorities by providing information that would aid with this campaign.

“These criminals reside in our neighbouring villages and we urge our neighbours to help us save jobs and create opportunities through tourism because people come to the park to see these magnificent animals and if we lose them through the actions of these selfish individuals, we won’t be an attraction anymore,” Mketeni said.

He also commended the teams for their work.

“Congratulations to the entire SANParks team. We thank you for your dedication, obedience and tenacity and we wish you a successful 2020.”

 

SANParks makes U-turn on suspension of whistle-blower and general manager

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Sizwe Sama Yende, News24 | December 24, 2019

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SANParks management has backed down and reinstated a suspended whistle-blower after his union reported the matter to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office.

Raymond Khosa has been spearheading a campaign to end alleged racism, arbitrary torture and detention of black employees at the world-renowned Kruger National Park, mostly on baseless allegations of rhino poaching.

He was suspended on gross misconduct charges that included making allegations against SANParks and certain officials, challenging authority and being disrespectful.

Management hired Analytical Forensic Investigation Services (AFIS) six months ago to investigate the allegations. SANParks also suspended Marula regional ranger, Don English, who black rangers implicated in the abuse when they made presentations to AFIS investigator, Boyce Mkhize. English’s suspension has also been lifted.

At the moment, no one is facing charges concerning the alleged atrocities reported at Kruger National Park.

General manager, Glenn Phillips, resigned when the investigation started.

Although personal reasons were cited for Phillips’ departure, it is wildly believed he left to avoid the process.

SANParks spokesperson, Isaac Phaahla, could not be drawn into revealing the reasons for the lifting of Khosa and English’s suspensions, and if SANParks would discipline anyone implicated in the abuse of black employees.

“The decision was taken to adhere to good labour relations and governance,” said Phaahla.

“The employees are back at work while the investigation initiated by the organisations into their allegations are being finalised.”

SANParks, he said, has been consistent in explaining its wish to protect the integrity of “our own employees and the process that is underway”.

Phaahla said the matter was between the employer and employee.

“A discussion on details of what will happen when the process unfolds will certainly undermine a highly regulated process. We therefore request for the process to be respected and allowed to run to its logical conclusion,” Phaahla said.

According to minutes of a meeting that Khosa and his union, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union, held with corporate services chief director in the presidency, Mandla Feni, on December 2, it was recommended then that Khosa’s suspension be lifted.

When SANParks ignored Khosa’s requests to end the abuse of black employees, he had to report the matter to the presidency for action to be taken.

The meeting also recommended that the Special Investigations Unit should be involved.

“It is recommended that the matter be escalated to the SIU for authentication of all claims. The suspension [of Khosa] must be lifted or extended pending the proposed outcome of the investigation by the SIU and all other on-going engagements,” reads the minutes.

It seems English also benefited from the meeting’s outcome.

 

Don English back to fight poaching again (South Africa)

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Lowvelder | December 13, 2019

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The unexpected suspension of two top rangers in the Kruger National Park (KNP) was lifted earlier this week.

Don English and Victor Magakwe were suspended on October 11 for the alleged assault and mistreatment of rangers who turned out to be suspected poachers. Rey Thakhuli, SANParks spokesman, confirmed that both rangers are to return to work.

“Both Mr English and Mr Magakwe’s suspensions have been lifted and they will be expected to report back this week.” Thakhuli added that the investigation is ongoing and will be finalised in due course.

Original photo as published by Lowvelder.

“As this is a matter between the employer and employees I am unable to divulge more details on the matter, as I wouldn’t want to prejudice against any of the parties.”

This followed after complaints were allegedly filed by another game ranger a few months ago. The ranger was allegedly suspended prior to English and Magakwe for his apparent involvement in rhino poaching.

At the time that English and Magakwe were suspended, Ike Phaahla, general manager of communications KNP, confirmed that it was part of an ongoing investigation “around allegations that remain just that: allegations”.

Phaahla further explained that as part of good governance, and respect for all their employees, suspensions are a necessary part of the process for investigations to happen effectively, and with transparency.

An independent consultant, Adv Boyce Mkhize, was appointed to do an investigation into the matter.

Two suspected poachers killed in Kruger Park (South Africa)

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News24 | December 13, 2019

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Rangers killed two suspected rhino poachers in a shooting at the famous Kruger Park, the South African National Parks said on Friday.

The incident on Thursday night occurred when an anti-poaching patrol came across three people, carrying a loaded heavy gun and poaching equipment, SANParks said in a statement.

Original photo as published by News24. (File, John Thys, AFP)

“During this contact, two of the suspects were fatally injured and the third managed to escape under cover of darkness,” it added.

Home to about 80% of the world rhino population, South Africa has been the epicentre of poaching in recent years.

Last year it lost 769 rhinos to poachers, and more than 7,100 animals have been slaughtered over the past decade

Poaching is fuelled by the demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is coveted as a traditional medicine, an aphrodisiac or as a status symbol, and can fetch up to $60,000 per kilogramme.

Kruger Park rangers accused of poaching back on the job (South Africa)

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Landé Willemse, The Citizen | December 10, 2019

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Four Kruger National Park (KNP) rangers are back at work after they were arrested on poaching-related charges earlier this year, reports Lowvelder.

The four accused were arrested in two separate incidents and appeared in the Skukuza Court in January and February respectively.

“We can confirm that the four are now back at work,” said Reynold Thakhuli, SANParks acting head of corporate communications.

In January 2019, the media reported that Nzima Joe Shihlangu, 32, and Lucky Mkansi, 30, were arrested on January 15 after authorities believed they were allegedly involved in rhino poaching incidents at the KNP.

The duo was arrested at the Crocodile Bridge Section closest to the Mozambican border.

They were each granted R10,000 bail and were instructed not to have any contact with other KNP rangers while SANParks’ internal investigations were under way.

In a separate incident, Hendrik Silinda and Musa Mlambo were arrested in February in the park on poaching-related incidents.

Thakhuli added that bail conditions were set at the discretion of judges and that they were not aware of any changes to them thus far.

Lowvelder is investigating and will publish findings soon.

 

South African filmmakers win top award and donate prize money to Kruger K9 unit

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SAPeople | December 2, 2019

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South African filmmakers, who on Friday won a top conservation award for their anti-rhino poaching documentary, have donated the R20,000 prize money to the Kruger National Park Special Ranger K9 Unit.

The multiple award-winning wildlife crime thriller, ‘STROOP – journey into the rhino horn war’, received its 26th award this weekend when the documentary’s filmmakers, Susan Scott and Bonné de Bod were honoured with the SANParks Kudu Award for Best Television Journalism for 2018/2019.

The film – which has received so many accolades from around the world, and helped raise awareness for the plight of SA’s rhino – means a lot to SAPeople members whose crowdfunding at the beginning played a part in helping ensure the important film did get made. (You can stream Stroop here.)

Original photo as published by SA People News: Bonné de Bod and Susan Scott SANParks Kudu Winners 2019. (Photos supplied.)

In addition to the coveted Kudu trophy, the award comes with a R20,000 cash prize which the filmmakers will be giving to the Special Ranger K9 Unit based in the Kruger National Park.

“So thrilled that we can give back to fight on the ground,” said television presenter and filmmaker Bonné de Bod at the glittering award ceremony held at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand on 29 November, adding “the dogs are a successful component to the unit and despite being ‘low-tech’, they are costly to have and we urge those in the public to give if they can to efforts there”.

Director Susan Scott added, “this very unit is featured in STROOP and they allowed us access into their closed world for several years, which of course is just incredible to have that kind of access at the epicenter of the rhino horn war, but this was hugely brave of them to trust us to tell their story to the world.

“It’s only fitting that we give back to them and we also know they will put this money to better use than we ever will!”

For their last cash prize, the passionate Stroop filmmakers shared the money with their mothers who they had moved in with during the four years of filming, when they had to sell everything to financially support the movie getting made.

This time the filmmakers will be donating the full cash prize to the SANParks Honorary Rangers who will ensure that the elite fighting unit in the Kruger will receive the donation.

Scott and de Bod already have an established relationship with the SANParks Honorary Rangers who receive a percentage of STROOP DVD sales from the Park’s Shops inside the Kruger National Park.

The filmmakers have stipulated that these funds directly benefit the ranger efforts inside the park.

Hosted annually, the Kudu Award is one of the country’s top conservation prizes given by the South African National Parks (SANParks) to recognize deserving conservationists including SANParks staff, NGO partners as well as the media.

According to Fundisile Mketeni, SANParks CEO, “Awareness of conservation issues is of vital importance and if we want to better protect our national parks… we need to educate and inform the public. The media are key in this role. Tonight we honour those leading the way in informing the world.”

The panel of judges said that the filmmakers were being recognized for creating an outstanding rhino awareness tool through the medium of storytelling and that they had made an immense contribution to dissemination of conservation information through the use of television.

The eye-opening, world-acclaimed documentary had its African television premiere on M-Net on World Rhino Day and screened in Afrikaans on kykNET back in September. STROOP is currently available on Showmax in SA and overseas (in most countries). (If you haven’t watched it yet – take advantage of Showmax’ special 14-day free offer and you can watch it now.)

Other winners on Friday included ‘Kruger Magazine’ which won Best Publication for Media Contribution to Conservation & Eco-Tourism.

 

Working towards making sedation safer for rhino (South Africa)

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Sheree Bega, The Independent Online | November 23, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG: Professor Leith Meyer hopes for the day when rhino anaesthesia has become so safe that no rhino will die during immobilisation.

“This is an important goal, especially as rhino populations, unfortunately, continue to decrease,” he said.

Meyer, the director of the Centre for Veterinary Wildlife Studies, at the University of Pretoria (UP), and an associate professor in veterinary pharmacology, led award-winning research, together with SANParks and Wits University, into the role of certain immobilising drugs.

Their research found that the effects of butorphanol, an opioid, on immobilised rhinos “may be a game changer” in preventing the loss of the endangered animals, after they survive poaching attacks and other anti-poachng measures, such as dehorning and collaring.

Original photo as published by IOL: Prof Leith Meyer and his team have produced award-winning research on rhino immobilisation and making anaesthesia safer for the animals.

For their work, the researchers received the 2018 Elsevier Prize, for the best article published in the journal “Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia”.

“Immobilsation can be a risky exercise, with rhinos dying during these procedures in the past,” Meyer said, in a statement this week.

“Immobillisation effects are not easy to measure in rhino, so we have to develop novel ways of measuring these effects, such as adapting a human exercise physiology system, to measure the ventilation and metabolism of immobilised rhinos.”

Despite the limitations, Meyer gained insight into the physiology of an immobilised rhino.

“Typically, rhinos are immobilised using etorphine, also known as M99, an opioid that is about 4000 times more potent than morphine.”

This is usually administered in combination with a tranquilliser, which reduces induction time and opioid-associated hypertension.

But most deaths of immobilised rhinos have occurred from hypoxia – abnormally low oxygen concentrations in the blood – which is an effect of drugs such as etorphine, he explained.

Butorphanol, which is also an opioid, has been administered by vets in the past because it reverses etorphine’s effects, without reversing the immobilising effect. “This partial reveal was thought to improve the rhino’s breathing during immobilisation,” he said.

Before the study, it was believed that the deficiency of oxygen in the blood of immobilised rhinos was from the drugs depressing breathing.

But Meyer and his collaborators found that the etorphine-induced hypoxia developed from the rhino’s metabolism increasing, which was set in motion by tremors.

“The increase in metabolism is what primarily causes the hypoxia, as it burns up all the animal’s oxygen reserves. Butorphanol had been used by vets before, as it appeared to make the animals breathe better, but the research we did showed that this wasn’t necessarily the case. Butorphanol’s main beneficial effects are reducing tremors and metabolism.”

Their findings, said UP, prove incredibly important to rhino conservation. “Not only does the study confirm that butorphanol is an important drug to use during immobilisation, but also that its beneficial effects are not what they were previously thought to be. It reduces tremors, thereby reducing metabolism, to help improve the animal’s oxygen levels.

“This is a massive benefit to immobilised rhino, as it reduces the risk of anaesthetic-related deaths,” said Meyer. “The other important aspect of this study is that any future drug development needs to focus on treating the hypermetabolism caused by etorphine, not just its respiratory depressive effects.”

 

Kruger Park ranger single-handedly apprehends gang of rhino poachers (South Africa)

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Landé Willemse, The Citizen | November 27, 2019

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An intelligence-driven operation in the Malalane section of the park resulted in the arrest of five men suspected of poaching two rhinos.

A heroic ranger single-handedly apprehended a gang of five heavily armed suspected rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park (KNP) on Saturday, reports Lowvelder.

This after an intelligence-driven operation in the Malalane section of the park resulted in the arrest of five men suspected of poaching two rhinos.

Original photo as published by The Citizen.

Ike Phaahla, general manager of communications for the KNP, said they were grateful that the ranger was not injured during this brave act.

“We are grateful for his braveness, but even more grateful that no harm came to him.”

He added that the suspects were in possession of five fresh rhino horns, a high-calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment. The vehicle in which they were travelling, a kombi, has also been impounded for further investigation.

Phaahla was saddened that the arrests came after the poachers had already killed at least two rhino, rather than before, when they could have been stopped before firing a single shot.

“The arrests followed the discovery of two fresh rhino carcasses. The dead animals had been covered with grass and twigs to try and hide them from sight and delay their discovery.”

The section ranger immediately deployed his rangers around the area to look for possible suspicious vehicles.

“He spotted the kombi with two visible passengers and three others who were hiding not far from where the carcasses were discovered.”

When confronted and stopped, the driver produced a permit for two people. The ranger instructed him to get out of the vehicle with his hands in the air, and opened the rear door to expose the other armed passengers.

According to Phaahla, the ranger then loudly instructed them to lie on the ground next to the driver. He handcuffed three and while arresting the fourth, that suspect then pointed out that a fifth suspect had his firearm aimed at the ranger.

“Fortunately he failed to pull the trigger and the section ranger was able to call for backup.”

The suspects are in custody and SANParks is not ruling out further arrests. They will appear in court in due course to face rhino poaching-related charges.

The CEO of SANParks, Fundisile Mketeni, congratulated the team on the arrests and continued to warn criminals that KNP was ready to stop them in their tracks.

“We are thankful that one ranger managed to subdue five criminals without any harm unto himself and continue to warn those who intend poaching in the KNP that our dedicated staff, technology and information from communities will lead to your incarceration. We won’t stop until all criminals are removed from society.”

Rhino poachers caught red-handed in KNP (South Africa)

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Jacaranda FM News | November 25, 2019

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South African National Parks (SANParks) has announced the arrests of five suspected rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park (KNP)’s Malelane Section in an intelligence-driven operation over the weekend.

According to SANParks’ Ike Phaatla, the suspects were in possession of five fresh rhino horns, a high calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment.

The vehicle they were travelling in has also been impounded for further investigation.

“The arrests followed the discovery of two fresh rhino carcasses in the section and were covered with grass and twigs to delay their discovery,” says Phaatla.

“The Section Ranger immediately deployed his rangers around the area to look for possible vehicles that might be ferrying the suspects.”

Phaatla explains that a suspicious kombi with two visible passengers and three others, who were hiding, appeared not far from where the carcases were discovered.

Original photo as published by Jacaranda FM. (Gallo Images)

The permit in their possession was for two persons and the Ranger became more suspicious when he saw three others hiding out of sight.

“He then instructed the driver to come out with hands in the air and to open the rear door which exposed the other passengers whom he loudly instructed to lie on the floor with the driver.

“He then handcuffed all three and quickly proceeded to arrest the fourth suspect who then pointed out the fifth suspect, whose gun was pointing at the Section Ranger, but failed to pull the trigger.”

The Section Ranger then called for backup after effecting, the arrests.

The suspects are in custody and SANParks is not ruling out further arrests. They will appear in court to face rhino poaching related charges in due course.