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A detective pursued rhino poachers. Now he’s dead

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
The New York Times | March 19, 2020

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For years, the police detective had patrolled deep into South African parks and game reserves investigating rhinoceros poachers — including fellow police — in a country that is home to the vast majority of the world’s dwindling rhinoceros population.

The detective, Lt.-Col. Leroy Bruwer, had been well aware that the work was risky; he was assaulted and his car damaged two years ago in retaliation for testifying at a court hearing of a suspected poaching kingpin.

On Tuesday morning, Colonel Bruwer was driving to work when he was shot by gunmen with what appeared to be “heavy-caliber weapons” in the northeastern city of Mbombela, the South African police said. Colonel Bruwer, who was 49, died at the scene.

Police are now investigating the killing of the man known as “one of the best rhino cops ever,” a pivotal role in a key front in the global campaign to save the rhinoceros from extinction. South Africa, whose approximately 20,000 wild rhinos make up over 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhino population, is also the country most affected by rhino poaching, according to Save the Rhino, a British-based conservation group.

Original image from NY Times: About 600 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa in 2019, the government says.Credit…


In the past decade, poachers have killed more than 8,880 African rhinos, the charity says.

South Africa’s national police commissioner condemned the killing of Colonel Bruwer, and promised a thorough investigation. Two men were taken in for questioning on Wednesday, according to a South African media report.

The police said Colonel Bruwer had excelled in “cracking complex cases, particularly related to rhino poaching.”

Colonel Bruwer, who was commander of an organized crime investigation unit in Mpumalanga Province, was decorated as the unit’s best detective in 2016 for his role in bringing to trial three police officers suspected of rhino poaching in 2014, who were later found guilty and dismissed from the service.

Mpumalanga, the province in which Colonel Brewer was shot, has been struggling to thwart both rhino poaching and the often violent hijacking of armored vehicles transporting cash, said Brig. Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the priority crimes unit, in a telephone interview.

In recent years, Colonel Bruwer led an investigation into a suspected rhino poaching kingpin — Petrus Mabuza, a businessman known as “Mr. Big” — and his testimony in a high-profile case involving Mr. Mabuza drew widespread attention.

Testifying in the case in October 2018, Colonel Bruwer expressed fear for the lives of those on his investigating team after supporters of Mr. Mabuza who were demanding his release assaulted the detective. Colonel Bruwer’s car was damaged as well, but it is unclear by whom. The prosecutor in the case was also threatened, the newspaper Lowvelder reported.

Mr. Mabuza was first charged on six counts related to rhino poaching and released on bail in July 2018. He was later arrested again and released again on bail in January 2019. His trial is set to continue later this year.

Colonel Bruwer’s passion for wildlife began in childhood. His father worked for many years at Kruger National Park, the site of frequent poaching incidents, said Kobus van der Walt, who worked closely with Colonel Bruwer and is a lawyer with Mpumalanga Province’s asset forfeiture unit.

Poaching investigations would often take Colonel Bruwer and Mr. van der Walt back into the park to assess crime scenes, the lawyer said in a telephone interview on Thursday. On these trips the detective would recognize “small animals, plants and — just by hearing — a bird,” Mr. van der Walt said.

Colonel Bruwer also stood out because of the meticulous case files that he submitted to prosecutors, Mr. van der Walt said.

“They were neatly typed, in a specific font to make them presentable and easy to read,” he said. “There were no gaps in his dockets.”

Demand for rhinoceros horns spiked in the 1970s and 1980s because of their use in traditional Asian medicines and their status as a symbol of wealth, and conservationists have since fought to protect the animals.

The number of rhinoceroses killed for their horns in South Africa dropped to 594 in 2019 — down from the 769 killed the previous year. However, South Africa’s environment minister, Barbara Creecy, announced in February that wildlife trafficking is still “a highly sophisticated form of serious transnational organized crime that threatens national security.”

The animals’ habitats are also at risk because land is being rapidly cleared for housing, logging and agriculture.

“Rhinos remain under threat from organized crime syndicates as well as availability of suitable habitat in the long-term,” the World Wildlife Fund said last month.

Jamie Joseph, director of Saving the Wild, a South Africa-based environmental organization that helped in the investigation of Mr. Mabuza, called Colonel Bruwer “one of the best rhino cops ever” and said that his death left “a void that might never be filled.”

She said in an email on Thursday that she also feared for the safety of others who assisted in the case. “If I am not next in line to be assassinated, then it is someone in my team,” she said.

But Mr. van der Walt said the detective’s killing would only intensify their drive to catch and prosecute poachers.

“If they kill 10 of us,” he said, “there are 20 more of us.”

 

 

A solar-powered ‘Meerkat’ is protecting South Africa’s rhinos

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, News, Science and technology No Comments
Stephanie Bailey & Ed Scott-Clarke, CNN Business | February 12, 2020

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KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA: In South Africa’s biggest national park, a camouflaged system of radars, cameras and sensors stands guard.

The solar-powered technology is helping to protect Kruger National Park’s rhinos from poachers, and the country’s tourism industry as a result. The network can distinguish between human and animal movement and even includes an infrared sensor, so it can spot poachers at night and alert park rangers to their presence.

Standing almost 12-feet tall, the system is known as “Postcode Meerkat,” after the source of its funding — European postcode lotteries — and the meerkats of southern Africa, who live in family groups protected by one of their own standing on its hind legs and watching for predators.

The Economic Value of Kruger

In 2018, 15 million people visited South Africa, spending around $8 billion. According to a 2018 paper from the University of Zululand, Kruger received an estimated 1.8 million visitors in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, a number that is predicted to double by 2029. Along with buffalo, elephants, lions and leopards, rhinos are part of the “Big Five” safari animals and a big draw for tourists.

“These parks are a huge revenue generator for South Africa,” said Tumelo Matjekane, from Peace Parks Foundation, an organization working to connect conservation areas in southern Africa. “They attract tourists from all over the world. If we are not able to conserve that, those people will not come here and the impact of that on livelihoods, in the communities around the parks, and our economy — it’s not measurable,” he added.

Saving the Rhino

Rhino horn is prized in some Asian countries as a sign of wealth, and mistakenly believed to have medicinal properties. Poaching to meet consumer demand means black rhinos are critically endangered and white rhinos are classified as near threatened.

Original photo as published by CNN: Rhinos in Kruger National Park

According to South African National Parks, 421 rhinos were killed in Kruger in 2018. A 2016 survey found there were between 7,000 and 8,000 rhinos left in Kruger, but the park’s vast size — around 7,700 square miles — makes it hard to keep them safe.

“Kruger is … roughly the size of Wales,” said Mark McGill, chief technology officer for South African National Parks. “It’s difficult to find a person out there … and apprehend them.”

“Postcode Meerkat” is making a difference, however. Launched in 2016, it was developed and manufactured by South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South African National Parks, and Peace Parks Foundation.

According to Peace Parks’ website, in the first 21 months of use there was an 80% decrease in poaching incidents in areas where it was deployed. The technology is portable, meaning it can be moved to poaching hotspots, and there are plans to install it at more sites around the park.

“We’ve seen the figures that it is actually working,” said Charles Petzer, a CSIR engineer who worked on the technology. “If you look at the amount of square kilometers that you can do surveillance on, it is definitely the most cost-effective solution.”

“It can’t replace people,” Petzer added. “But it can make it much easier for people to do their job.”

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

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade No Comments
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.

 

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

By Antipoaching No Comments
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.

 

New Kruger Park concession conditions are causing jitters

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
Angus Begg, Business Maverick | October 24, 2019

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The Kruger National Park private concessions granted almost two decades ago are coming up for renewal, and the existing lodge owners are as skittish as duiker at a waterhole. The concessions have been a rare example of successful public-private partnerships. But some existing owners worry that the new regulations for the second round of concessions will be much more onerous.

Sally Kernick says business is good. The co-owner of Lukimbi Safari Lodge, situated on one of 18 private concession areas in the southern Kruger National Park, Kernick says they are doing so well that they’ve just bought a new game-drive vehicle.

Lodge concessions like Lukimbi give tourists to the park the extreme in safari exclusivity. Some offer 5-star designer fittings and charge R30,000 per night, while others may have fewer stars in a canvas tent of lesser luxury, yet boast maybe the highest concentration of carnivores on the planet.

A number of them, as with Lukimbi, are very popular.

When the first concession lodges were awarded 19 years ago, these concessions were a new phenomenon to the Kruger, and in fact any national parks in South Africa (there is one in Addo National Elephant Park and one in the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park).

Original photo as published by the Daily Maverick: Lodge concessions like Lukimbi give tourists to the park the extreme in safari exclusivity. (Photo: https://lukimbi.com)

According to South African National Parks (SANParks) CEO at the time of the concessions’ launch, Mavuso Msimang, “The concessions were introduced to boost the income of SANParks, [and] to improve the brand” of what is affectionately known as “the Kruger”.

“The concessions have done well. Virtually all them have applied for the renewal of their leases”, says Msimang, relating that he knows of “at least two” that boast occupancy of around 80%.

The concession model has worked “extremely well”, echoes Kernick and a number of other lodge concessionaires in the Kruger. So well in fact, that a couple of leaseholders’ noses are beginning to twitch, mostly about the future of the 20-year leases referred to by Msimang.

Over the next four years, the 18 Kruger lodge concession leases are up for renewal, starting with the first concession granted – Jock Safari Lodge (opened in 2000) in the south-west of the park, renowned for significant leopard and wild dog activity – in just under two years.

There have been a few murmurings that the conditions of the lease renewals will be “onerous”. Kernick says she’s more worried that the concessionaires have not yet been informed of the specific conditions of the new lease (re)applications.

This veteran of the lodge industry says that in three years, despite the considerable sum spent on marketing their product and earning a reputation, they have no idea if their lease of the past 20 years will be renewed.

“Of course, we’re very concerned, we don’t know what the future is,” she says.

Not about rhino poaching, which has hit the southern Kruger hard, nor the development of the large franchise hotel at the nearby Malelane Gate she feared some seven years ago. She says she’s worried about Lukimbi’s future, the product they worked so hard to build.

“They [SANParks] don’t tell us [when we will see the lease renewal conditions]. It’s very difficult for business. We can’t plan, we don’t even know if we’ll be allowed to tender in three years.”

Jock Safari Lodge general manager Louis Strauss, in contrast, says he is not concerned, stressing that he knows exactly what is expected, saying concessionaires are kept in the loop at “the SANParks concession information sessions’.

“I have trust in SANParks, with whom we have a good working relationship. I believe the tender process will be open and fair. They [SANParks] are not just gonna hand it to someone who doesn’t meet the requirements”.

Word on the morula savannah grapevine is that when SANParks held a public information session about a new concession area in Letaba this year, some of the attending existing concessionaires perhaps naturally assumed that the proposed conditions attached to the new Letaba concession were a sign of things to come.

The word “onerous” was uttered more than a few times by a few concessionaires describing the initial Letaba concession requirements. Among them were claims of lodges having to offer communities some equity “for free”, and some paid for.

As with a wildfire, gossip spreads rapidly around the Kruger, and it’s only logical to surmise that the lease conditions attached to the Letaba concession, albeit a work in progress, represent the current SANParks thinking on the lease renewals.

When asked for comment on the readiness of the lease renewals, SANParks’ acting head of the Tourism Division Business Development Unit, Annemi van Jaarsveld, says “for now” there’s nothing to know.

“The retendering principles will be subjected to executive management for approval as well as board approval [at the] end [of] November. Until then, we cannot engage in any discussions on these principles.”

But that won’t stop the chatter in the bush.

Far north of Lukimbi and Jock, Rhino Post concession lodge co-manager and Kruger Park veteran Nikki Meyer says she believes one of the alleged “onerous conditions”, of an eventual successful Letaba concessionaire being expected to donate 10% of equity to a community, was “revised by SANParks”.

“I would say that the [possible] changes [to the lease conditions] are at the end of the day part of the learning process. Remember, we were the first concessions, and SANParks and the concessionaires have learned a lot since then.”

With 12 years working for SANParks in the Kruger, and 12 managing a private concession, Meyer could claim to see the “big picture” in the finer details.

“The changes to the lease conditions, on the whole, relate to monitoring – these can appear, or even be, onerous, but in fact are normal business practice and in line with best practice”.

Another concessionaire has a deep respect for the SANParks Kruger management.

“They’ve got a difficult job, balancing conservation – every six months we do an enviro audit – with land claimants and financial pressures. Yet, the tender process has been well thought out, and their documents are thorough and transparent and they always explain where they’re at. And not forgetting they’re under huge pressure regarding BEE requirements.”

The role of BEE (see table below) naturally features strongly in the lease conditions, which is nothing new in South African business. Jock Safari Lodge’s Strauss says serious bidders will know that and will “do their homework”.

An existing concession-holder sent me the following descriptor of the BEE requirements.

WeightingMinimum threshold to pass or fail
Financing & capital plan15%50%
Business & operational plan45%50%
Development & environmental plan15%50%
Risk matrix5%50%
B-BBEE proposal20%as per the B-BBEE proposal
100%

“Each section requires a minimum score of 50% – should they get less than 50% for any section the entire bid is disqualified. Furthermore, a minimum of 70% overall score is required for the entire technical bid. If not achieved, the bid is disqualified. A different committee scores each section.”

Rhino Post’s Meyer says the BEE requirements in the existing lodge concession tender documents are clear and unambiguous.

“To measure BEE efforts and/or proposals by different lodges can be very subjective, so SANParks has used the BEE tourism scorecard as a measurement tool – it might have its faults but provides a clear structure across the industry.”

She says the intention of the scorecard is equally clear.

“To keep the scoring high it is necessary to participate in learnerships and genuine empowerment.”

The Kruger National Park, as South Africans should have come to realise by now, is after all about the interdependency of people, animals and wilderness, for it is ultimately people who will defend both, and often the people who are connected to the tourism industry.

“As the first private lodge in the park, Jock [Safari Lodge] has its own allure”, wrote an anonymous young travel scribe (rather lazily) some nine years ago.

While that will be true of most well-situated lodges, the concept of the 20-year concession lodges was not a silo project, built-in isolation simply to offer tourists a private Kruger experience. There was more to it.

SANParks has consistently been under pressure since apartheid’s demise beyond its normal conservation challenges, to justify and explain the Kruger’s existence as a custodian of wilderness and wildlife, pursuits fairly accurately regarded by the majority of the population as synonymous with white privilege.

So it is that, surrounded by a rapidly growing poor rural population of close to two million, predominantly on its western boundary, from Hazyview to Phalaborwa and Pafuri, SANParks welcomes additional sustainable revenue to the Kruger’s coffers (and opportunities for education and employment) while retaining its role as guardian of a wilderness famed throughout the world.

Each lodge concession pays a significant rent to SANParks, as reflected on page 108 of the SANParks 2018 Annual Report, where it is reported that revenue for the financial year “from concession operators (including the two in Addo and Kagalakgadi) increased by 9.4% from R76.275 million (2016/17) to R83.468 million (2017/2018), exceeding the budgeted amount of R68.347 million by 22.1%.

While former CEO Msimang notes that, “By themselves, concessions will not solve the dire socio-economic situation in areas surrounding protected areas,” the growth in revenue from lodge concessions is welcome news to a cash-strapped SANParks.

This roughly R83-million is a little under 10% of the total SANParks accommodation revenue (R718.724 million, which itself is up 10.9%) receives from its traditional public camps, (including camping).

Which demonstrates that local and foreign tourists really enjoy the product. So much so that on the private front, the lodge concessions have matured into established, profitable businesses, attractive to potential new investors and lease-holders.

That should be good news and motivation to all present and hopeful concession-holders.

“We won’t hand our business over. It’s our reputation, we’re not going to hand it over”, said one existing lessee, demonstrating the kind of confidence and determination voiced by Jock’s Louis Strauss.

A lot goes into a bid, and far more in money and time to make a lodge a success. So, maybe the money Sally Kernick spent on Lukimbi’s game-drive vehicle was money well-spent after all.

Vietnamese youth experience once-in-a-lifetime trip to KN (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, News No Comments
Lowvelder | October 11, 2019

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Five Vietnamese youth were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the World Youth Wildlife Summit, experience the Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, join a rhino de-horning exercise, visit the Zululand Anti-Poaching Wing and K9 Unit, and participate in a walking trail with a renowned guide.

Dinh Thi Thuy Nga (24), Do Quang Thien (20), Le Anh Tu (21), Nguyen Son Tra (21) and Truong Quoc Van (23) were selected through a competition organised by non-governmental and charity organisation, WildAct Vietnam, and were funded by USAID’s VukaNow Activity.

VukaNow supports the shared commitments of the US government, SADC and its member states, private sector partners, and civil society to decrease wildlife crime across southern Africa. The US government’s commitment to help protect the iconic animal populations of South Africa through USAID rests on the recognition that wildlife crime is not just a conservation issue, but a form of transnational organised crime whose impact can be felt by communities around the globe.

The group from Vietnam arrived, with Mark Spicer, WildAct Vietnam’s technical adviser who acted as the group mentor, at the Ranger Camp at the Southern African Wildlife College where a geodesic MEGAdome had been erected for the World Youth Wildlife Summit from the September 21 to 24.

Original photo as published by Lowvelder

225 youth delegates, adult chaperones (educators and community leaders), conservation experts and keynote speakers came together, supported by donors such as South African National Parks, Peace Parks Foundation and Tourism South Africa, for an intensive four-day program, that included a game drive into South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park and engaged the youth in topics such as the responsible use of wildlife resources, strategies for demand reduction, the link between poverty and poaching, habitat loss, and the role of education and awareness.

Organised by Project Rhino, African Conservation Trust and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, the aim was to inspire the youth become Ambassadors for Conservation and influencers to help reduce wildlife crime.

After watching the hard-hitting documentary STROOP – journey into the rhino horn war and seeing Vietnamese individuals engaged in the illegal trade and consumption of rhino horn, Van from Ho Chi Minh City, gave an emotionally charged speech expressing a deep shame for the Vietnamese involvement.

“This is such a big system that’s already in place, how I’m going to fight something like that?”

However, the documentary also showed courageous Asian individuals, including a Vietnamese conservationist, who do undercover work alongside the South African authorities in the fight against the illegal trade network. Van continued to answer his own question emphatically, referring to meeting fellow delegates and engaging with the Summit speakers, “I want to be more courageous and you have helped me do that.”

The Chargé de Affaires for the US Embassy in South Africa, David Young, reiterated this point in his World Rhino Day speech at the Summit saying, “You are not alone in this great task. Look around you. You are surrounded by an amazing body of experienced experts, and fellow young conservation leaders. There is a wealth of knowledge and tools to help you.”

After the Summit, the Vietnamese delegation, accompanied by Janet Frangs, a freelance Wilderness Guide, spent a further week learning more about wildlife, specifically rhino and the poaching epidemic, as well as engaging with South African culture and communities.

Their excursion began at Bongani Mountain Lodge near southern Kruger before they headed for Zululand. When speaking to the staff at the lodge, the group realised that the decimation of wildlife is not only ecologically tragic but also puts jobs, families and communities in jeopardy.

To contrast the Summit’s intense discussions and revelations, a walking trail in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve was arranged with Nunu Jobe, also known as the ‘Barefoot Ranger’ – a highly experienced trails ranger and Director of Isibindi Africa Trails. Nunu highlighted the beauty of the wilderness and the vital importance of conservation to visitors and surrounding communities and shared his unique story: he was once a bushmeat poacher but is now a passionate conservationist.

Reflecting on the walk, Tu from Hanoi, said, “Nunu’s story of the transition from a poacher to a ranger was so moving and thought-provoking…we got to witness his trying to connect humans with nature in an effort of reminding humans of their roots.”

Wildlife Conservation student Son Tra, also commented, “I had a chance to see the animals I’m trying to protect in the wild and that gives me more motivation to continue my conservation work. Furthermore, walking with Nunu and listening to his story make me believe that we can change the local community.”

After getting close to wild rhinos, with their horns intact, the group then participated in a rhino-dehorning exercise on a private Zululand reserve.

Son Tra added that the dehorning process pushed him to question the best ways to protect this species’ long-term as dehorning is a costly ongoing procedure.

Nga from Danang in central Vietnam, was also moved by the experience, “Although there can be seen a failure of wildlife protection in dehorning rhinos instead of keeping them freely in nature, I appreciate the effort of the private reserve in doing their best to prevent rhinos from poachers.”

A visit to Project Rhino’s Zululand Anti-Poaching Wing (ZAP-Wing) and the K9 Unit, based in Hluhluwe, further emphasised the protection strategies employed by reserves to protect their wildlife – and the immense cost.

Thien, Van and Tu, who all work in or are studying marketing, communications and business, quickly realised that such industries are also of critical use to the conservation sector. Van, a passionate videographer and photographer, has already committed to making a short video about his trip here.

Thien, studying at the National Economics University in Hanoi said, “At the circle of sharing today, I absorbed many interesting ideas from everyone, and actually thought that with my marketing and business knowledge, I can somehow make an impact on the behaviour of rhino horns consumers in the future… and I hope it will be, because we are running out of time here.”

Further to this reflection, Tu added that conveying conservation messages should be done in the language that resonates with the local people – whether in Africa or Asia. He strongly believes that saving the rhino, and other wildlife, relies on relaying the human stories and tragedies behind this crisis – stories that may resonate more with Asian communities.

Nga’s wants to focus her efforts on education and awareness. “Greed in human beings cannot be completely removed until their heart has been naturally convinced. I personally don’t want to threaten, scare, or show anger when I request people to join in the efforts of wildlife conservation,” she says.

Project Rhino received individual pledges from the group and will continue to build the relationship, provide mentorship and support their actions in their communities back home.
“Our overriding aim is to provide the youth delegates with the knowledge and tools they need to become influencers and wildlife ambassadors in their home countries and communities, and take the lead in speaking out on behalf of endangered species and habitats that are in serious threat of extinction in their lifetime,” concludes Summit Director and CEO of African Conservation Trust, Francois du Toit.

Opinion: A species under siege

By Food for thought No Comments
Martin Zhuwakinyu, Creamer Media Engineering News | October 7, 2019

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In this opinion piece, Engineering News Senior Deputy Editor Martin Zhuwakinyu writes about rhino poaching.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that Africa’s rhinos have been under siege for over a decade. They are targeted by unscrupulous elements who sell their horns to buyers in the Far East.

Statistics show that the poaching crisis began in 2008 when the number of beasts killed in Africa jumped to 262 from the previous year’s 62. Casualty figures decreased to 201 in 2009, but the upward trend resumed in 2010, when 426 animals were killed, followed by 532 in 2011, 751 in 2012, 1 123 in 2013, 1 324 in 2014 and 1 349 in 2015. Although there has been a decline in the past few years – to 892 in 2018 – the latest casualty figures equate to more than two rhinos killed each day.

Being home to an estimated 80% of Africa’s rhino herd, South Africa bears the brunt of the poaching crisis. Between 2007 and 2014, the country experienced a 9,000% increase in the scourge, mostly in the Kruger National Park, on the north-eastern border with Mozambique.

Original photo as published by Creamer Media’s Engineering News: Photo by: Creamer Media’s Dylan Slater

But it was in Zimbabwe that the current crisis began, partially spurred on by a socioeconomic squeeze that was triggered by the country’s international isolation under Robert Mugabe, the late dictator who breathed his last early last month, nearly two years after being forced to resign by the military and the political party he helped found.

Once the easy pickings had been taken in Zimbabwe’s national parks, the poachers turned their attention to the Kruger National Park. But, from 2013, other countries came in the cross hairs as well, with Kenya the first to be hard-hit, losing 59 animals – or 5% of the national herd – in 2013. In 2015, Namibia lost 80 animals, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012, while Zimbabwe lost at least 50, about double the previous year’s tally.

Thus, it was sweet music to the ears of many when the Department of Environment, Forestry and Tourism reported that 318 rhinos were poached in South Africa’s parks during the six months to June, compared with 386 during the corresponding period in 2018. A total of 190 of the animals were killed in the Kruger National Park.

The sustained decline in rhino poaching in South Africa during the past few years is partially attributable to the implementation of the South African government’s 2014 Integrated Management Plan, which combines the use of technology, extensive anti-poaching work and management of the rhino population. The plan also includes international collaboration.

Through action taken in line with the Integrated Management Plan, from January to June 2019, South African authorities arrested 122 alleged poachers in the Kruger National Park and 253 others elsewhere in the country, while recovering 61 firearms. Dishearteningly, some of those arrested were employees of South African National Parks.

While rhino poaching has been declining, the World Wide Fund for Nature is concerned that corruption is part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and the trafficking of wildlife products.
Says the fund’s wildlife practice leader, Dr Margaret Kinnaird: “To address this, we need to consider what draws people into wildlife crime. We must find a way to empower people working and living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping to identify those who break the law.”

But the current state of affairs seems to be benefiting South Africa in an unexpected way. According to conservation expert Steven van der Merwe, local and foreign tourists alike are aware of the poaching crisis in the country. He says the possibility of a “last chance to see” one of Africa’s most iconic species may have motivated some to book their South African safari sooner.

He told a local publication: “The fact that both local and foreign tourists are well aware of the problem is a battle that has been won. Public awareness is crucial in addressing the problem, and the fact that the plight of the rhino has become such a public issue has also done a world of good.”

But a better outcome would be a total eradication of poaching, not only in South Africa but also across the African continent.