Rhino poachers are winning war
The fight against rhino poaching has a number of similarities to South Africa's battle against crime.
On the one hand are the private security companies run by ex-military officers who can deploy 10 to 15 men a month on a game farm - but at a cost.
On the other, there is an understaffed and under-skilled South African Police Service who feel they are fighting a bush war with little hope of success.
Simon Rood's company Nkwe Wildlife Security Services operates in several private game reserves in Limpopo, where scouts patrol thousands of hectares from the air and on the ground.
A private game farmer would pay up to R30000 a month to hire one of Rood's scouts and at least 10 would be needed to effectively patrol a big farm. "We have very strenuous training. Only one out of eight people make it . It's frustrating and hard, it's military discipline," Rood said.
"The scouts have four patrol schedules. We have 15-day patrols, 10-, seven- and four-day patrols. They spend all that time in the bush. They have a backpack and food and water - baked beans, canned, fish, sugar, mealie meal, a paraffin stove, a radio. And they are armed.
"I have never lost an animal in any of the parks that I have been operating in since we started three years ago," he said.
Riaan Kotze is the manager of Inkwe Valley game lodge in Limpopo that has lost five rhinos in the past six months. But he is reluctant to hire Rood.
"I am not saying that the service they provide is not a good service, (but) it is very expensive. The Endangered Wildlife Trust says we must use them, but it costs R30000 per guy on the ground per month and you need 20 to 30 guys. But there are still no guarantees. Look at the Kruger (National Park) - they have the best anti-poaching units in the country and they still lose rhinos," says Kotze.
In contrast to Rood, police complain that they have been in a "bush war against poachers" without support, intelligence or prosecutions. And they have to make do with inexperienced officers who "don't know what to do with a dead rhino when they find one", says a police captain who wished to remain anonymous.
"There was a big syndicate caught in 2008. We caught them red handed. We could prove that these guys in North West, Limpopo and in the Kruger Park had killed 51 rhinos. Nothing has been done about that case. The poachers were released on bail. Is it politics, bribery, corruption?
"Why doesn't the government do anything about this? It's a war and there are no soldiers," the police officer says.
He blames the apparent apathy on what he calls politics between the government and police.
"This is organised crime and no one is investigating," he said.
"The government must take aggressive measures. The whole system with organised crime and the green scorpions is not enough."
Rhinos by numbers
- A female rhino fetches about R500000 while a male costs between R350000 and R450000.
- The Kruger National Park has lost the most rhinos. It shares a 350km border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe and is targeted by "bush savvy poachers".
- 190 rhinos have been lost to poaching this year, in both private and San Parks, while 122 were killed in 2009 and 83 in 2008.
- Private owners have lost R200-million through rhino deaths.
- It costs R30000 per month to hire a private bush scout
- R5.2-million was allocated in 2009 to bolster the Kruger Park's anti-poaching capabilities.