Hawks pull out of anti-poaching team
The Eastern Cape's department of environmental affairs cannot explain why police top brass have withdrawn specialist investigators from the provincial rhino anti- poaching team.
Five specialist detectives attached to the Hawks were ordered earlier this week to withdraw from the team and pursue other investigations.
Three days later, four rhino carcasses were discovered at the Lalibela Game Reserve.
All four white rhinos, one a pregnant female, were darted with a lethal dose of drugs and their horns removed during the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The drug used has not been identified and is being analysed.
The team - comprising the Green Scorpions, voluntary rangers, the National Wildlife Reaction Unit, SA National Parks and Eastern Cape private game reserve association Indalo - will continue to operate without the police.
Rangers linked to the team - who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation - described the withdrawal as a "massive blow".
The chief of staff of the environmental affairs department, Nkosohlanga Mboniswa, said MEC Mcebisi Jonas's office had not been told "in writing" why the Hawks were being recalled.
"The MEC's office is arranging a meeting with the provincial commissioner of police to discuss this move. We are hoping to meet soon."
Mboniswa said it was "illogical" to suggest that there were moves afoot to weaken law-enforcement agencies.
Provincial police spokesman Brigadier Marinda Mills said task teams were designed as "a temporary measure or structure" to address specific crimes and it was "common practice" to remove them once certain cases had been finalised.
Despite the police withdrawing from the team, Mills reiterated that they would assist when needed.
William Fowlds, chairman of Indalo, said the withdrawal was "a clear indication that local government does not see the rhino crisis as a priority" or recognise the full threat of poaching syndicates and the effects they are having on the general state of lawlessness in the province.
"This news could not have come at a worse time."
Wilderness Foundation director Andrew Muir said the withdrawal of the police "makes no sense".
"Fortunately, in Eastern Cape we have had a fairly low number of incidents and that can be attributed to the smooth running of all the units involved with the rhino anti-poaching team.
"If you break that structure it will cause the team to not function as well as it should.
"We need the police put back on the team."