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Tue Sep 02 01:27:59 SAST 2014

End of poachers' safe haven

SCHALK MOUTON | 02 August, 2013 01:320 Comments
KRUGER PARK; KRUGER NATIONAL PARK; SOUTH AFRICA
Kruger park rangers walk through the bush to a carcass of a rhino which was poached earlier this month. Over 300 rhinos have been poached in the park this year.
Image by: DANIEL BORN / © THE TIMES

South African and Mozambican conservation enforcement agencies met yesterday to fine-tune a plan to crack down on poaching.

The plan is to "trigger" cross-border operations to pursue and arrest Mozambicans who kill rhinos in the Kruger National Park.

The plan also calls for the extradition to South Africa from Mozambique of criminals suspected of poaching. Up to 90% of poachers are from Mozambique, said General Johan Jooste, head of all anti-poaching operations at SANParks.

The meeting followed discussions between Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and her Mozambican counterpart, Alcinda Abreu, who agreed on the need for cross-border operations.

"Law enforcement should not be sidelined by the international fence," said Jooste.

The "implementing instructions" are to be revised in six months' time, added Jooste, a retired SANDF major-general who was contracted by SANParks to coordinate its anti-poaching operations.

The plan will be handed to the ministers next week.

Mozambique - where poaching is not a crime - has been put on notice by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to amend its legislation to make the possession of ivory or rhino horn a criminal offence.

Molewa has warned Mozambique that the South African government intends re-erecting the 80km fence between the Kruger and Limpopo parks that was removed to create a transfrontier "peace park". Should this happen, Mozambique stands to lose up to R13-million in donor money from international aid organisations for its role in maintaining the peace park, said Jooste.

He said coordination between South Africa and Mozambican law enforcement agencies was "dismal".

"The poacher will run across the border and fire victory shots. He will go and sit in the sight of the ranger and smoke because [rangers] dare not cross that line."

Should a SANParks official or SANDF soldier shoot a poacher across the border, it would create a serious international incident, and might be seen as an act of war, he said.

Because of high unemployment and poverty there are an almost unlimited number of young men - most just out of their teens - eager to get their hands on poaching money.

"There are a lot more poachers than rhino in this world . They [get paid]R30000 to R40000 [per rhino] and they come and hunt."

Flip Nel, section ranger at Tshokwane, said it takes only seven minutes from when the animal has dropped until it has been dehorned.

"It takes them half an hour from when the animal is shot to when they cross the border," he added.

Jooste said the "insurgency war" was changing the face of the Kruger National Park.

Plans are in place to improve access control at the park's entry gates and new security technology is to be introduced.

This includes laying cables that pick up vibrations in the ground, and aircraft with highly sensitive surveillance equipment that will be able to see 50km beyond the borders of the park.

Apprehending poachers, and successful prosecutions leading to lengthy jail terms, would serve as a deterrent and would be the most effective measures to protect our wildlife, Jooste said.

"The final victory will be in the courtroom before a judge - not in the bush."

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