Military to expand its rhino patrols
A military strategy to curb the explosion of rhino poaching in private game reserves is under development and will include patrolling soldiers.
The announcement by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was made on Thursday, a day before a rhino mother and her calf were killed in a private Limpopo game reserve.
The killings bring the number of rhinos killed this year to 171, with 95 killed in the Kruger National Park.
Operation Rhino, which began recently, has resulted in the deployment of 60 troops along the park's borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
However, the government's slowness to assist private game reserves to save their rhino populations has come under fire.
Salome Maritz, owner of the Palala Rhino Sanctuary in the Waterberg, said people such as herself could not wait for government intervention.
"We are desperate for assistance and, though the deployment of soldiers would be a great help, the government is just too slow to act.
"The area is vast and, to ensure the protection of all the Waterberg's rhinos, we would need at least 100 people protecting the area. This is why we are turning to volunteers.
"Our volunteers are people from the cities who want to help us to protect rhinos.
"We call on people who have time to be our eyes and ears in the sanctuary, patrolling and reporting suspicious vehicles or people.
"We won't accept just anyone. Volunteers undergo stringent security checks," she said.
SA National Parks spokesman Gabrielle Venter said that, since the start of Operation Rhino in the Kruger Park, the poachers had moved to other provincial and private parks bordering the park.
Sisulu, who gave little away about the new strategy, said action was vital if rhino poaching were to be stamped out.
"We have found that, as we increase our presence in the Kruger Park, poachers have changed focus and there is now an unprecedented assault on private reserves. So we are looking at a comprehensive strategy to deal with this," she said.
Environmental Affairs spokesman Albie Modise said the use of soldiers was having a dramatic affect on rhino poaching, with 90 arrests - the majority occurring in the Kruger Park.
"Our new, multi-pronged strategy will involve not only the continued use of soldiers but the deployment of police," he said.
Modise said there had been a marked increase in the killing of rhinos in private game reserves.
"Our ministry's responsibility is not only to protect state-run parks but animals all over South Africa," he said.