“With hundreds of rhino being poached and at times grisly butchered every year, the urgency of this conservation project cannot be overstated.
Having been asked to write an article about the rhino statistics in South Africa, a subject very dear to my heart, I mistakenly thought at the onset, that with the knowledge I have, it would be a breeze. The first thing one does in an instance such as this, is head straight for Google in an attempt at researching the subject and obtaining more recent and relevant information from the people and organisations that matter.
Now, the Internet and all the modern digital apparatus’s associated with it, is a wonderful and informative innovation, but at the same time, it can be confusing beyond belief.
The problem with the internet, is that there are so many concerned rhino and wildlife groups, individuals and organisations, who, having sourced their own information by various means in the digital world, are all busy trying to outdo the next in getting their specific update out through all the social media sites first. Social network, media sites and mobile phones play an extremely big and important role in spreading the word to interested people around the world in seconds, regarding our rhino welfare. But, when you go into it further and check it all out, you find that there are so many contradicting figures quoted by different sources, which it invariably leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind, as to the general direction in which the statistics are headed. It gets confusing to say the least.
We should also bear in mind as we ponder here, that people working within the framework of our National Parks and Wildlife Department, or, the private game ranches and reserves for that matter, get first hand information regarding rhino atrocities and so, by the means of their mobile and email facilities, they immediately pass the information on to others, instead of waiting for the incident to be released by The Department Of Environmental Affairs, which possibly creates further confusion in the end. And so we ask ourselves, whom should we believe?
It would be advantageous, if Environmental Affairs would take the trouble to release updated statistics more regularly, which would satisfy the publics need for information. It is possibly because of this obvious lack of vital information that many have been quoted as saying, that the government itself couldn’t care less about our rhino. In regards to another debatable issue, it is also rumoured, that why should South Africa continually spend millions of taxpayers Rands on rhino and wildlife protection, when in the end, the situation will inevitably end up the same as it did in the countries to the north of our borders. Zimbabwe was a good example, where the people set about the wildlife with venom when all the white farmers were evicted from their farms. Thousands upon thousands of animals, including the endangered black rhino were exterminated in a matter of months, as the farms were being seized and occupied by the socalled war veterans. Snaring and indiscriminate slaughter ensued with an unparalleled passion.
Wildlife meat was available at almost every kiosk or vendors stall countrywide, as people sought to get rich at the wildlife’s expense. The wildlife industry which had taken the Zimbabweans, a century to build, was literally annihilated in a few months. It has also been suggested blatantly, that the syndicates who organise and pay the poachers and couriers in South Africa, have infiltrated the government officials and when you look at the corruption which is so rife within the country, what could make any sane person or individual not believe it true.
So then, how do we deal with the situation, or, what can be done to avoid the inevitable as they say? Firstly, we need the government, right from the president himself, to take an active interest and decisive role in helping us solve the poaching and exploitation of our wildlife, be it fauna or flora. The president should immediately call for a board of enquiry to be set up to investigate every official and employee, of not only the government departments, but also those in the privately owned game reserves and safari industry.
If necessary, a lie detector should be used in every interview to weed out the culprits, should there be any. The South African government must also immediately, seek bi-lateral agreements with all the SADDC countries to prevent the sale and transportation of all rhino and illegal wildlife products. The next scenario the government should look at, is two fold. Firstly, our Department of National Parks and Wildlife say that they are badly under staffed and that they cannot carry out enough anti-poaching patrols. It is also said that anti-poaching concerns are sub contracted at huge expense to assist in the anti-poaching exercises. Secondly, it is muttered nation wide that the government is paying billions of Rands of the taxpayer’s money to thousands of military personal, who are badly in need of field and practical education and experience. Guerrilla warfare ranks the most challenging and dangerous in the world. Poaching using high-powered weapons such as the notorious AK 47 and the poachers motive operand, puts these unscrupulous barbarians right smack in that category and the army should now accept this as a fact and get actively involved in the “War Against Rhino Poaching”. How can any government expect the private individuals of its country to fight a war without weapons, whilst the taxpayers of that country actually employ the government to do it for them? It is felt that if the government can waste over four billion Rands on catering, travel and entertainment this past year, that surely they could have utilized a reasonable portion of that money more constructively, by setting up a Joint Operations Command Centre for anti-poaching. This centre would include high ranking Parks and Military officials and all operations carried out, be it ground or air, could be initialised, sanctioned and controlled by them. South Africa should take the initiative for the sake of our valued wildlife, by simply saying, enough is enough and they should place observation posts and base camps in suitable positions and lock down all the areas not used by tourists. The previous regime of Zimbabwe, called them “No Go Areas” and any person foolish enough to be wandering around in those areas, were either arrested on sight, or shot. Border access or game viewing roads which are currently being utilised by parks game viewing vehicles and the public, should then be monitored by security forces at all times.
As yet, we have not touched properly on the Department Of Environmental Affairs and the updates of rhino statistics. The government should insist that strict records of any rhino in the country be registered with the Department Of National Parks and Wildlife. All game reserves and national parks carry out yearly animal counts and all figures of resident rhino should be entered into the national database. Strict records of births and deaths, be it in the government areas, provincial, or within the private sector, should be recorded and entered as well and eventually, we will have an up to date database of our national rhino population, both black and white. The Department Of Environmental Affairs, should be instructed by the government, to update their statistics page regularly every month in order to keep the interested public well informed, as to what is going on within the national parks to avoid any confusion and misquoting, which was mentioned in the second paragraph of this article.
Recently, a popular radio station in Kwa Zulu Natal went all out to raise funds for sub contracted helicopter patrols to be reinstated in the Umfolozi and Hululwe National parks after the reported deaths, of nine rhino by poachers. Thankfully a considerable amount of money was raised and the service was resumed immediately. Several notable people were interviewed on the program, one of them a high ranking parks official, and all of them were adamant that the helicopter patrols had reduced the rate of poaching in the respective parks in the past, by as much as 80%.
Although this is fantastic news for the rhino and will probably do a lot for the cause, there is some doubt that the figures were correct. This can be verified by checking the statistics chart at the end of this article. Is it not possible, that these people have grossly underestimated the intelligence and abilities of these extremely, highly skilled and proficient hunters? Is it also not possible that the poachers themselves, upon hearing a helicopter approaching in the distance, could immediately seek cover under dense bushes or foliage, to avoid detection, just as the guerrillas used to do effectively, during the past liberation wars in Southern Africa?
It is also in the mind of many critics, that because SANParks are using the guise of supposedly being so short staffed, that they are simply too badly managed to carry out regular foot patrols in their respective areas. Is it a case as far as the public is concerned, of management taking the easy way out by utilising vehicles and helicopters to substitute their very necessary foot patrols.
So with this in mind, how do we move forwards? Actually, we need to understand first of all, that according to information received from SANParks, that there are essentially only two South African National Parks, Kruger National Park in the north east and Marakele National Park in the north, bordering Zimbabwe. The remaining national parks and wildlife areas are actually run and maintained by their respective provincial governments. The SANParks and provincial governments public relations departments should get more involved with the South African public, by bringing them up to date with more of their important updates, such as, animal welfare, new developments, improvements, stories or articles regarding their various teams efforts and their everyday functions, management personnel interviews, poaching statistics, news and views and births and deaths from natural causes etc, which could easily be published on Facebook or in a e-magazine. Special attention in the form of reading matter should be distributed to the villages and schools in the rural areas bordering the parks, regarding the education and conservation of rhino and wildlife. The villagers should also be asked to report any suspicious individuals passing through their areas or villages. This all goes a long way in helping the general public understand more about the difficulties and tremendous amount of money and work it takes to run a huge enterprise, such as The Kruger National Park for example. It always seems, that the public are eager to find things to criticise about and very seldom does one hear praise from the public such as, “thank you for a very hard and dangerous job well done”. This is an area that the department should take cognisance of, because then and only then, will the general public actually find out how hard our national parks teams really do work.
To sum up then, it appears that the poachers continue undeterred and with seemingly renewed vigour, the persecution of our beautiful rhino, regardless of any efforts by us, at stamping out their despicable actions. Then, on the other hand, the general public in actual fact as a whole, could never begin to imagine the enormity of any of our national parks, or the management thereof, unless one were to actually attempt to walk the length and breadth of one, or, unless for instance, one was to sit at the desk of “The Warden In Charge” of the Kruger National Park for a month, assuming and implementing his duties. The mind simply boggles as to which direction to take next in winning, “The War Against Rhino Poaching”.
Update on rhino poaching statistics
2 Oct 2012: The Latest rhino poaching statistics indicate that a total of 430 rhinos have been lost to illegal killings since the beginning of this year, with the total number of arrests at 205. The Kruger National Park has lost 258 rhinos to poaching. Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the North West provinces continue to be the hardest hit by poachers, collectively accounting for the loss of 141 rhinos.
177 of the arrested individuals are at the level of poacher, 10 are receivers and 18 are couriers.
Rhino poaching statistics: Rhino poaching arrests statistics:
NOTE: During the writing of this article, which took three days, six rhino were reported poached in two different areas. This gives the reader an insight to the enormity and urgency of the rhino situation in South Africa with a total loss now of 454 rhino having been poached so far in 2012.