Positive plans to save the rhino population

Maj-Genl. Johan Jooste (left) in discussion with Riaan Marais, chief game warden of Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

The only sure way of putting a stop to the poaching of rhinos in the Kruger National Park is to have communities in close proximity cooperate in the safeguarding of the rhinos.

This is the view of retired Maj-Genl. Johan Jooste – the man who was appointed by SA national parks (SANparks) to head up the war against rhino poaching.

Gen Jooste addressed SANParks honorary rangers of the Pretoria region on Monday evening and said a strategic approach was followed entailing strategic partners, urban and rural communities, private and provincial reserves, hotels, lodges and resorts, informal settlements, farms and businesses surrounding the Kruger National Park.

“The Kruger National Park can only be cleared of poachers from the outside,” he said. He explained various incentives that have been deployed to combat the scourge of poaching.

“The role of specially trained dogs is extremely important. This is augmented with more than one helicopter now at our disposal, the increased use of technology and various other plans which are now in place in this war. This all forms part of an integrated strategic management plan which was approved by cabinet on 6 August 2014,” he said.

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, said in a media statement earlier this year that the official number of rhinos poached in 2014 had been 1 215 of which 827 were in the Kruger National Park. This was an increase of 1 004 rhinos poached in 2013. “We cannot say that we are winning, but we are fighting the battle,” Molewa said.

In the same vein, Dr Howard Hendricks, SANParks acting managing executive of conservation services, confirmed the growth rate of rhinos now equalled the mortalities, which include natural death, translocation and poaching.

Honorary rangers were told that part of the new plan to combat poaching was the managing of rhino population pockets, compulsory intervention, international and national collaboration and cooperation. One of the new incentives is the creation of a rhino stronghold which started late last year with the removal of 56 animals out of areas where poaching was rife and relocating them to more secure protected areas.

They were also informed that concerted efforts were made in stepping up the use of technologically advanced methods to reinforce the protection of rhinos. Various models of drones were used as an experiment to ascertain the feasibility as an eye from the sky – an early warning system.

Jooste pointed out how enormous the problem was in apprehending rhino poachers. “Understanding the facts it must be borne in mind that there are three incursions per day. There are twelve groups in the park at any time. There were 4 300 poachers in the park last year. We had 111 contacts, 77 sightings and 1 403 poaching incidents,” he said.

Asked about wide-scale deployment of the defence force in the Kruger National Park as part of their training, Jooste said it would not be a feasible option. He did say there was a contingent of soldiers and policemen who work shoulder-to-shoulder with game wardens as part of the strategic approach in the hunt on poachers.

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  AUTHOR
Du P Martins
journalist

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