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What started three years ago as a semi-localised anti-poaching initiative by four Southern African Development community (SADC) countries has grown to include 10 of the regional bloc’s 15 members.
The defence and security chiefs of five countries involved – Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia – met earlier this month in Mpumalanga to discuss the way forward for the regional body to combat poaching and other wildlife crimes.
The other SADC member countries are Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Speaking to Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Division Chief, Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo, said the Mpumalanga meeting, chaired by SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke, came on the heels of a group of experts’ meeting in November.
“They set up terms of reference covering aspects of wildlife crime, including poaching and cross-border activities; the Mpumalanga meeting discussed and adopted these for future guidance, interaction and reaction,” he told the radio station.
Hlatshwayo pointed out co-operation was essential in southern Africa if wildlife crime was to be brought to heel.
“This is because animals cross borders. They do not know boundaries that are created by people. Similarly, criminals active in wildlife crime will cross borders knowing, if caught, there is a possibility of a lesser sentence in one country than another.”
He went on to tell the radio station that legislation involving wildlife should be standardised – “make it tough when it comes to our natural heritage because the killing of wildlife affects current and future generations”.
On the agenda for the Mpumalanga meeting was the possibility of cross-border pursuit of poachers.
South African Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the regional body should expand its anti-poaching efforts to include both border patrols and joint operations to locate and arrest poachers and confiscate weapons.
While rhino poaching still rates as the number one wildlife crime in the southern African region with a thousand and twenty-eight rhino killed last year, elephant poaching is increasingly becoming a cause for concern for conservationists and law enforcement agencies. Recent reports have it that elephant poaching in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park shows a 46% year-on-year increase.
Head of ranger services in the Kruger Park, Ken Maggs, said that in 2016, 662 rhinos were killed while last year, 204 were killed. There were 46 elephants killed in 2016 and 67 last year. There were 281 arrests made in 2016 while there were 139 in 2017.
“Due to joint operations between the park, SAPS and the SANDF, with the help of community members, more arrests have been made outside than inside the park for the first time,” he said.
Maggs said the increase in weapons poachers use to carry out their missions was a concern – in 2016, rangers found 148 firearms and the following year they found 86.