South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday unveiled an anti-rhino poaching centre in the Kruger National Park (KNP) as rhino poaching continues unabated.
“This enables us to employ resources more intelligently and to be one step ahead of the poachers,” Zuma said.
As part of the ceremony, Zuma witnessed the capture and translocation of a rhino within the KNP in northeastern South Africa to a facility where the rhino will become a foster parent to rhino calves orphaned by poaching.
The president paid tribute to the efforts by rangers in the fight against poaching during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Ranger Memorial at the main gate of the KNP.
The president also inspected a guard of honour formed by KNP rangers who are almost daily engaged in conflict with alleged poachers, and have dedicated their lives to ensuring the survival of this key member of the Big Five, which refers to the rhino, lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard.
Unveiling the Joint Operations Centre at the Skukuza Camp in the KNP, Zuma said, “Today I witnessed first-hand what is being done by our brave men and women to combat rhino poaching and other wildlife crimes here in the Kruger National Park.”
Since the declaration of rhino poaching as a national security threat in 2011, the government has increased its efforts in curbing the scourge of rhino poaching. The cabinet approved the Integrated Strategic Management Approach to Rhino Poaching in 2014.
The key aspects of this program are managing rhino populations, compulsory interventions (including proactive anti-poaching measures), international and national collaboration and cooperation, as well as long-term sustainability measures.
“We are pleased to announce that joint situational awareness through electronic means and live-streaming of information now informs in-time decision making, faster reaction and more often proactive operations,”said Zuma. “This enables us to employ resources more intelligently and to be one step ahead of the poachers and their bosses.”
The president emphasized that battle against rhino poaching cannot be won without partnerships.
“The nature of this challenge requires our collective efforts as government working with the private sector, communities, civil society and the business sector to ensure the Integrated Strategic Management approach is successful, not only in South Africa, but also within Africa and in the rest of the world,” he said.
South Africa has also increased its international cooperation, signing Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Mozambique.
“These international partnerships are key to ensuring that the fight against poaching and illegal trade is addressed internationally, in light of the international nature of the crime,” Zuma said.
Organized international criminal syndicates have stepped up their brutal methods to get their hands on rhino horns to sell in far away markets.
The KNP is the epicenter of the poaching crisis. Since last year, there has been an increase in the number of poachers entering this park in an attempt to kill and dehorn rhinos, and there are now up to three incursions per day. These incursions do not always become successful due to the strong retaliation by dedicated and brave ranger and security teams.
Zuma emphasized the important role communities and individuals can also play in the fight against rhino poaching.
“I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all communities living close to, or adjacent to, conservation areas, to be aware of the threats of rhino poaching. Many of you are also aware of the ability of unscrupulous poaching syndicates to exploit vulnerable people in your communities by offering them large amounts of money to kill and dehorn a rhino or an elephant.
“We all can do something to stop that – by blowing the whistle on all wildlife criminals. As proclaimed on World Rhino Day: We can all stand up and proclaim, no more,” said Zuma.
Saving the rhino may ultimately save all the communities from poverty, increased crime and suffering, he noted.
“I am convinced that through our concerted efforts in ensuring coordinated implementation of the integrated strategic approach to the management of Rhino populations, we will ultimately win the fight against rhino poaching,” said Zuma.
South Africa has lost a total of 749 rhinos between January and August this year, and of these, 544 were poached in the KNP, one of Africa’s biggest game reserves, official figures show.
In 2014, a record 1,215 rhinos were illegally killed in the country last year. That’s one rhino poached every eight hours.
This means another grim rhino poaching record has been set for the eighth consecutive year. Back in 2007, just 13 rhinos were poached for their horns, but since then a total of 4,635 rhinos have been slaughtered in South Africa alone, an increase of over 9,300 percent.
Despite the mounting scourge, Zuma said South Africa has a long and proud history of rhino conservation. The country brought the rhino back from the brink of extinction in the early 1900’s and continues to lead the world in rhino conservation best practice and management, he said.
“It is because of this successful track record that today we are home to 22,000 rhino; which is more than 70 percent of Africa’s rhino, and more than 80 percent of the entire world’s rhino,” Zuma said.