South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority secured a conviction rate of 61% in criminal cases related to rhino poaching during the 2013/14 financial year, said Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
Speaking at a media briefing in January on the measures being taken to combat rhino poaching in the country, Molewa noted that the number of arrested alleged poachers, couriers and syndicate members had risen from 343 in 2013 to 386 in 2014.
South Africa is home to the largest population of rhino in the world. Last year, 174 alleged rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park and 212 in the rest of the country were arrested.
In December, 16 members of a rhino horn smuggling syndicate in Prague, Czech Republic, were arrested.
Molewa said the Czech arrests were the successful outcome of the cross-border cooperation between affected countries, as well as transit and end-user countries to tackle the illicit trade in rhino horn.
“Despite the successes, the illicit trade in rhino horn undermines our efforts. During 2014, 1 215 rhino were killed. This is a rise in the number of poached rhino from 1 004 in 2013,” she said.
In 2014, there had been increased collaboration between provincial, national and international law enforcement agencies, as well as the criminal justice system and prosecution service.
“We are stepping up our use of technologically advanced methods to reinforce the protection of the rhino.
“We have stepped up the collation of proactive intelligence from multiple agencies working to combat rhino poaching,” Molewa asserted.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is also working on improving crime scene management and teams of officials have undergone intensive training.
Molewa said the department’s translocation programme was ongoing and continued to be a success.
In August, Molewa announced that rhino would be translocated from areas in South Africa where they were under threat to more secure locations.
“In the last quarter, 56 rhino have already been moved out of poaching hot spots and translocated from certain areas within the Kruger National Park to an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ), and to other more secure areas,” she said.
An IPZ is an area where additional resources are deployed to ensure better protection for the rhino population.
“In addition, approximately 100 rhino were translocated to neighbouring States during 2014, through both private partnerships and government initiatives,” Molewa commented.
She added that translocation was aimed at creating rhino strongholds, areas where rhino can be protected cost effectively while applying conservation husbandry to improve population numbers.
Several of the translocated animals have been collared to monitor their movements. None of the animals moved to an IPZ have been poached.
Molewa also announced she had established a committee of inquiry to look into the issue of whether to legalise trade in rhino horn.
“One-hundred-and-fifty new and specially trained and equipped border guards are in the process of being deployed along the border of Mozambique,” she noted.
Molewa said South Africa and other countries impacted on by rhino poaching could not win the fight alone.
“I call on our partners and indeed on all South Africans to work with us in winning this fight, all the while working alongside communities in the management and ownership of wildlife. This is our very precious heritage,” she concluded.