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Minister Edna Molewa highlights progress in the fight against rhino poaching

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Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,

We are together with colleagues from the Security Cluster presenting this Report to you as a team.

Ladies and Gentlemen you all know them. It’s Ministers of Defence and Military Veterans - Ms Nosiviwe Maphisa-Nqakula, Police – Mr Nathi Nhleko and State Security – Mr David Mahlobo. 

We are here today to talk to you as a collective as you all know we are dealing with a matter that is of concern to the nation.

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.

I want to thank our friends from the media who have made the time to be here today, especially on a Sunday. We regard the media as our partners - who make it possible for all our stakeholders and the public at large to be kept informed about our efforts as government. It is the people of South Africa who have entrusted us with the protection of our rhino: it is a responsibility we do not take lightly; and we know that we can only be successful if we can mobilize all South Africans to support us.

As you will know, this report back is the third of this year; we had our first on 20 January, and the second on the 10th of May. Providing regular and timely updates on our progress in the battle against poaching is part of this government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

We committed to work in four areas of interventions to manage our rhinos all under international and national co-operation - compulsory interventions, interventions to increase rhino numbers, long-term sustainability interventions and game-changing interventions

1. Compulsory Interventions

1. 1.  Anti-poaching compulsory interventions

Our anti-poaching efforts are being undertaken in the face of a 27% increase in poachers entering the KNP to attempt to kill rhino.

So far during 2015, there have been 1 617 positively identified poacher activities in the KNP.

This implies that 3 incursions occur per day, anywhere along the thousand kilometre long KNP border.

This means that there are 12 active poacher groups at any given time somewhere on the 2 million hectares of the KNP.

That is why our teams have made physical contact with heavily-armed poachers 95 times so far this year, close to three times a week.

As you will see from the slide that is up, it is our people who are making that critical difference between the poachers and our rhino; were it not for them, the numbers would be far far higher.

To illustrate the escalation of the threat, let me remind you that for the whole of 2014, there were 111 contacts with heavily-armed poachers.

In response to this escalated threat, we have stepped up our efforts, which includes traditional anti-poaching policing strategies. In this regard, the utilisation of K-9 units, night capability as well as air and land capability, is now bearing fruit. 

The total number of arrests inside Kruger National Park was 138 for this year compared to 81 arrests for the same period last year as at 27th August 2015. A good example of the outcome of our increased effort was during the month of July when 35 arrests were made in Kruger National Park alone.

We are particularly proud of the work done by our law enforcement agencies. For instance this cooperation led to the arrest of eight poachers in an extended operation over 24 hours in the south of the KNP as part of Operation Southern Comfort. Two heavy-calibre rifles, ammunition and poaching equipment were seized during this operation.

I’d like to announce that just a short while ago, as we were preparing for this briefing, our Kingfisher Rangers, with backup from the K-9 unit, made contact with a group of suspected poachers on the western side of the KNP close to the Orpen Gate, after following them for over 13 kilometers.

One suspect has been arrested and a rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment confiscated. The other suspects are being pursued with both canine and aerial support. So as you see, our teams on the ground are making a real difference in real time.

1. 2.  Intensive Protection Zone

As we reported earlier this year, the zoning approach embarked on in the KNP is bearing fruit.

The Intensive Protection Zone concept is progressing well and we have now reached the stage where night airborne reaction with well-equipped anti-poaching rapid response forces is being implemented – a unique world class capability for a park.  

In this regard, the KNP has received a donation of top-of-the-range monocular night vision equipment valued at R3.4 million from the Peace Parks Foundation to support the ranger corps.

The receipt of this equipment has contributed to a levelling of the playing field - as poachers become more and more sophisticated.

Night vision has become the key opto-electronic technology in modern conflicts that take place in the dark – the time when most poachers sneak up on their prey. 

The new equipment allows for thermal imaging and high quality depth perception.  Part of this donation has included training of rangers to ensure they are able to use this force-multiplying piece of equipment properly.

1.3. Pro-active anti-poaching measures and the use of technology

The Mission Area Joint Operations Centre in the Kruger National Park is fully functional. The coordination between all the stakeholders housed in the MAJOC has seen good results with Operation Rhino set to run until 2018.

We have recorded a number of successes due to improved information sharing, part of our game-changing interventions that include disrupting criminal syndicates.

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.

This enables us to employ resources more intelligently and to be one step ahead of the poachers and their bosses.

Be that as it may, by Thursday the 27 August 2015, the number of rhino we lost to poachers was 749 for the whole country. Of these, 544 were poached in the KNP. By last year this time the number of rhino lost to poachers were 716 for the whole of the country and 459 for the KNP.  

This means that outside of the KNP, poaching has decreased across the rest of the country: evidence that our law enforcement authorities led by the SAPS are playing a key role in stabilizing poaching in the rest of South Africa.

As I have constantly emphasized, were it not for the measures we have undertaken as part of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros the situation would be worse, given the escalation of poacher activity.

As mentioned earlier, it is encouraging that we have since seen an increase in the number of arrests recorded this year. The July arrests inside the KNP for instance were the highest on record for a single month.

1.4. Ports of entry and exit

As you may be aware, the DEA Green Scorpions, Customs and Border Police are working in collaboration at the OR Tambo International Airport.

Our teams are there to make sure that non-compliance with the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) and its Regulations are enforced in general, and detecting the trafficking of wildlife products in particular.

They have also been training SAA Cargo Handlers on the detection of illegal consignments, with further training to be rolled out to other port officials and operators as part of the ongoing programme with the National Border Management Co-ordinating Centre (NBMCC). 

We are happy to report that we are in the process of deploying Green Scorpions to KwaZulu-Natal on permanent basis. The Green Scorpions will be stationed at King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) servicing Durban harbour, KSIA and Golela border post.

With the new Border Management Agency (BMA) now operational, Operation Pyramid has been launched in the KNP as a pilot; a further measure intended to coordinate the efforts of different government departments in curbing cross-border crime. This additional measure demonstrates further commitment to safeguard South Africa’s borders.

2. Managing Rhino Populations

During our May report-back we had just gazetted the Biodiversity Management Plan for White Rhinoceros for public consultation.

The Plan is aimed at ensuring the long-term survival in nature of the species through the implementation of conservation management measures. Parts of the plan are already under implementation.

As I announced in my May briefing, a number of animals would be sold to the private sector as part of our interventions to increase rhino numbers;

SANParks has commenced with the translocation and delivery of white rhino from the Kruger National Park to private land owners. SANParks will deliver 150 during 2015.

As part of evaluating the effects of sales and poaching, SANParks will conduct another Rhino survey during September 2015. During September 2014, a Rhino survey using peer-reviewed scientific methods recorded 8 001 to 9 290 white rhino in the Kruger National Park.

Elsewhere in South Africa, the African Rhino Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that provincial reserves have 4 400 white rhinos while private owners have 5 300. The total South African white rhino population remains relatively stable since 2012 in the face of escalating poacher activity.

As you all know, as poachers go for the bigger animals, young ones are left orphaned; and we continue to take care of these rhinos.

Since 2012 a total of 26 orphaned rhinos have been rescued from the KNP; eight of these were during 2015. These orphans will ultimately be released as part of family groups in semi-intensive and free-ranging areas.

3. Long-Term Sustainability Measures – Communities

We have long emphasized that people are the cornerstone of conservation: without involving communities we cannot hope to eradicate this problem.

We aim to strengthen community involvement and participation in conservation through the much-anticipated implementation of the Biodiversity Economy Strategy which will be launched by President Jacob Zuma at the upcoming Biodiversity Economy Indaba.

At the core of this strategy is a wildlife sector transformation agenda to ensure provision of sustainable alternative livelihood strategies for our communities, which will assist in curbing poaching as well. This Strategy seeks to promote inclusive economic opportunities, reflected by a sector which will be equitable and dictate fair processes and procedures in the distribution of natural resources and access to markets, and undertaking of projects that will assist to uplift the financial and economic status of our people.

Species conservation, including the rhino, will form part of this strategic intervention. As part of our strategy on faciliate community ownership of rhino, a successful case has been the handover of five rhino to the Mdluli Tribal Authority in Mpumalanga in March 2014.

We are also working with two other communities in Limpopo Province, the Balepye and Selwane communities, who have been beneficiaries of South Africa’s land redistribution programme. Both communities have undertaken a project to utilize this land for conservation.

Also as part of our community interventions our department’s Environmental Monitors have been introduced into areas facing high numbers of poaching incidents has played a demonstrable role in combating this crime through their work of educating communities in the area on the benefits of conservation and rhino protection. There are a total of 1 460 Environmental Monitors (EM’s) deployed across the country – through our Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programmes.

4Game-changing interventions

Ladies and Gentlemen, our efforts to address poaching involve various partners and parties.

In May we reported that the GEF-UNEP Rhino Project is under implementation. In this regard, as part of inter departmental collaboration between DEA and the South African Judicial Education Institute (within the Department of Justice) we  hosted a Judicial Colloquium on Biodiversity Crime last week.

One hundred and fifty magistrates from district and regional courts across the country attended the event which was aimed at raising awareness on environmental crime, with a particular focus on rhino.

The next advanced biodiversity crime scene management training is scheduled to take place from 7 September this year. This will also provide an opportunity to finalise the filming material which will serve as visual supplementary training material for rhino crime scene investigators.   The Prosecutor Training Conference is then scheduled to take place in November 2015.

The use of game-changing technology has been further bolstered by the use of the four 4x4 Forensic Mobile Units that were handed over to to SANParks, the North West department of economic development, environment, conservation and tourism, as well as the Limpopo department of environment and tourism and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency in May. The use of the forensic trailers is in terms of our partnership with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

The trailers have been assisting with the effective management of crime scenes, particularly in outlying areas where the correct equipment required for on-scene forensic investigations is not readily available.  

Also on the matter of game-changing interventions we are developing Phalaborwa as a hub for operations in the north inclusive of the Limpopo National Park, and are collaborating with South African Airlink at the Phalaborwa airport. This will hopefully cut our response time to poaching incidents in the northern parts of the Park.

4.1 Memoranda of Understanding

We have long reiterated that we cannot win this battle alone. We rely on collaboration and cooperation with international bodies as well as range states to support us in neutralising the threat of organised transnational criminal syndicates involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

Cambodia:

In addition to other MOU’s signed by DEA thus far, on 29 May 2015 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the fields of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection with Cambodia. 

This is the first agreement to be entered into between South Africa and Cambodia.  The Implementation Plan putting into action the terms of the formal environmental agreement between the two countries was also signed.

The main focus of the MOU is to promote cooperation between the parties in the field of biodiversity conservation and protection, compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and other relevant legislation.

The envisaged forms of cooperation include the exchange of relevant information and documentation on biodiversity conservation and protection; promoting technical exchange visits of experts, policy makers, regulatorsandlaw enforcers; organising seminars, workshops and meetings;and undertaking collaborative projects.

Vietnam:

Through our awareness and demand management programmes we have seen more youth travel to our beautiful country to be exposed to issues related to rhino conservation.

In June and July, 22 Vietnamese school-going youth who, as winners of the Wild Rhino Competition run at schools in Ho Chi Minh City, embarked on a 5-day educational wilderness trail facilitated by the Wilderness Leadership School in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal.   They also participated in educational workshops where they were assisted in developing strategies on how to share their message of conservation with their community.

Mozambique:  

There has been further engagement between my Mozambican counterpart, Minister Celso Correira, and I since May 2015.  

The Implementation Plan has been signed and is now under implementation.

A significant element of this Plan was the joint launch of the specialized Fauna Bravia Anti-Poaching Unit at Massangir in southwestern Mozambique in Mach 2015.

In support of the Fauna Bravia Anti-Poaching Unit, working with the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) under the Rhino Protection Programme, we will soon be delivering anti-poaching equipment to my Mozambican counterpart, Minister Correira. In the same event PPF will deliver a small plane called the Savannah light-sport aircraft.

In support of Mozambique developing socio-economic opportunities associated with the wildlife economy we completed the second phase of wildlife other than rhino introductions. That entails supplementing certain plains game species in the Limpopo National Park.

With regards to resettlement of villages we will report progress at the next briefing.

South Africa and Mozambique also submitted a joint CITES Report -- as per the 2013 decision 16.85 on Rhinoceros on collaborative work done in the fight against Rhino Poaching -- on the 31st of July 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the fight against wildlife crime, there are decisions that are taken at different Conventions whereby State Parties exercise their rights in pursuing those decisions. It is acknowledged that sovereign countries with whom we closely cooperate in this campaign also make independent decisions in the context of their nationally determined priorities and needs.

This is why South Africa respects the decision of Mozambique to dispose of its rhino horns and elephant ivory stockpiles.

After the large seizure of rhino horn in Mozambique, DNA samples were collected by the Rhino Task Team from all available horns, and brought back to South Africa for analysis.  From the samples collected we have a basis for prosecution.

People’s Republic of China: 

Following the signing of a Wildlife Conservation Implementation Plan with the People’s Republic of China on 23 March, delegates from both countries have been working to ensure that cooperation between the Parties in the fields of law enforcement, compliance with CITES, technology transfer and other relevant legislation and Conventions.

In this the Year of China in South Africa, we will during September be hosting a delegation of youth from China to increase their awareness of wildlife management and crime in South Africa, as well as to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino and other wildlife species.

CITES COP17

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) will take place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September to 5 October 2016.  

The Department would like to invite interested parties to register for participation in the preparations for CITES CoP17 and to submit draft proposals for consideration by the National Scientific and Management Authority on or before 15 September 2015. Draft proposals must be based on Resolution Conf. 9.24 of CITES which is the criteria for the Amendment of Appendices I and II which governs the status of a species and the impact of trade on a species and information relating to this can be accessed through the department’s website. The Department will convene a consultation meeting as soon as all stakeholders are registered and proposals are received.

As most of you would be aware, we have set up a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the feasibility, or not of possible trade in rhino horn. The Committee is currently conducting its work. We will report in due course.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media,

The poaching figures are not cause for despondency. Were it not for the interventions I have outlined, they could unfortunately be far worse.

Of course we have to do far more if we are to stop the slaughter of these animals: and this requires collaboration, teamwork and strengthening strategic partnerships. That is why we are here with you today as a team.

I am convinced that as our successes have shown, collaboration can and does yield fruit.

What gives me perhaps the greatest cause for hope is that communities are now more than ever playing a vital role in preserving our natural heritage.

I want in conclusion to call on you as members of the media to aid us in this fight, for you too are our allies and partners.

Given the magnificent work being done by our people: be they our Environmental Ambassadors, our Green Scorpions, or Rangers or our SANParks scientists..let us also give credit where credit is due.

Together with our colleagues in the law-enforcement sector and prosecution service: we are doing our utmost to disrupt the organized multinational criminal syndicates wherever we find them.

With the help of all South Africans we as a collective reaffirm our commitment to the cause that is common to us all: saving our rhino.

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