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Media Release: Minister announces significant progress with anti-poaching initiatives

Date: 3rd April 2009

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, expressed his satisfaction with the progress made with anti-poaching efforts and announced a number of arrests that followed as a result of a coordinated investigation.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, expressed his satisfaction with the progress made with anti-poaching efforts and announced a number of arrests that followed as a result of a coordinated investigation. The Minister told the media at a briefing held in Skukuza that since the start of the intensive investigation last year, a total of 16 suspects had been arrested.

“Although we have had tremendous success in expanding our conservation areas, over the past two years there has been a dramatic and unacceptable increase in the illegal trade of rhino horn and the poaching of especially white rhino. Environmental crimes such as these will not be tolerated. We will continue to enhance our efforts to stop criminals in their tracks, and I would like to thank all those involved and congratulate them on the successes we have seen so far,” Minister van Schalkwyk said.

The Minister said the Kruger National Park (KNP) lost 36 rhino to poaching in 2008, and from January to March 2009 a total of 11 rhino have already been shot and killed in the Park. In addition to this, 12 rhino have been killed in 2009 in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the North West. In 2008 a total of 46 rhino had been killed in these provinces.

“This is an untenable situation and it is receiving urgent and sustained attention from a task team made up of a number of role-players. I am glad to say we have been able to arrest 16 suspects and uncover the activities of a Gauteng-based syndicate as a result of the investigation,” the Minister said.

National biodiversity enforcement unit to be established

He said the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) had initiated the establishment of a multi-party national biodioversity investigators forum in order to create a platform for discussion and the sharing of information on biodiversity related law enforcement issues such as rhino poaching. “We have also decided to establish a national biodiversity enforcement unit in the relevant branch of DEAT and we will in future formally coordinate biodiversity enforcement issues on a national basis. This will strengthen our enforcement capacity and help ensure compliance with and the enforcement of national environmental legislation,” Minister van Schalkwyk said.

After a number of rhino carcasses were found on the Kingfisherspruit section of the KNP early last year, a joint investigation by the SANParks, the Environmental Crime Investigation (ECI) unit, specialised units from the South African Police Service (SAPS) and provincial agencies was launched in April 2008.

The Minister said the thorough investigation yielded its first results when 11 suspects were arrested late last year. Another five suspects have been arrested to date and a total of 23 criminal dockets linked to the syndicate are currently being managed and prepared for court proceedings by the ECI, SAPS and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

One of the Chinese nationals arrested, who is believed to be a so-called runner, has already pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of rhino horn and has been sentenced to 3 years in prison or a fine of R20,000. Two other Chinese nationals are currently on bail of R200,000 and R100,000 respectively and a SANParks traffic official who was arrested is on bail of R5,000. The trial date for this case has been set aside for 3 April 2009 in Middelburg. The charges will include racketeering, conspiracy, corruption, illegal hunting and the illegal dealing in and possession of rhino horn.

Members of the task team who are operating undercover have also managed to infiltrate what they believe to be the upper echelon of a major rhino poaching syndicate. A suspect was arrested on 10 March 2009 in this regard.

Two suspected rhino poachers were arrested in the Houtbosrand section of the KNP on 2 March 2009, after they were attacked by lions. Both suspects are currently in custody pending further investigation.

Dr David Mabunda, the CEO of SANParks, said the significant progress that had been achieved in apprehending suspects can be attributed to the excellent working relationship between SANParks, the SAPS and a number of other stakeholders. “Continual poaching of animals has a negative economic impact, as it decreases our competitiveness as far as wildlife and tourism experiences are concerned. We will therefore intensify our efforts and continue to collaborate,” Dr Mabunda said.

Issued by:
Reynold “Rey” Thakhuli, General Manager: Media, Events & Stakeholder Relations, SANParks, Tel: +27 (0) 12 426 5203, Cell: +27 (0) 83 552 2020 or email: reyt@sanparks.org

Enquiries:
Wanda Mkutshulwa, Head of Communications, SANParks, Tel: 012 426 5201, Cell: 082 908 2692 or email: wandam@sanparks.org

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