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Media Release: New plans in combating rhino poaching

Date: 27th January 2011

The Chief Executive Officer of South African National Parks (SANParks), Dr David Mabunda, unveiled at Pretoria today, 27 January 2011, a new weapon to be used against rhino poaching.

South Africa has developed a new Rhino DNA Sample Kit in collaboration between the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the Faculty of Veterinary Science (University of Pretoria), SANParks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), to be used by officers on rhino poaching crime scenes as well as to document the individual rhinos in SA. The new kit is aimed at assisting investigators on rhino poaching to be able to link a crime scene with a particular rhino and the movements of that rhino since documentation.

The Rhino DNA Sample Kit will not only be used at crime scenes. All rhino population owners and managers will be encouraged to document all the individual rhinos under their care by using the DNA Kit. The information gathered from these samples will be stored at a central database which can only be accessed by registered professionals who may be directly linked to any and all data downloaded through their individual logon connection.

Dr Mabunda announced that this DNA Kit and the initial DNA testing and registration will be given for free for all participants (private and public), and also in the unfortunate case of a rhino poaching incident. It is estimated that for a full circle DNA sampling the process will cost approximately R1680 per individual. The funding for the project will be provided by SANParks and other private funders. SANParks will use funds from the ivory sale of 2009 to contribute to the project. The South African Breweries has already sponsored R100,000 towards the project.

“We would like to encourage all managers and owners of rhinos to take full advantage of this opportunity so that we may be able to better protect our rhinos from criminals. Obviously this is but one of a suite of interventions towards combating rhino poaching,” said Dr Mabunda.

The DNA Kit was revealed to members of the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCR) from the NPA, DPCI, SANParks and Environmental Management Investigators (EMIs) from provincial conservation authorities who were gathered this week for a Crime Scene Management Course.

Although the course is mainly aimed at equipping investigators with detailed knowledge and methodologies regarding the management of crime scenes pertaining to the illegal hunting of rhino, the course is unique because it is also being attended by prosecutors. The course gave prosecutors, dealing in the prosecution of these cases the opportunity to firsthand experience the challenges the investigators face in securing and safe-guarding a scene in the veldt. Not only did prosecutors gain insight into the methods used to search for, locate and the collecting of evidential material on such a scene but also what kind of other evidence, than the norm, can be collected for further scientific analysis.

National Head: Organised Crime Component in the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Adv. JJ Kruger said, “The DNA evidence has been proven in SA courts to constitute irrefutable evidence and has in many cases lead to convictions. This specialised science can, thanks to new developments in the field, become a phenomenal tool in the fight against the illegal hunting of rhino. DNA evidence can now be used to link suspects found in possessions of horns with the actual carcass irrespective of how much time has passed. This should change the trend of suspects found in possession of rhino horn, only being charged with possession. In future these suspects could also be charged with the actual illegal hunting of a rhino, as well as possession and theft. The NPA looks forward to use this tool in future prosecutions.”

The DPCI also announced that it was agreed at the course to develop a centralised Communication System that is aimed at centralising reporting on rhino poaching crime at a center controlled and managed by the DPCI head office. The new DNA sampling and testing method will assist in better management of crime information as it will be individualising the crime scenes

To date South Africa has lost 19 rhinos since the beginning of the year with 24 arrests. The focus in 2011 will be arresting the people behind the rhino poaching syndicates as well as educating the public against supporting such criminals, said Dr Mabunda.

Issued by:
SANParks Corporate Communications

For Media Interviews and Inquiries contact:

  • wanda mkutshulwa, Head of Communications: South African National Parks (SANParks), Tel: (012) 426 5201 / 0829082692;  E-mail: wandam@sanparks.org
  • McIntosh Polela, Spokesperson for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), Tel: 0824751427; E-mail: dpci.communications@saps.org.za
  • Mthunzi Mhaga, Spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Tel: 0721986863, E-mail: mcmhaga@npa.gov.za
  • Dr Cindy Harper, Head of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Tel: (012) 529 8240 / 082 466 9963
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