Despite the high incidence of rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park, which was reported this week as having already exceeding 280 rhinos, a dedicated group of police personnel will be withdrawn from the Kruger National Park by the end of October. The DA has been informed by a high ranking source in the SAPS that the decision will be formalised at a meeting of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) today.
Apparently top management in the SAPS did not make an application for funds in the adjustment budget, and are now without funding for these specialised anti-poaching operations. The DA is deeply concerned by the proposed redeployment of these police personnel, and calls on the National Police Commissioner Riah Piyega and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to urgently intervene to stop the redeployment.
The police officers affected by this decision range between eight and twenty in number. They are very experienced in conducting police work in a bush environment, and have been successful in assisting park rangers track and arrest poachers. Most importantly, this group of police officers has a dedicated helicopter used in anti-poaching operations that will also be removed from the Park.
One would think that in the R62.5bn budget that Parliament appropriated to the police that there would be funds available for the anti-poaching efforts in Kruger. It makes matters worse that the police, after six months into the financial year, are under spending their budget. If funds for specialised budgeted programmes are a problem then the relevant officials should have applied for a virement in the adjustment budget, which would involve the shifting of funds between identified activities in the budget.
Since the beginning of 2010 approximately 700 rhinos have been killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park. The rate of poaching is increasing despite increased enforcement efforts. Yesterday Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan made an extra R80m available for efforts to combat poaching in Kruger. This will among other things pay for the 150 additional rangers and the introduction of improved aerial surveillance technology. As of now 49 of the additional rangers are in the field, a further 50 will complete training in the coming days, and the final 50 will be in the field by the end of the financial year.
While some enforcement capabilities are thus improving, it is a blow that the specialised police personnel are being removed. South Africa's top cops must ensure that the group of police officers deployed in Kruger remain in place at the end of the month. I will be publishing parliamentary questions to the Police Minister next week asking why additional funds were not requested and what steps he is taking to ensure a continued police presence in South Africa's premier conservation area.
Gareth Morgan, Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs