Pretoria — About 57 rhinos have been killed this year by poachers in South Africa, with 42 of these being in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
According to the latest data released by the Department of Environmental Affairs, six rhinos have been poached in KwaZulu-Natal, six in North West, two in Limpopo and one in Mpumalanga.
The recent floods in the KNP, thick vegetation, two weeks of a full moon, and aggressive incursions from Mozambique are some of the factors that have contributed not only an increase in poaching in the country's flagship national park, but also in a rise in the number of arrests of those intent on killing these animals for their horns, says the department.
Despite the floods that have left large parts of the KNP inaccessible to vehicles and rangers on foot, and totally destroyed the camp at Shingwedzi, the area was still being patrolled with the assistance of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
About 18 suspected poachers have been arrested this year. Eleven of the suspects were arrested in the KNP and three were fatally wounded.
Three suspected poachers have been arrested in Limpopo following a tip-off related to their activities in the KNP and two in the North West.
Despite increased incursions from Mozambique, particularly in the Limpopo Transfrontier Park region in the north of Kruger National Park, SANParks CEO David Mabunda said their anti-poaching operations were starting to yield results.
"We bled in December, but as of January 1 there has been a change in strategy from a conservation management system to greater law enforcement, and this is working. Our operations are more militaristic. The number of poachers arrested has increased inside and outside the Park."
Besides the arrest of six suspected poachers, the recovery of seven rhino horns, heavy calibre hunting rifles, ammunition and poaching equipment during three operations in the KNP on January 18 and 19, six suspected poachers have been arrested by South African and Mozambican authorities since last Friday and two fatally wounded. All were armed.
Last week, anti-poaching operatives in the Houtbosrand section of the KNP were involved in a shootout with two armed suspected poachers, at the site of a freshly killed rhino.
One of the suspects was fatally wounded. The other managed to escape back to Mozambique. A heavy calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and the rhino's horn were recovered.
An intelligence-driven operation on same day resulted in the arrest of two more suspected rhino poachers by the Mozambican authorities inside Mozambique, adjacent to Houtbosrand.
The group was allegedly on its way to the KNP when its members were arrested. A heavy calibre rifle and ammunition were recovered.
On Wednesday, joint forces were again involved in a shootout with armed suspected poachers in the Houtbosrand area.
One of the suspects was wounded and arrested, while his two accomplices managed to escape back to Mozambique. A heavy calibre hunting rifle and ammunition were recovered.
The Department of Environmental Affairs has congratulated SANParks' anti-poaching units, the police and the SANDF for their recent successes.
South Africans are urged to report any information or tip-offs that they may have in relation to rhino poaching to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111 or CrimeLine on 32211.