The recent floods in the Kruger National Park (KNP), thick vegetation, two weeks of a full moon, 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.
To date 57 rhino have been killed by poachers in South Africa, with 42 of these in the Kruger National Park in January alone. So far this year six rhino have been poached in KwaZulu-Natal, six in North West, two in Limpopo and one in Mpumalanga.
Of the 18 suspected poachers arrested since 1 January 2013, 11 were arrested in the Kruger National Park 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 North West.
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 18 and 19 January, six suspected poachers have been arrested by South African and Mozambican authorities since Friday, 25 January and two fatally wounded. All were armed.
On Friday night anti-poaching operatives in the Houtbosrand section of the KNP were involved in a shootout with two armed suspected poachers at a freshly killed rhino. During the contact 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 horns 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 were allegedly on their way to the KNP when they were arrested. A heavy calibre rifle and ammunition were recovered.
In a separate joint operation on Sunday, 27 January there was another shootout with three armed suspected rhino poachers near the Nwanedzi section of the KNP, during which one of the poachers was fatally wounded and two arrested. A heavy calibre hunting rifle with a silencer and ammunition were recovered.
Yesterday, 30 January 30 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.
SANParks Chief Executive Officer, Dr David Mabunda, said despite increased incursions from Mozambique, in particularly the Limpopo Transfrontier Park region in the north of Kruger National Park, anti-poaching operations were starting to yield results.
"We bled in December, but as of 1 January 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."
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.
The Department of Environmental Affairs has congratulated SANParks anti-poaching units, the police and the South African National Defence Force for their recent successes, commending them for the arrest of two alleged poachers who were remanded in the White River Magistrate's Court this week. They are expected to bring a bail application on 6 February.
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.
Rhino poaching statistics
SA 2010 2011 2012 2013
KNP (SANParks) 146 252 425 42
MNP (SANParks) 0 6 3 0
GP 15 9 1 0
LIM 52 74 59 2
MP 17 31 28 1
NW 57 21 77 6
EC 4 11 7 0
FS 3 4 0 0
KZN 38 34 66 6
WC 0 6 2 0
NC 1 0 0 0
333 448 668 57
Rhino poaching arrests statistics
South Africa - Arrests 2013 2012 2011 2010
KNP 11 73 82 67
MNP 1 0 0 0
Gauteng (GP) 0 26 16 10
Mpumalanga (MP) 0 66 73 16
Eastern Cape (EC) 0 0 2 7
Limpopo (LP) 3 43 34 36
North West (NW) 2 32 21 2
Free State (FS) 0 6 0 0
KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) 1 20 4 25
Western Cape (WC) 0 0 0 2
Northern Cape (NC) 0 1 0 0
Total 18 267 232 165
Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs