SA gets tough with rhino poachers
Johannesburg – South Africa has lost 210 rhino to poaching since January — against 122 for all of last year — as black-market demand for rhino horns rises along with the increase in economic status in the East and Southeast Asia, where the horn is believed to have medicinal properties. It is in response to this trend that the head of the country’s National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) organised crime unit, Johan Kruger, said on Wednesday that all rhino poaching will be classified as organised crime. This will make it harder for those arrested in connection with rhino poaching to get bail and those convicted will face longer sentences. Kruger, an advocate, was speaking at the launch of the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs’ National Strategy for the Safety and Security of Rhinoceros Populations. Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said the strategy would ensure the successful arrest, conviction and sentencing of poachers, illegal traders and crime syndicates operating locally, regionally and nationally. Twenty-one people have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching in SA in the past three weeks. Eleven, including two veterinarians, a pilot and a game farmer, all allegedly part of a poaching syndicate, were arrested in Limpopo last month. The group is alleged to be part of a ring behind rhino poaching across the province in recent months. Sonjica said SA is “engaging” with countries such as China. She said: “We are well aware that most of these syndicates come from the East. It is also very important to work with our (regional) partners on a regular basis. We will be consulting with the Department of International Relations.” Sonjica said her department will also work closely with the police and NPA to bring perpetrators to book. Kruger said it was important to have the NPA on board. He said most illegal rhino killings are committed by organised syndicates. Sonjica said she had been disappointed by the recent spate of poaching, noting she was sad because the country’s track record on conservation was being undermined. “We have been recognised internationally for our rhino conservation, we have been conserving rhinos more than any other country.” At the end of 2007, SA was responsible for conserving 35 percent of Africa’s black rhino in the wild and 93 percent of the continent’s white rhino. The strategy, which is in line with the national white rhino strategy, provides guiding principles to be used in when making plans aimed at reducing rhino poaching.