DA welcomes arrest of SANPark officials and calls for Minister to do more

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the arrest this week of four Kruger National Park officials who are alleged to have been involved in rhino poaching activities in the Park.

One of the suspected poachers, a field ranger, is one of the employees who recently embarked on strike action in the park. One of the other individuals arrested is a traffic official in the park. The fight against rhino poaching is challenging enough without also having to expunge a Trojan horse within the ranks of South Africa’s premier protected area.

In the Pretoriuskop area alone, 11 rhino have been killed this year, bringing the figure up to 43 in the Park, and at least 80 across the country. While trend analysis is best done over periods longer than two months, it does appear that the rate of poaching has increased compared with same period last year. Last year 448 rhinos were killed by poachers. The trajectory, if not apprehended soon, is likely to precipitate a decline in the rhino population beyond 2015.

The DA welcomes the action taken by SANParks and the statement of remorse by the CEO. It is indeed very distressing that people tasked with protecting our wildlife resources have betrayed their mandate in the worst possible way.  To prevent the recurrence of such abuse, strong steps must now be taken to vet current staff in the Park, and to ensure the comprehensive vetting of all future staff. The DA will follow this matter up with parliamentary questions to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs. As Kruger in particular is about to employ a large number of new rangers, the importance of such steps cannot be overemphasised.

Kruger National Park faces a significant assault on its rhino population, particularly from Mozambiquan nationals. While recent events show that Kruger is the hotspot for poaching in South Africa, the problem of poaching is a national one affecting rhinos in both public and privately owned reserves.

The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, has been insufficiently vocal on the national crisis. Individual units in provinces or in the private sector can contribute to combating the problem in certain localities, but rhino poaching is a broader, more complex problem. If poaching is suspended in one location, it is merely displaced elsewhere. As such, curbing rhino poaching requires strong national leadership and political will to catalyse coordination within government and between government and civil society organisations. We therefore call on the Minister to demonstrate bold leadership on this crucial matter, and to overcome the coordination failures in government.