Pretoria – A total of 214 suspected rhino poachers were arrested in South Africa between April 2010 and March 2011, according to the 4th National Compliance and Enforcement Report (NECER).
The NECER 2010/11 was officially released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on Thursday in Pretoria.
Of the 214 suspected rhino poachers, 92 were arrested in the Kruger National Park, while a further 16 suspected rhino poachers were fatally wounded in armed contact, the report indicated.
Rhino poaching across Africa has risen sharply in the past few years, threatening to reverse hard-won population increases achieved by conservation authorities during the 20th century.
The first alarming spike occurred in 2008, when 83 rhinos were lost. South Africa responded by intensifying its law enforcement efforts.
However, the Kruger National Park, which is home to the largest populations of both white and black rhinos in the country, was hit the hardest, losing 146 rhinos to poaching in 2010.
The report indicated that three Mozambican nationals were found guilty on charges of illegally hunting rhinos in a national park and possession of unlicensed fire arm and ammunition, and were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from five to nine years each without the option of a fine.
It also said that a Vietnamese national was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport for illegal possession of one rhino horn.
One of the initiatives aimed at reducing rhino poaching included the establishment of an interim Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCRU) to investigate rhino-related crimes in cooperation with SANPARKS, the South African Police Service, Conservation Authorities, National Prosecuting Authority and the Defence Force.
According to the report, government is also developing the National Strategy for the Safety and Security of Rhinoceros Populations and horn stocks in South Africa and facilitating a visit to Vietnam to discuss issues of concern regarding the smuggling of Rhino horns and the legal export of sport hunted white rhino trophies.
The issue of rhino poaching has been elevated to highest security management structures and a National Joints Committee agreed to incorporate Operation Rhino into the NATJOINTS committee as a standing agenda item. – BuaNews