Kwa Zulu Natal’s rhino crisis
East Coast Radio is passionate about wildlife. We’re horrified by the ongoing plundering of our rhinos in our game parks. We’ve teamed up with other stakeholders to try to do something. Read why the fight is so crucial here…
Rhino poaching is at crisis proportions. More than 400 of these prehistoric animals have been killed in the space of 255 days. That works out to three rhinos killed every two days.
Its way more than the 333 rhinos poached in the whole of 2010, and is fast approaching the total national figure last year – which was 448.
Renowned conservationist, Lawrence Anthony, who died earlier this year – summed it up in an interview from February, just before his death: “Rhinos are in trouble. They need our help. This is not some sort of crazy conservationist mission – the rhinos, our rhinos are going to be gone.”
While Kruger National Park has borne the brunt of the carnage, KZN is the third worst affected province.
Already 46 rhinos have been killed this year, twelve more than for the whole of last year. Over the past weekend, ironically the World Rhino Day weekend, four were poached in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park alone. The poachers aren’t playing around – they mean business.
“Roughly in two years’ time our growth rate – our rhino population growth rate – will match the declining numbers in terms of poaching, and when those two lines intersect each other then we are going to experience an overall negative growth rate in rhino, and that is when we will start to lose this game properly,” says Lawrence Munro, an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Section Ranger at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
He knows the dangers of poachers all too well, having lost a field ranger in a gun battle late last year and also having seen the hacked and lifeless bodies of many rhinos.
“In terms of the bigger picture, it is not just rhino that die. In fact, our game reserves and the justification for our wild areas is at stake here – in the long term.
“People are dying. There is a vast amount of money to the South African economy that is being lost, and I think that people do need to realise that it is an important aspect that is going to need buy-in from all sectors of society if we are going to combat it. We cannot leave it to a handful of rangers working extended hours under trying conditions to try and contain the problem.
“The problem is way bigger than that, and we do need help from basically every single person in this province.”
A solution that was working very well for the eight or so months it was piloted was one involving daily helicopter patrols and operations in the southern section of the park. It was funded by King Shaka Aviation out of sheer passion for the cause.
Munro worked closely with the chopper pilot. “It proved to be extremely effective. The statistics show that when the helicopter arrived, the rhino poaching in this area died down and moved elsewhere,” he said.
Yvette Taylor from the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization explains why they back the initiative and will work with any other organisation toward this goal.
“I really feel that this a very successful project and it should be rolled out – the country over. Lawrence Anthony always said that there is no silver bullet for the rhino issue, but this is one of those things that really puts a weapon in the arsenal that works and that is effective,” she said.
Jabulani Ngubane, Rhino Security Coordinator for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, says high tech equipment has to be used in this deadly fight: night vision goggles, cyber trackers and choppers, which he says, are key.
“What helps us with the helicopter, is that it gives us that competitive edge over the syndicates – it keeps us two steps ahead of the syndicates. We can be efficient and effective and produce results within the expected time,” he said.
How well did the project work? According to Ngubane, in Hluhulwe-iMfolozi Park in 2010, 17 rhino were lost; in 2011 seven were killed – and up until the end of the project – they’d only lost two.
Everyone thought corporate sponsors would clamber to climb on board such a successful project, but it didn’t happen, and since April 30, the chopper has been grounded.
Since then, Taylor says the situation has become even more bleak.“The escalation is ridiculous, and more so in KZN where we were almost in a bit of a ‘safe zone’. Everyone was looking at Kruger, and Kruger was just getting hammered.
“We’ve now become a target, and it is very evident that these guys are losing against the poachers,” she said.
Does she think the absence of the chopper made all the difference?
“Yes it’s definitely linked because we started losing rhino almost immediately after the chopper was recalled, so the link is very clear – and when you backtrack it from when the chopper is there and you see how low the figures were, and it is maintained for such a long time – it is very evident that the chopper made a very big difference.”
Justin Lowe – pilot at King Shaka Aviation and project manager for the anti-poaching chopper project says after they left the park, there was a one month breather and then the poaching started up again in earnest.
“The figures for July were nine losses, August was three losses – and so far this month we have already incurred loses. So it has just multiplied in a way we haven’t seen before in the fight against poaching,” he said.
We’ve already lost 46 rhinos in KZN this year: more than were lost in the whole of 2011.
So, could our children’s children not know rhinos in the wild if things continue as they are? Munro believes so.
“Yes unfortunately it is conceivable. If we turn a blind eye and we decided that we are not going to take on this challenge and embrace all the horrible aspects about it, and be prepared to get our hands dirty, then yes – it is a very real possibility. It could well happen,” he said.
The late Lawrence Anthony sums it up in this file interview, shortly before his death:
“I just want to remind people of the values that are important to us human beings; black, white and yellow – whatever.
“It is important that we respect creatures like rhinoceros. As South Africans this is our heritage and we really need to get together on this one; to say no more, no more!”