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Elephant Poached in Kruger National Park – Is This the Thin Edge of the Wedge?

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SANparks confirmed on Thursday that an elephant bull was poached in Kruger National Park and its tusks removed and carried off by the perpetrators – the first such incident to hit the park in 10 years.

The killing occurred in the Pafuri region in the far north of the park, close to the border with Mozambique, and raises the question as to whether the poaching epidemic that has plagued other African countries in recent years is imminent in South Africa. Several prominent conservationists have warned that local parks are at high risk of being targeted for ivory in the near future, with National Geographic wildlife filmmaker Derek Joubert stating that, “we have an avalanche coming our way” and that “we can expect poaching to increase”.

Managing executive for Conservation Services at SANparks, Hector Magome echoed Joubert’s sentiment, saying, “At Cites (Convention for The Trade in Endangered Species) held in Bangkok in March we were warned that elephant poaching is going to hit us like an avalanche as early as January next year,” and, “Given what is going on in the rest of Africa, it is inevitable that South Africa’s elephants will eventually be targeted.”

In April this year, as the death toll of rhino butchered for their horn in Mozambique and South Africa since the start of 2014 climbed to 376, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the two countries, laying out several strategies to deter poachers from penetrating protected areas. These include the re-erection of Kruger’s eastern boundary fence with Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park, which was taken down in 2002 to allow elephants to migrate freely between the two preserves.

However, director of the University of Pretoria’s Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU), Professor Rudi van Aarde, who described the Kruger poaching as “tragic”, believes the re-erection of this border fence would be a futile attempt to halt poaching.

No fence has ever kept poachers out,” he said. “And elephants or other animals, including humans, that wish to pass through the boundary will simply do so. The only solution is for governments across Southern Africa to get their act together and put a stop to these criminal activities. Poaching is not an ecological problem – it’s a political problem.”

The Pafuri slaughter comes at a time when the South African government is lobbying hard for legal sanction to sell its 18-ton stockpile of rhino horn. But conservation experts, both locally and internationally have refuted the notion that flooding the market with ivory or rhino horn would drive down the market price and decrease the magnitude of poaching.

Despite the fact that this most recent elephant poaching is the first event of its kind in Kruger for almost a decade, the incident does cast doubt on the recent statement by South African Minister of Water and Environment Affairs, Edna Molewa that, “We did an ivory once-off sale and elephant poaching has not been a problem since.”

“Molewa’s statement is tantamount to misconduct of the highest degree,” said van Aarde, cautioning that legalising the trade in these materials could backfire badly.

Calling for trade in ivory or rhino horn is a call for the continuation of corruption – it feeds the search for such goods, and plays directly into the hands of criminal syndicates and terrorist groups who fill the demand for them through poaching,” he said.

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