Cape Town – The Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Edna Molewa, has been tight-lipped about rhino poaching statistics for 2016, amid claims of rhino horn trafficking within her own government. Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, who runs the country’s intelligence services, was implicated in trafficking rhino horn late last year. This week the DA called for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to enquire into Mahlobo’s involvement.
The DEA has not published rhino poaching statistics since September 2016. By then, 702 rhino had been poached nationally.
The DEA has failed to provide any further statistics on the carnage continuing throughout the country. Continuous data, say conservationists, is important to the protection of the species.
‘Onslaught on rhino continues’
Allison Thomson, founder of OSCAP (Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching) believes the DEA may be “stalling to let this whole Mahlobo issue die down a bit.” Thomson says Mahlobo is one of the ministers that usually attends Molewa’s press conferences “so I think they are feeling a little awkward at the moment.”
According to Eleanor Momberg, Acting Director for External Communication at the DEA, the Minister will be releasing the statistics for 2016 “in due course” but adds that a press conference may be arranged for the first week of February.
Albi Modise of DEA again confirmed on Wednesday that no date had been set for release of the statistics.
Despite the obvious procrastination, The Lowvelder reported that 2016 figures for the Kruger Park were inadvertently placed on record at the Nelspruit Magistrates Court on Wednesday last week as part of aggravating factors in support of a sentence for convicted poacher, Simon Ngubane.
The senior state advocate, Isabet Erwee, said the figures for the national park provide an indication that a “total onslaught on the rhino population” was still in full force.
Her records showed that a total of 622 rhinos were poached in the Kruger National Park in 2016 and a further 21 since the beginning of this year. Although the number for the Kruger National Park in 2016 dropped by 204 compared to 2015, it’s still a significant amount of dead rhinos.
Rhino poaching has shown a dramatic increase elsewhere, notably KwaZulu-Natal where at least 159 rhinos having been killed in 2016, compared to 104 during the same period in 2015. Provincial rhino security head Cedric Coetzee told SABC Newslast year: “There are influxes or displacement of poaching from Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and so forth. So the syndicates are getting to use the whole country rather than staying in a single area.”
Nationally, there’s a belief of a downward trend in the number of rhino poached but with the spike in poaching in Kwa-Zulu Natal this trend may be nullified.
OSCAP, who glean independent statistics from verified sources or from newspaper articles and other social media outlets, suggest the number of poached rhino is still staggeringly high. Thomson calculates that at least 1 105 were killed in 2016, a figure not significantly different from 1 175 in 2015.
Conviction rates remain too low
Another worrying statistic is the revelation that conviction rates are agonizingly low despite an increase of arrests for the year and a positive spin by the Minister in May last year. She had claimed a successful conviction rate of 78%, when according to a more thorough analysis it was only 15%.
The problem lies with the Minister’s definition of conviction rates.
Her percentage only takes into account those cases that went to trial and where there was some form of verdict. Her evaluation does not compare the number of prosecutions with the number of arrests.
For example, in 2015 there were 317 arrests but only 54 were prosecuted. In other words, only 17% of those arrested led to prosecutions in 2015.
For the whole of 2016, anti-poaching officials made 281 arrests in the Kruger Park. Once arrested, poachers are taken to Skukuza Magistrates’ Court, which has lately become severely overloaded.
“A total of 25 to 30 matters is on that court roll every Wednesday,” said Erwee. “Some days, we have more than 50 accused in the dock”. As a result, trials cannot proceed and extra court dates have to be arranged, often with the perpetrators walking free.
Erwee is also on record saying: “Arrests and convictions did not seem to scare off poachers”.
“This is a crime of greed,” she said, “kingpins pay a lot, and the business has become a fashionable one. Although many suspects are killed during contacts or end up losing limbs, the lure of money is stronger than the fear of death.”