Promising signs that rhino poaching on a downward trend – Edna Molewa

Minister says there has been a significant increase in the number of arrests of alleged poachers this year

Minister Edna Molewa highlights progress in fight against rhino poaching

12 September 2016

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa today released a statement of report back on progress in the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros.

The period under review covers the period 1 May 2016 through 31 August 2016. This is the department’s third report-back to the nation on the Integrated Strategic Management approach for this year.

The department has taken the decision to release a statement in lieu of a media briefing owing to preparations for the upcoming 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) currently being underway. South Africa will host COP17 CITES at the Sandton Convention Center from  24th of September to 5th of October 2016.

Rhino poaching was declared a National Priority Crime in 2014 and the issue continues to receive the highest level of attention from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the country’s law-enforcement authorities, and the prosecution service.

In the period 1 May 2016 to 31 August 2016, the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros has continued to yield success.

This is government’s multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary approach involving Environmental Affairs (DEA), the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), the South African Police Service (SAPS), South African State Security Agency, Justice and Correctional Services Department, South African National Parks (SANParks), the provincial conservation agencies and all our people in general.

The Integrated Strategic Management Approach has a number of key pillars that are addressed within the context of national and international cooperation. The key pillars are:

- Compulsory interventions

- Managing rhino populations

- Long-term sustainability interventions, and

- New interventions, within the context of regional and international cooperation

At the last briefing held in May 2016 Minister Molewa noted that whilst victory could not be claimed outright, there are promising signs that rhino poaching is now on a downward trend in South Africa.

Compulsory interventions

A new National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking which will replace the current Integrated Strategic Management approach, is in the final stages of being authorised.

Arrests, investigations and prosecutions

There has been a significant increase in the number of arrests of alleged poachers this year.

A total of 414 alleged poachers have been arrested in South Africa since 1 January 2016 – of which 177 were in the KNP and 237 for the rest of the country.  A total of 94 firearms have been seized inside the Park between 1 January and 31 August 2016.

Among the notable investigations, arrests and prosecutions linked to rhino poaching are:

- The arrest of three men in Vanderbijlpark in April, during a police operation, for allegedly intending to sell rhino horns. Adriaan Van Staden, Martin Van Rooyen and Conrad Strydom were found in possession of 18 rhino horns. Their court date is 20 September 2016.

- In a matter linked to the arrest in Vanderbijlpark, two other men – Adriaan du Plessis and Nardus Rossouw – were arrested in Lephalale for their alleged involvement in the orchestration of the illegal selling of rhino horns. Their court date is 15 September 2016.

- In the Eastern Cape, three suspects were arrested for rhino poaching and the illegal possession of a fresh rhino horn in June. The arrest followed the killing of a rhino bull in a private game reserve earlier the same day in the Grahamstown area. Jabulani Ndlovu, Sikhombuzi Ndlovu and Zimbabwean national Forget Ndlovu were arrested during a joint operation during which a Dart Gun and Darts, several saws, knives; M99 tranquilisers and 2 high performance vehicles were also confiscated. The accused in this case remain in custody following their court appearances.

- On 10 August, the Hawks and SANParks officials arrested three men in Equestria, Pretoria, during a police operation who were intending to sell five rhino horn. Pieter Van Zyl (67), Marco Swanepoel (35) and Stephan Mylie (30) were found in possession of an additional three rhino horns during the arrest.  During follow-up investigations a massive haul of almost 105 rhino horns, the value of which is yet to be determined, was found.  The three accused, who were granted bail during their court appearance in August, are scheduled to appear in the Pretoria Regional Court on 12 October 2016.

- Law enforcement agencies working at OR Tambo International Airport in August arrested a Chinese national found in possession of 10 rhino horns, 84 stick ornaments made out of elephant ivory and 41 elephant ivory bangles. The suspect, Desheng Zhane, was about to board a flight to Hong Kong when he was nabbed. A joint investigation is underway by the Hawks and the Green Scorpions.

Ports of entry and exit

Minister Molewa has congratulated rangers, police, customs and excise officials and the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions) for the work they have undertaken so far this year. 

Training of border officials to detect incidences of smuggling is ongoing; with a joint operation taking place at Cape Town International Airport as well as training of officials at OR Tambo International Airport and Oshoek Border Post.

Furthermore, recognising the critical role that field rangers play in ensuring effective compliance and enforcement within the country’s protected areas, the department has combined a project output from the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) project supported by funding from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in order to reach more rangers. 

This project, which has just commenced, provides specialised training to 1 400 field rangers across South Africa focused on key areas of enforcement, including the proper execution of body/vehicle searches, arrest, the handling of and processing of seized items and the requirements expected of a first responder to a crime scene. 

Following on from the success of the event in 2015, the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme will host the next Judicial Colloquium in November 2016, this time aiming to bring together judicial officers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Mozambique.

Poaching statistics

“We are pleased to announce yet again, as we did in January and May, that poaching is on the decline in the Kruger National Park (KNP) – the area hardest hit,” says Minister Molewa.

Between January and the end of August 2016, a total number of 458 poached rhino carcasses were found in the KNP, compared to 557 in the same period last year. This represents a 17.8% decline in the number of rhino carcasses.

Poaching rates, i.e. the number of carcasses as a percentage of the number of live rhinos estimated the previous September for each year, reduced by 15.5% compared between the same periods in 2015 (9.6% poaching rate) and 2016 (7.9% poaching rate).

These figures come amidst a 27.87 % increase in the number of illegal incursions into the KNP – a staggering 2 115 for the first eight months of 2016.

Nationally, 702 rhino were poached since the beginning of 2016 whereas between January and July 2015, a total of 796 rhino were poached. 

There may be indications however that the success of anti-poaching efforts in the KNP has led to poaching syndicates shifting operations to other provinces.

In the period under review, the number of rhino poached has increased in a number of other provinces in comparison to the same period in 2015, such as KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and the Northern Cape.

However, despite these increases there is still a downward trend in the number of rhino poached.

It is also of concern that we have also begun experiencing an increase in elephant poaching, despite the vigorous and determined efforts by our rangers, the police and soldiers on the ground. Since January 36 elephants have been poached in the KNP. 

“We are utilising our experience and expertise gained through our efforts to combat rhino poaching to end elephant poaching as well,” the Minister said.

“What is evident, is that these successes can be attributed to the work being done on the ground by our people, our hardworking law-enforcement teams and our rangers in particular,” says Minister Molewa.

The combined efforts of DEA, law-enforcement and the conservation agencies – with the support of international partners and donors, are slowly but steadily making a dent in the rhino poaching numbers.

The Minister has congratulated a member of the Environmental Monitors programme (which is part of the Department of Environmental Affairs) in Mpumalanga, Anton Mzimba, who won the coveted Field Ranger of the Year award at the 2016 Rhino Conservation Awards.

“I am concerned that while there are Rangers and security officials who go the extra mile to ensure our wildlife is protected and criminals involved in wildlife crime are brought to book, there are also those who have allegedly chosen to embrace the wrong side of the law.   To these rangers and officials I would like to send a strong message:  You will be arrested and prosecuted,” said Minister Molewa. 

Managing rhino populations


On the matter of managing rhino populations, the evaluation of internal translocations is nearing completion, with the final outcomes expected by the end of 2016.

Although rhino translocation out of the Kruger National Park began in 1990, the larger impetus began from 2008 onwards.  Our preliminary assessments suggest a potential 25% offset of poaching through rhinos saved by moving them from the KNP.

The results further suggest that there are risks involved in moving old adult cows and territorial bulls.  Future internal removals will be based on recommendations from this study.

Biological management

Biological management of rhino within other smaller SANParks parks is also ongoing.

The combination of anti-poaching and biological management remains the backbone of our successes.

The south-western black rhino population in various parks has increased by 17% in the past five years.

The south-central black rhino has increased at between 26% and 69% per annum over the past five years at parks other than the KNP, where we noted a decrease of 5% to 25%.

The trend for south-central black rhino populations in all National parks combined, decreased by between 3 and 18% per annum of over the past five years.

The movement of rhino to establish strongholds as part of the Rhino Stronghold Initiative is also under implementation although the persistent drought has affected operations. We have now delivered 217 white rhinos, with a further 83 outstanding from the original agreements established in 2015.

So far during 2016, SANParks have rescued 11 rhino orphans bringing the total to 38 since 2013.

At present 29 rhino orphans remain alive and looked after in rhino orphanages.

Since the beginning of 2016 SANParks has treated a total of 14 rhino bringing the total to 54 of injured rhino treated since the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately 31 of these were so badly injured that they had to be euthanised.

Long-term sustainability interventions


Communities remain an important part of the Integrated Strategic Management Approach.

“Our people are the first line of defence for the animals in our protected areas and they have a critical role to play not just in protecting our wildlife assets, but in growing the wildlife economy to make it more inclusive,” says Minister Molewa.

She adds that it is of critical importance that the ownership of wildlife as a means of growing local economies, especially in most of our protected areas.

In order to create real opportunities for local communities in the conservation and wildlife management space, and thus ensuring that they are less vulnerable to exploitation by poachers, steps are being taken to realise the following objectives:

- Develop a reward or incentives system that supports the development of small businesses in communities to discourage them from becoming involved in poaching

- Capacity building within communities

- Identify and implement suitable community wildlife management projects

- Raise funding for the implementation of community-based programmes;

- Identify and support legitimate Rhino awareness campaigns

- Develop a Rhino Integrated Strategy Advisory Forum

In addition, the department is in process of developing the Community Rhino Project which is aimed at implementing the People and Parks resolutions of 2014. The strategy will be discussed further in the upcoming People and Parks Congress slated to take place just ahead of the CITES COP17.

Environmental monitors

With regards to community participation in anti-poaching initiatives, our Environmental Monitors Programme has been particularly successful.

There are a total of 1 460 Environmental Monitors (EM’s) deployed across the country – through our Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programmes.

In areas facing high numbers  of poaching incidents, these monitors have played a demonstrable role through their work of educating communities in the area on the benefits of conservation and rhino protection.

The National Wildlife Information Management Unit (NWIMU) of DEA, in partnership with People and Parks, are working to collate information received from communities on poaching syndicates, poachers and poaching activities.

International and Regional Cooperation


The Public Safety and Security as well as environment structures of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region are in the process of finalising implementation of the SADC Anti-Poaching Strategy. 


South Africa and Mozambique continue to collaborate through the Joint Management Committee, which has been meeting quarterly since last year to discuss progress made in the implementation of annual plans aimed at disrupting and dismantling criminal syndicates involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

Successful cross border anti-poaching operations have been undertaken with the Mozambican special Police Unit for Natural Resource and Environment Protection.

There has also been significant progress with regard to the Community Resettlement Programme. The relocation of communities from the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Initiatives are also underway to broaden the access of vulnerable communities to the wildlife economy, including the introduction of game in certain areas to promote tourism. Research into models of community co-ownership of game reserves and conservancies is also ongoing.


In two weeks time thousands of delegates will converge on South Africa to discuss the impacts of and find solutions to the illicit trade in wildlife at COP17 CITES; this positive development gives added impetus to us to share best practice on combating poaching with our international partners” adds Minister Molewa.

The Conference will consider 175 documents – of which 60 are proposals- to amend the list of species subject to CITES trade controls. South Africa has submitted a number of proposals.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has launched an awareness raising campaign around the Conference and encourages all South Africans follow proceedings through the departmental website as well as the official CITES website at https://cites.org/eng and  http://www.citescop17jhb.co.za/


Minister Molewa has reiterated that the decrease in poaching numbers have been made possible through the successful collaboration with the Security Cluster, communities and the support of the donor community and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s). She once again expressed gratitude to the donor community both locally and internationally for its ongoing support in fighting rhino poaching.

“I once again encourage all South Africans to report any wildlife crime that you are aware of so that action can be taken against the transnational organised criminal syndicates involved.”

Issued by Albi Modise on behalf of the Department of Environmental Affairs, 12 September 2016