Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Rhino massacre: Portfolio committee to take on MEC over vacant ranger posts
An urgent oversight visit by KwaZulu Natal’s Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) Portfolio Committee to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park has revealed an alarming state of affairs including the existence of some 40 vacant ranger posts within this reserve alone.
The visit – which took place earlier this week - comes after nine rhinos were slaughtered by poachers last week, bringing the total for the month of May to a staggering 23. During the visit, a report presented by KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife officials revealed that;
KZN is the new target for rhino poaching syndicates, who have moved on from the Kruger National Park which has upped its anti-poaching programme
Ezemvelo does not have enough rangers or support staff to protect our rhino population
Budget cuts to Ezemvelo have made it impossible for rangers to operate on all shifts – leaving animals particularly vulnerable at certain times of the day
The vast wilderness area and population density of animals is also making Hluluwe-iMfolozi an easy target
As a result of the visit, the Portfolio Committee has resolved to address the matter of vacancy rates within Ezemvelo as a matter of urgency. We will also be looking into the budget allocations to the Ezemvelo’s head office as opposed to the game parks it oversees and will engage with MEC Sihle Zikalala in this regard.
A visit to the park’s ‘killing fields’ showed just how far apart the different sites of last weeks’ massacres are, highlighting just how vulnerable every part of this 160sq kilometre park is. The sight of mutilated carcasses scattered through the bush was horrific.
The committee was however satisfied that Ezemvelo is currently doing all it can – under very difficult circumstances - to stop such criminals from entering the park. We were also told that rangers currently rely on the sound of gunshots to react. Rangers are also finding silenced firearms when they catch alleged poachers which undermines their only way of finding poachers.
While they may be surrounded by ‘doom and gloom’, it was remarkable to see that the rangers in this reserve are not giving up. This in spite of a current 2% conviction rate for poachers which is both an embarrassment and an indictment against our judicial system. Some of their suggestions to keep our rhino alive included;
More “boots” on the ground
A Smart fence to alert them to when and where there is a breach
Infra-red and heat-sensing ability on helicopters for night flights
Polygraphs for all staff
The possible de-horning of rhino
A more efficient system for informers
The DA welcomes the presence of the KZN Premier’s Task Team at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. Many are experts in their chosen fields which include conservation, investigation and prosecution. We will call for their report – due for release in September - to be workshopped with MEC Zikalala and his department, the new KZN Ezemvelo Board and the portfolio committee to work together and ensure all avenues are covered.
If we are to stop the wholesale slaughter of these magnificent animals we must have a clear road map to guide and steer us out of this mess.
Statement issued by Ann McDonnell MPL, DA KZN Spokesperson on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, 19 May 2017