By Thobeka Ngema, The Independent Online
The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) is trying to combat the wildlife trafficking of the rhinoceros, elephant, lion, leopard, pangolin and succulent plants but are still faced with challenges.
DEFF laid bare their challenges and relevant statistics when they briefed the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries on Tuesday.
Six men are expected to appear in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court this week after they were found in possession of two elephant tusks which they were trying to sell.
According to the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, the illegal trade in ivory is a criminal offence and anyone found guilty could spend a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail or a fine of R10 million.
The presentation on the poaching of South Africa’s biodiversity was compiled by DEFF’s sector enforcement and presented by the chief director Frances Craigie.
Elephant populations in many African countries have been hit hard while SA managed to combat the threat.
No one has been charged or prosecuted for poaching elephants but there have been numerous seizures of ivory which includes products, tusks and pieces.
However, in Limpopo, an accused was found in possession of two elephant tusks without a permit which he attempted to sell and was sentenced to six years imprisonment, half of which was suspended.
The animal that appears to be under the most threat is the rhino – 394 were poached in 2020. Most of these rhinos were poached in December (63) and November (55).
A total of 93 rhinos were poached in KZN.
However, from 2016 to 2020, there were 233 cases leading to a 95.5% conviction rate with 362 accused.
According to the presentation, DEFF had a national integrated strategy to combat wildlife trafficking as it involved prosecution, detection and collaboration – improving law enforcement, supported by the whole of government and society to effectively investigate, prosecute and adjudicate wildlife trafficking as a form of transnational organised crime; increasing the government’s ability to detect, prevent and combat wildlife trafficking in SA and beyond; and increasing national, regional and international law enforcement collaboration and co-operation on combating wildlife trafficking.
However, DEFF said they faced a number of challenges in their fight to combat wildlife trafficking.
Some of these were the recycling of criminals; slow criminal procedures; internal involvement; very costly sustainability of wildlife crime campaigns; parks are in rural areas where poverty is high; unemployment contributing to criminality; insufficient resources; vacated vacancies are no longer funded and donor funding is available but it needs to be managed.
The department also said more focus should be on dealing with crime syndicates. The efforts inside Kruger National Park require more national and international supporting efforts to deal with the demand for a commodity.
“The relentless rhino poaching has a significant negative impact on ranger morale, burnout, trust and relations within and with neighbours. The extensive and expensive anti-poaching efforts are also negatively affecting other important conservation work,” said DEFF.
In addition, global and national responses to the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in reduced budgets for operations and over-time.