The South African National Parks (SANParks) recently announced the arrest of four suspected poachers in the Kruger National Park (KNP). This follows the recent announcement by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, that the KNP has lost 61 of the total 82 rhinos lost to poaching in the whole country.
According to Wanda Mkutshulwa, SANParks head of communications, four suspected poachers were arrested while on their way to Mjejane, a SANParks contractual park adjacent to the Malelane section of the KNP on Saturday, 9 February. During the operation a hunting rifle, ammunition, as well as other poaching-related equipment were recovered.
Three fatally wounded, one critical
In a second incident on the same day at around midnight, a two-man SANParks ranger routine patrol turned into a full-scale fire fight when they made contact with a group of armed suspected poachers in Letaba. Three of the armed suspected poachers were fatally wounded, one was seriously injured and is receiving medical care but his condition has been described as critical. The other suspect managed to escape into Mozambique. Two heavy-calibre hunting rifles, an AK47 assault rifle, a pistol and an assortment of ammunition were confiscated. A posterior rhino horn and other poaching-related equipment was also recovered.
"This was a fierce fire fight in which our two rangers did very well to hold their nerve and prevail. All indications were that the poaching group of six were well trained, well armed and were attired in battle camouflage fatigues. The sheer number, equipment and tactics presented by the poaching group indicated their aggressive intent. Conditions are currently really difficult and urgent co-operation from our counterparts in Mozambique to ensure stability in the KNP is required," Mkutshulwa elaborated.
One suspect fatally wounded
Earlier in the week, Mahlangeni rangers made contact with another group of armed suspected poachers and one of the suspects was fatally wounded. "These incidents now bring the number of armed contacts between the KNP Task Force and suspected rhino poachers to five in the last week. It is only the sheer dedication, commitment and training of our rangers that has prevented any injuries or fatalities on our side," said Mkutshulwa.
"We have seen an escalation of incursions north of the Olifants River towards the border with Zimbabwe. This is a vast area covered by SANParks rangers alone, as the military has not deployed in this area as yet, but is expected to do so soon. Poachers have been taking advantage of this situation, however, with SANParks having changed its strategy to the current military command deployment we have put special focus and emphasis on these areas and are beginning to see results, though they are not significant at this stage," said Mkutshulwa. "We have also received intelligence information that indicates that with the decision by the Mozambican government to relocate communities currently residing inside the Limpopo National Park, the Mozambican component of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the poachers within those communities have gone aggressive on poaching rhino horn in order to amass large quantities of stock before the move.
The CEO of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda, congratulated all those involved in the operations saying: "This shows true commitment from our men and women in uniform, who endure harsh conditions and a difficult and vast terrain, for the protection of our parks and we thank them for their committed service. Our wish is to see a significant increase in the police's successful arrest and conviction of the various syndicate bosses, as they are the masterminds, sponsors and drivers fuelling this scourge. We are prepared to fight fire with fire, but also believe that a solution also lies in the Mozambican law enforcement authorities co-operating fully with the South African law enforcement and conservation authorities to bring this matter to a close."
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