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SKUKUZA, South Africa -- The rhino crashes forward, pounding the earth with its broad feet. Then, as a dart's sedative takes hold, it staggers and slouches to the ground, where South African rangers prepare to move the oversized beast by truck to an area they hope is safe from poachers.
Kruger National Park has conducted about 45 such captures since last month, part of a plan to create a stronghold within the country's flagship reserve where rhinos will get extra protection from poachers, many of whom cross from neighbouring Mozambique and are slaughtering the animals in increasing numbers. Some rhinos were moved to other parks, and the relocation "experiment," as rangers describe it, is likely to escalate next year.
Safe havens or buffer zones have been hotly debated over the years as a way to protect civilians in some of the world's major conflicts. South Africa is applying a variation of the idea to wildlife to try to stem surging demand for rhino horn. Some consumers in Asia, primarily Vietnam and China, view rhino horn as a status symbol and a healing agent despite a lack of evidence that it can cure. The horn is made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.
The so-called "intensive protection zone" in the southern part of Kruger National Park took on new urgency when South Africa, home to 80 per cent of the world's rhinos, announced Thursday that 1,020 rhinos have been poached so far in 2014, exceeding last year's record of 1,004.
About two-thirds of the rhinos poached this year died in Kruger, a park that's about the size of Israel and larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut. Poachers often dodge an overstretched force of 400 rangers as well as some military units that monitor the 350-kilometre (220-mile) border between Kruger and Mozambique, and they shoot rhinos just before sunset and scoot back to Mozambique under cover of night, according to rangers.
The protection zone encompasses about 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 square miles), or at least one-quarter of the park, and is already home to many of Kruger's roughly 10,000 rhinos -- half the national population. Rhinos were reintroduced in southern Kruger in the 1960s after poachers had wiped them out.
The goal is "to basically ensure that you've got a foundation of animals that are secure and that you can use as a source population to take elsewhere," said Markus Hofmeyr, head of veterinary services at Kruger park.
Kruger will focus aircraft, ranger teams and high-tech surveillance on the zone. The initiative is partly funded by American philanthropist Howard Buffett, a son of investor Warren Buffett who pledged nearly $24 million to Kruger's anti-poaching efforts. Howard Buffett has said some of the same methods used by the United States to monitor its border with Mexico will be used in Kruger, including aerostats -- large, tethered balloons with infrared cameras that scan the landscape.
This week, journalists watched separate operations in which two rhinos were removed from poaching "hotspots" near the Mozambique border and loaded onto trucks for transfer to the protection zone. The animals were darted from a helicopter, which then flew low, herding them toward a road. Once the rhinos were subdued and blindfolded, rangers took blood and skin samples and installed a microchip in the horns as a way to identify Kruger's stock, all the while monitoring body temperature and even pouring water on one rhino to cool it.
The sedative must be strong enough to immobilize a rhino but weak enough so that the animal can, with men pushing and pulling it with a rope, walk into a crate. Hofmeyr said he can administer an injection that partly reverses the effect of the sedative.
Relocated rhinos have adapted well to their new home, said Dr. Sam Ferreira, a large mammal ecologist at Kruger. He said: "It's like they're coming to a Saturday afternoon party."
A pledge by President Barack Obama to fund South African anti-wildlife trafficking efforts to the tune of US$3 million will be fulfilled today when the US government commitment is handed over in a ceremony at its Pretoria Embassy in South Africa.
Obama made the pledge during his 2013 trip to Africa.
The funding has been allocated by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).
“We applaud the efforts of the South African government in fighting these crimes and we look forward to continuing to cooperate with it to disrupt the criminal networks involved” said Joy Peters of the US State Department based in Pretoria.
The funding will be handed to the recipients by US Under Secretary for Economic Growth Energy and the Environment, Catherine Novelli.
“The focus her visit to Africa is largely on the environment” Peters said.
“She also recently visited Kenya where she attended the Africa summit in Nairobi, and Tanzania”.
According to a statement released by the State Department yesterday, record-high demand for illegally traded wildlife products, coupled with inadequate preventative measures and weak institutions, has resulted in an explosion of illicit trade in wildlife in recent years.
Like other forms of illicit trade, wildlife trafficking undermines security across nations. Well-armed, well-equipped, and well-organized networks of criminals, insurgent elements, and corrupt officials exploit porous borders and under-resourced institutions to profit from trading in poached wildlife.
“This clearly demonstrates the increased U.S. focus on combatting the scourge of wildlife trafficking, as laid out in the 2014 National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking” Peters told Independent News Group.
$750,000 worth of survival, surveillance, and investigative equipment has been ring-fenced for South African park rangers at the national and provincial levels to support their efforts to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
$2.25 million will specifically fund efforts in South Africa to: assist law enforcement in conducting intelligence-driven investigations;
• build expertise that will help analyze and map the illicit wildlife trade to support proactive targeting of illicit networks;
• improve communications between counterparts in the wildlife and criminal justice communities; and
• assist the Government in building strong partnerships with neighboring African countries and consumer countries in Asia to ensure more regular coordination and the sharing of information related to wildlife trafficking.Read more...
Survival equipment to the value of R2 million was handed over at a ceremony in Phalaborwa today, 31 October 2014. Major General (r) Johan Jooste, Commanding Officer, Special Projects for South African National Parks, and representatives of the Ranger Corps were on hand to receive the equipment. The donation was made possible by the Unite against Poaching Trust and the SANParks Honorary Rangers.
Louis Lemmer (Chairman, SANParks Honorary Rangers), Maj Gen Jooste ( Commander, Special Operations KNP), John Turner & Snowy Botha ( SANParks Honorary Rangers Conservation Services)
The equipment which was handed over comprises of basic as well as specialist equipment, which is needed by the men and woman of the Ranger Corps within the Kruger National Park. It includes survival tools such as tents, camp mattresses, torches, sleeping bags, knives, groundsheets, ponchos, water bottles, cooking equipment, headlamps, mosquito nets, medical equipment and GPS’s. Rangers spend extended periods of time in the bush in clandestine operations to fight the poachers. Specialised as well as basic survival equipment is needed to enable them to perform these duties effectively.
Unitrans Volkswagen, in establishing the innovative “Unite against Poaching Trust” is committed to making a significant and sustainable difference in the war against rhino poaching within our national Parks. The Funding for the Unite against Poaching Trust is generated primarily from a Unitrans Volkswagen corporate pledge. For every vehicle sold both new and pre-owned in the 10 participating dealership countrywide, funds are pledged to the Unite against Poaching Trust. Since its inception three years ago, the Unite against Poaching Trust has donated more than R 8 million towards anti-poaching projects within our National Parks. What makes this initiative so unique is that 100% of the funds pledged are utilised for anti-poaching support.
Kevin Gillmer Divisional Chief Executive of Unitrans Volkswagen is determined to ensure that the funds which are pledged to the Unite against Poaching Trust are used effectively and efficiently in support of those men and woman who are on the ground, putting their lives on the line and fighting to ensure the rhinos are safeguarded for future generations. The SANParks Honorary Rangers is the official volunteer organisation of SANParks. Through their close working relationship with the SANParks counter poaching unit they know where the priority needs are. Because the Honorary Rangers are unpaid volunteers no funds are used for administration and every sent donated towards counter poaching is utilised solely for this purpose. They therefore have the unique ability to best utilise the resources available to make a real difference in the poaching war on the ground. “This equipment handover once again confirms our ongoing commitment to the war against rhino poaching in general and rhino poaching in particular” Gillmer said. “We need to make sure that our rangers are as well as, if not better equipped, than the poachers they come up against on a daily basis.
“It is our privilege to represent the people of South Africa in support of our national parks.” said Louis Lemmer, National Chairperson of the SANParks Honorary Rangers. “South Africans are united against rhino poaching. It is through the support of the people of South Africa and proudly South African companies such as Unitrans Volkswagen, that we will win this war.”
Unitrans Volkswagen is justifiably proud of their contribution, in partnership with the SANParks Honorary Rangers, ensuring that the Rangers in the field are able to continue to safeguard the rhinos for future generations. We would like to encourage members of the public and corporates to join us in this fight against rhino poaching within our national parks by ensuring that the next Volkswagen vehicle they purchase is made from one our participating dealerships. The more vehicles which are purchased the more funding we are able to pledge to the fight against rhino poaching. Please visit www.uniteagainstpoaching.co.za to see how you can make a difference. The time is now, for everyone to Unite against Poaching to help ensure this precious heritage for our children’s children.
Unitrans Volkswagen re-affirmed its commitment in the fight against rhino poaching with the signing of a new sponsorship agreement with the South African National Parks (SANParks) Honorary Rangers at SANParks Head Office in Pretoria today.
South Africa is home to approximately 22 000 white and black rhinoceros of which more than 10 000 are found in the Kruger National Park. This represents around 70% of the world’s total rhino population. The South African population is one of the last viable rhino populations in the world, which makes its survival crucial.
The Unite Against Poaching initiative has contributed almost R7 million to the SANParks’ counter poaching effort over the past three years.
“As the SANParks Honorary Rangers we are very excited about the continued relationship with Unitrans. It is partnerships of this nature that allows us to provide the desperately needed support in terms of training and equipment to the counter poaching teams who are in the bush at this very moment. Unitrans Volkswagen has shown the true commitment of a patriotic company which is dedicated to look after one of our country’s most iconic animals and a valuable conservation resource” says Louis Lemmer, Chairperson of the National Executive Committee, SANParks Honorary Rangers.
Divisional Chief Executive of Unitrans Volkswagen, Kevin Gillmer confirmed the sustained commitment to ensuring that the field rangers on the ground have the skills and equipment to allow them to continue their fight against Rhino poaching. “Unitrans Volkswagen, through the Unite against Poaching fund are honoured to have been able to contribute to the fight against rhino poaching, within South African National Parks (SANParks). Together with the SANParks Honorary Rangers we will continue to empower the dedicated field rangers in the protection of our rhinos.”
SANParks has called on corporates and individuals for extra support for the Honorary Rangers' counter poaching effort in order to assist its rangers in the field. The partnership with Unitrans Volkswagen is a great example of what can be done. Through the sale of vehicles by the ten Unitrans Volkswagen dealerships across the country, the company is able to sustain its support and make a major contribution in the counter poaching war.
SANParks Acting CEO, Abe Sibiya acknowledged and appreciated the re-affirmation of the partnership with Unitrans. “Unitrans Volkswagen is setting a good example of what other corporate citizens should be doing in securing the future of parks. We are truly indebted for Unitrans’ generosity and putting their money where their mouth is. Thanks again to Unitrans VW”.
“The time is now for everyone to Unite Against Poaching and help ensure this precious heritage for our children’s children,” concluded Sibiya. For more information visit www.uniteagainstpoaching.co.za
(From left to right) Glenn Phillips, SANParks Managing Executive: Tourism Development and Marketing; Kevin Gillmer, Divisional Chief Executive of Unitrans Volkswagen and Louis Lemmer, Chairperson of the National Executive Committee, SANParks Honorary Rangers at the signing of the new sponsorship agreement.