The Mozambican government is considering harsher sentences for convicted rhino poachers and is launching a new elite National Anti-Poaching Unit
Published: 2012/02/08 11:05:58 AM
MOZAMBIQUE was “pondering” legislative changes that would elevate the crime of wildlife poaching to a category of offence that carried heavier sentencing than the current offence of “damage to property”, the Mozambican Transfrontier Conservation Area and the South African National Parks (SANParks) said in a joint statement late yesterday.
Much of the rhino poaching that saw a record 448 rhinos poached in SA last year, has taken place in the Kruger National Park that borders Mozambique and with that country’s Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park forms the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Earlier this month three Mozambicans were sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for rhino poaching.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and Mozambique’s Tourism Minister Fernando Sumbana Jnr held an urgent meeting in Pretoria on Monday to discuss “viable” solutions to rhino poaching. The Kruger National Park last year lost 252 rhinos to poachers.
Nongovernmental organisations have repeatedly pointed out that the sentences meted out to those convicted of poaching in Mozambique are far lighter than those handed down in SA, saying parity would aid the fight against rhino poaching.
Mr Sumbana said Mozambique was committed to conservation and had prioritised law enforcement efforts regarding wildlife crime. Mozambique’s natural resources were being plundered by organised crime, he said.
The country was also about to launch a new elite national anti-poaching unit and the Mozambican government had passed a decree creating a “flexible state-owned agency” similar to SA’s SANParks that would assist with effective management and allow greater flexibility when it came to finding funding.
Ms Molewa has recently announced several measures to further protect the Kruger National Park, SA’s most iconic national park, including increasing the field ranger complement to 650, upping the military presence in the park, improving the coordination of intelligence gathering and improving border fencing.
Rhino poaching has escalated since 2008 as rising demand in Asia for their horns led to an increase in illegal hunting. The street value of rhino horn has soared to about $65000 a kilogramme, making it more expensive than gold and platinum, as a belief — with no basis in science — has taken hold in parts of Asia that eating it can cure or prevent cancer.
One of the largest “gaps” in SA’s arsenal against rhino poaching and other “wildlife crime” was a lack of training among enforcement officials, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) said yesterday.
The illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products, globally, is a “soaring black market worth an estimated $10bn a year”, according to the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, a voluntary global coalition of governments and organisations. Demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and traditional medicines is driving many species to the brink of extinction, threatening biodiversity and contributing to the spread to humans of diseases, such as SARS, avian flu and the Ebola virus.
Ms Patterson-Abrolat was speaking at the East Rand launch of a partnership between the EWT and the Airports Company of SA (Acsa) aimed at decreasing wildlife and wildlife product trafficking into and out of SA’s main ports of entry and exit.
“It all comes back to awareness. (Security staff such as those who operate luggage and hand luggage scanners) don’t know what they are looking for, why they are looking for it, or what to do if they find it,” said EWT Airport Wildlife Programme manager Claire Patterson-Abrolat. The EWT has offered training to staff.
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs in the 2010-11 financial year environmental law enforcement officers opened 738 criminal dockets, handed 234 cases to the National Prosecutions Authority, made 1988 arrests, secured 72 arrests, negotiated 19 plea bargains and received R867010 in admission of guilt fines.
Acsa spokeswoman spokeswoman Unathi Batyashe-Fillis said the spike in rhino poaching over the past two years, and the rise in identified cases of rhino horn smuggling globally, was a compelling reason for the company to do more to fight these crimes.
Rhino poaching was an excellent “flag” to highlight the poaching and illegal trade in flora and fauna from the iconic pachyderms to SA’s endemic colophon beetles (the stag beetle family), and even timber, said Ms Patterson-Abrolat. With Reuters .