Mbombela - While there has been an increase in the number of rhino poached this year, there has also been an increase in the number of related arrests, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in Pretoria on Sunday.

“By the end of April 2015, the number of rhino we lost to poachers was 393 for the whole country…  By last year this time the number of rhino lost to poachers were 331 for the whole of the country,” said Molewa in a speech prepared for delivery.

“By the end of April this year, a total of 132 people were arrested for rhino-poaching related activities,”  Molewa said. The equivalent, by April last year, was 96 arrests.

The Kruger National Park (KNP) continued to be the hardest hit area, with 290 rhinos poached from the beginning of the year until April this year, compared to 212 during the same time period last year. A total of 62 arrests in connection with rhino poaching were made here.

Molewa said current estimates put the white rhino population at the KNP at between 8001 and 9290 - lower than 2013 estimates, which had put the population, at the time, at between 8400 and 9600.

The minister indicated, however, that in Intensive Protection Zones [IPZs], there had been a 3% increase in the white rhino population.

“An IPZ is an area where an additional deployment of resources and technology provides a more secure environment for the rhino,” said Molewa.

Molewa said a Biodiversity Management Plan for white rhino, gazetted at the end of March 2015, had set a “short-term or five-year target sets” of “meta-populations of at least 20 400 white rhino in South Africa by 2020”.

She also said 192 rhinos that had been translocated to different locations both nationally and internationally “have generally integrated well with the resident populations” at their new destinations.

The fight against poaching

Molewa said that a tender process for the purchase of white rhino from the KNP was at “an advanced stage”.

She said that more that 200 white rhino were expected to be sold to private buyers as a result of the process.

Molewa also detailed how a grant from the Howard G Buffet Foundation had given SANParks R37.7m in order to purchase a second helicopter earlier this year.

“’Just recently, the helicopter assisted in a dramatic pre-dusk swoop inside the KNP that netted four suspected poachers as well as a range of poaching equipment.”

Molewa said that the government had been liaising with countries including Vietnam, Mozambique and China in the fight against poaching.

“One rhino poached is one too many. But we are confident that had it not been for the comprehensive measures we introduced last year... the figures could be higher,” said Molewa. 

Meanwhile in her report back, national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega said that 701 dockets related to rhino poaching were currently open and, most recently, eight convictions obtained. 

Phiyega said that earlier this year a crime intelligence official had been arrested in connection with the planned sale of a rhino horn in Pretoria.  She also detailed a separate undercover police operation that saw a KwaZulu-Natal warrant officer arrested in possession of two rhino horns.

He was charged with armed robbery, possession of horn and defeating the ends of justice,” Phiyega said. He is due back in court on June 30.