South Africa sets up team to tackle wildlife poaching


Cape Town : The South African government has allocated two million rands (about $270,000) to set up a unit to tackle wildlife crimes, mainly rhino poaching in the country.

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Water and Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica made the announcement to the media after her budget vote speech, BuaNews reported Saturday.

She said 55 rhinos had been killed for their horns this year and based on estimates gleaned from previous years, the government expected 163 rhinos to be killed in 2010.

The minister said the National Wildlife Reaction Unit will complement the existing anti-poaching initiatives in the country.

Poachers continue to target Kruger National Park and other reserves in KwaZulu-Natal province, said Fundisile Mketeni, Deputy director-general of Biodiversity and Conservation.

Mketeni said poachers often hire people from the local community or the forest staff to kill rhinos. Poaching syndicates operated from either Johannesburg or from the Far East countries, he added. Some Kruger park staff recruited by poachers are behind bars, Mketeni said.

He said the government would continue to engage nations in the Far East through the help of Interpol to curb poaching in the country.

Sonjica said 300 prosecutors and over 200 magistrates had been trained on environmental crimes in preparation for the reopening of a special court. And manuals on environmental crimes had been distributed to the National Prosecuting Agency (NPA).

She said the country will donate 32 black rhinos to the Tanzanian wildlife authorities as a goodwill gesture. Black rhino are not indigenous to South Africa and the 32 rhinos from the Addo Elephant National Park are offspring of eight black rhinos that were brought to the country two decades ago.

“This is one of those fairy tale endings where an alien species has become a gene pool to restock depleted ranges,” she said.