The scale of rhino poaching in South Africa has reached crisis point, where the very survival of the rhino species in public parks like the Kruger National Park (KNP) is now threatened. Of the 1215 rhinos poached in South Africa during 2014, 827 (68%) were poached in the KNP, the epicentre of a battle that is currently being lost.
The global trade in illegal wildlife has become one of the largest sources of international organised criminal funding (alongside drugs, illegal arms and human trafficking) and is estimated to be worth over US$100 billion per year. With the value of rhino horn approximately double that of gold and platinum per kilogram, it is conservatively estimated that the value of the horns procured from rhinos poached in the KNP in 2014 alone was in excess of R4 billion.
The KNP, home to the single largest population of rhinos in the world, shares a border of approximately 365km with Mozambique. The widespread poverty of the communities that reside on the Mozambican side of this border, has led to Mozambique becoming the key staging area for the criminal syndicates (many of them based in South Africa) who fund and co-ordinate the poaching gangs tormenting the park.
It is not just the rhino that faces extinction at the hands of rapidly accelerating poaching. Elephants are now being slaughtered on an industrial scale in Africa, with up to 35,000 elephants currently being poached annually across the continent. Between 1,500 and 2,000 of these were killed in Mozambique’s wildlife parks.
It is essential to understand how the syndicates operate, the geographical focus of their activities and the socio-economic circumstances that lead to communities being ruthlessly exploited to provide the cannon-fodder for the Rhino War. At a local level this intelligence is vital to devising strategies that will cut-off the oxygen that feeds the brain (the level 3 & 4 crime bosses) by targeting, for arrest and successful prosecution, the level 2's & 3's (middle-men and local buyer-exporters) as well as the corrupt officials that feed off the system. The level 3's and 4's can only be neutralised by significant international co-operation, which is why the political leadership of retired Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, historically a key driving force behind the trans-frontier Peace Parks, is so important.
2) Proactive Measures
These measures are required in order to mobilise the financial, technological and material resources, and draw them together through leadership, training and co-ordination to provide an effective public-private response to combat poaching in Mozambique.
3) Legislation & Law Enforcement
Recent legislative changes, for example Mozambique’s Conservation Areas Act (2014) and the MoU on cross-border co-operation signed between the Governments of South Africa and Mozambique in 2014, need to be supplemented by training and carefully planned operations that will improve the capacity of both the Mozambican and South African law enforcement agencies to cooperate in the arrest and successful prosecution of offenders.
4) Community Social Development
The FJC is determined to make policy-makers, wildlife NGO's and park operators (public and private), understand that as long as there is acute poverty on the Mozambican side of the KNP border, the supply of poachers and runners prepared to take the risk, will be endless. As long as it is a question of survival for them versus the survival of Mozambique's endangered species, the battle will be lost. Specifically, there is a key role for the public-private partnership established between the Mozambique Government and the FJC to encourage international corporations investing in the extraction of Mozambique's huge mineral resources to demonstrate their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) through financial and technical support for projects that will deliver socio-economic development to the communities currently exploited by the syndicates.
Finally, there are parallels between the Rhino War being fought along the KNP-Mozambique border and the drugs war being fought by law enforcement agencies in the towns along the Mexican-US border. There is, however, one fundamental difference: the drugs war is infinite, the battle to save the rhino is finite, and time is rapidly running out.
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