Rhino Wars – It’s time to change the rules of engagement
Of the well over 3, 000 rhinos poached since 2008, approximately 65% have been killed in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Given that the vast majority of the world’s rhino (50%) are found in the Kruger National Park, coupled with the fact that there is a +-350km porous boundary between KNP and Mozambique, it makes logical sense that a massive effort to protect this iconic species be concentrated within the KNP.
There are between 12 and 15 armed incursions at any one time in the KNP with by far the majority entering from Mozambique (although people of all cultures are entering the park from South Africa as well). These incursions are by persons entering South Africa illegally whilst also carrying an array of weapons with the sole purpose of destroying South Africa’s rhino for their horn.
The current price of rhino horn is approximately $90, 000 per kilogram, with an average horn weighing in at 3 kilograms. This makes rhino horn more valuable than platinum and gold combined per kilogram. It is one the most valuable commodities per kilogram on the planet at present.
If an armed person enters a country illegally, steals the most valuable commodity from that country and resists arrest, they would surely be apprehended by whatever means are necessary. It is worth noting that in certain countries, where there is a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to poaching, there is little if any poaching. Botswana is an example of this practice.
The current rules of engagement in the KNP are the standard South African Police Services (SAPS) rule of ‘minimal force’. Translated, this means the rangers on the ground must be at close quarters to the poachers in order to apprehend them without weapons being discharged. KNP rangers may only resort to fire power if the enemy fires upon them first. The enemy knows this and therefore does not fire first, thus eluding capture at an alarming rate.
Of the 108 sightings in 2013 (rangers observing poachers moving in the KNP) less than 10% of those observed were apprehended. Of this 10% only a few were prosecuted. The rest were released on bail, not to be seen again.
KNP rangers can spend up to a week in the bush in attempting to track and arrest poachers. It is difficult to keep the morale of the rangers high given their current Rules of Engagement.
Clearly, the Rules of Engagement need to be reconsidered and amended.
In terms of the rule of law as set down in our constitution Section 195(1) demands the ‘economic, efficient and effective’ use of resources. Section 7(2) says the state must respect the rights of all to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being while the basis upon which natural resources may be exploited is further limited by section 24 of the Bill of Rights.
In terms of our constitution and the rule of law, it is irrational and unreasonable to expect rangers to fulfil their duties lawfully and constitutionally when they are required to deal with armed incursions which threaten the sovereignty of the land according to rules that apply to common criminals, and not to those who are daily making off with the family silver of the nation, prejudicing its bio-diversity and undermining its tourism industry which is largely built on the opportunity to see the Big Five, not the Big Four.
South Africa needs to implement a policy that enables our rangers to resort to whatever methods are deemed necessary to apprehend poachers in the KNP.
If the Rules of Engagement are altered to give law enforcers and rangers more protection and the ability to act more proactively in their encounters with poachers, a reasonable warning period should be allowed for the information to be widely publicised before it is stringently applied.
As a representative of IFAISA (Institute For Accountability In Southern Africa), I have proposed that the Minister Molewa of the Department of Environmental Affairs, that she delivers, within one month, to her counterpart in Mozambique, a document stating that South Africa will be implementing a policy that enables our rangers to resort to whatever methods are deemed necessary to apprehend poachers in the KNP.
A reasonable time should be allowed for the information to be disseminated to the Mozambican population, say 60 days. Every effort should be made to give wide publicity to the intended change in policy, after which it should be stringently applied. This same information also needs to be disseminated to all South Africans, as poachers also enter the KNP from its northern, western and southern boundaries.
Anything less than this is a failure to act in a way that is consistent with the constitution and is accordingly invalid.
Should the government seek to avoid its constitutional responsibility to save the rhino from imminent extinction, then IFAISA reserves the right to approach the courts for the necessary relief to enable the public administration, and in particular anti-poaching units, to work in a constitutionally compliant fashion and to stop fighting the war on poaching with both hands tied behind their backs.
I have taken this action for and on behalf of the Trustees and Directors of IFAISA.
We must protect and empower our rangers to conserve the natural heritage of our country.
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