South Africa's rhinos are in crisis, and we're doing everything we can to help by channeling public support to selected key reserves and rhino protection projects. You will have heard that there is no 'silver bullet' to end rhino poaching and that it's an incredibly complex battle. Never have truer words been spoken. While there are numerous organisations addressing various focus areas, we concentrate on the very basics - keeping rhinos alive and buying them time while diplomatic solutions are sought. We're committed for the long haul, and its going to take all of us to win this.
Since the start of the poaching epidemic in 2008 South Africa has lost over 6 000 rhinos - a figure that, despite so much effort, increases daily. Coupled with the increasing poaching figure comes the question - why after all this are we still losing more rhino than ever? Sadly, few people realise the challenges facing those on the frontlines – thousands of kilometers to patrol with little to no idea of where the poachers plan to hit next. At this stage the poachers have the upper hand – they know when, they know how, and if need be they’ll just come back another day or hit a softer target.
The multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary, multi-agency law enforcement approach required to finding lasting solutions to a critical problem like rhino poaching is so complex that even now - 9 years down the line - we have made little progress. Corruption, apathy, inter-agency politics, lack of leadership, co-ordination, capacity, skills or resources are just some of the bigger challenges facing those dedicated environmental crime investigators who remain committed to disrupting and dismantling the poaching syndicates.
Daily challenges include lack of information sharing, trust issues and a high case load compounded by ongoing and relentless poaching activities – often with very little evidence left at the crime scene, which can be days to months old and at the mercy of the environment.
Game reserves bear the full brunt of the poaching scourge, with rangers in targeted areas coming into contact with poachers on a daily or weekly basis. While rangers are governed by strict rules of engagement, poachers are armed and will not hesitate to shoot on sight. Contrary to popular belief, not all poachers are driven by poverty. Criminals involved in vehicle hijacking, ATM bombing, gun-runners, murder and other aggressive crimes have also become involved – significantly increasing the mortal threat to rangers and rhinos alike. Great strides have been made on the ground – ranger readiness, the incorporation of various technologies and the role out of security/protection strategies have all contributed to an admirable increase in poacher arrest rates – but no significant progress has been made in toppling the masterminds; the poaching bosses. There is no shortage of new recruits and poachers are quickly replaced. Excellent co-ordination by poaching bosses and co-operative alliances between various poaching groups empower them to be more effective at poaching, enabled by deeply entrenched corruption at every level.
Bearing this in mind, intelligence driven operations (knowing who, what, where, when and how) are the cornerstone elements to cracking the syndicates, which is why we’re putting as much available funding into investigations and informant networks as possible while at the same time still focusing on supporting core requirements. Winning the hearts and minds of communities living around rhino reserves is paramount to intelligence gathering and many reserves are working closely with their communities in this regard.
Reflecting back over the last few years since StopRhinoPoaching.com’s launch in June/July 2010, to where South Africa is today, noteworthy progress has been made (though we still lack an influential political champion). Mobilising a country is no easy task, let alone getting everyone to pull in the same direction, and the synergy that has been forming among various stakeholders and role-players is encouraging to see. The figures are soaring despite so much effort by so many good people. That said, too many rhinos still die because of ineffective systems (especially the SAPS), the lack of political will, empathy and sheer bloody negligence on behalf of certain landowners.
SRP.com will continue to channel funding towards specific projects, putting as much as we can into areas containing larger rhino populations that are managed by DEDICATED and RESPONSIBLE conservation minded rhino owners/custodians. There are many groups doing their best in areas where they can make a difference. Some days are soul destroying, the sheer vastness and cruelty of what we are up against is overwhelming, but no matter how bad it gets we have to keep on trying. No matter what, all of you, please don't give up.