At the time of writing, no reliable statistics could be sourced on the number of rhino poached to date. Unofficial statistics estimate the figure to be around 300 rhino to date, as of end July 2018.
Poacher arrests have however increased exponentially due to the new pack-hound initiative.
These dogs have at least an 80% success rate when deployed on poacher tracks. This figure will also improve as we progress with new tactics and practice. In just two weeks, Kruger Park officials and rangers arrested 23 suspected rhino poachers and confiscated 10 high caliber rifles. The arrests started a day after Kruger ranger Respect Mathebula was killed in a confrontation with poachers. A statement issued by SANPark’s is that there has been“relentless poaching activity since Mathebula’s death with 156 activities including contacts reported.”
All 23 poachers arrested face charges related to poaching and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.
It’s encouraging to note that some poaching offences are being treated with appropriate jail sentences. Two men have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for their involvement in the poaching of rhinos at the Kruger National Park about four years ago. According to reports, Joseph Molapo and Sebastian Mbhombhi were sentenced by the Saselamani Magistrate’s Court outside Giyani to an effective 15 years and six months’ imprisonment each. They were sentenced to four years each for rhino poaching‚ six months for trespassing‚ eight years for possession of unlicensed firearms and three years for possession of unlicensed ammunition.
Unfortunately these cases are far and few between with poachers often getting off on very light bail sentences, many being re-arrested whilst still on bail. The South African conviction rate, and bail conditions, needs to be addressed urgently for poaching crimes. This is the major shortfall in the current judicial system where the wheel also turns too slowly.
When it comes to statistics, the devil is always in the detail. And when it comes to rhino poaching, the stats on rhino crime conviction rates is no exception.
Recently Minister Edwa Molewa stated that great progress was being made in preventing rhino killings as well as in the prosecution of poachers. She made mention of the success of the Hawks and other law-enforcement agencies in apprehending perpetrators as well as the conviction rate by the National Prosecuting Authority.
However, if South Africa’s conviction rate of the total number of poachers arrested is calculated, the percentage stands at a pitiful 15%. The problem here lies with the National Prosecuting Authority and thus the minister’s definition of“convictionrate”. The NPA defines the conviction rate or successful prosecution as the percentage of cases finalised with a guilty verdict divided by the number of cases finalised with a verdict. In other words, the percentage only takes into account those cases that go to trial and where there is some form of verdict. It has no relation to the number of crimes committed(inthis case the amount of rhinos killed), the number of reported crimes or even the number of arrests made.
This means that the conviction rate does not in fact reflect a very accurate picture.
Of course this issue is not unique to the Ministry and Department of Environmental Affairs. It cuts across all departments, and criminologists repeatedly point out that this manner of calculating convictions rates means that the NPA is less likely to prosecute cases that they feel that might not stand a chance of seeing a conviction. Thus, even where prima facie cases exist, the NPA might decline to prosecute since it remains preferable to bolster their rate of success when the stats are compiled.
It is true that some of these cases date back to crimes committed in previous years. This, together with the fact that the Ministry does not tell us how many cases were in fact prosecuted and to how many rhino killings these cases relate, make it very difficult to get an accurate picture.
So why is this so important in the rhino context? Firstly, because it means that the majority of those arrested have not been prosecuted and are thus free to repeat their activities. Of course some might not have been guilty, but those who were, managed to get away with their crimes and as such, will be likely to try again. Secondly, because for some it creates the impression that the battle against rhino poaching is being won, when in fact it is still being lost.
It cannot be denied that some progress is being made. But the progress is painfully slow. Even though the amount of rhinos killed this year is slightly down, we are still losing too many rhino and there is clearly no slowing-down in the attempts made by poachers.
Many organisations such as TRAFFIC and WWF have also pointed out that despite the progress made by the South African government, rhino poaching is still at an all-time high.As Major General Johan Jooste, who heads up SANParks’ anti-poaching activities, said at a recent press conference:“Thereis a difference between success and victory.”As such, we need to be careful not to be lulled into complacency by statistics.