Since February this year, when the Dutch Postcode Lottery in Holland announced that Peace Parks Foundation was the primary beneficiary of a €14.4 million grant from its Dream Fund, the team behind the Foundation’s Rhino Protection Programme has made notable progress in combatting wildlife crime and protecting the endangered rhinoceros from criminal exploitation.
The lottery established the Dream Fund to enable courageous and ground-breaking new projects, and this year’s grant supports the Rhino Protection Programme’s rollout of a number of complementary interventions over the next five years. The aim of the multi-faceted programme is to effectively curb rhino poaching and save the southern African rhino species from extinction.
Peace Parks Foundation also received €1 million from the Swedish Postcode Lottery to combat rhino poaching.
Says Werner Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation: “On average, poachers are slaughtering three rhino per day for their horns. The horns are trafficked mainly to Southeast Asia where it is popularly perceived by illegal consumers as a health-promoting agent, a cure for cancer and a status symbol. If poaching continues at its current rate, rhino as a species could be extinct in the wild within 10 years.”
Since the announcements by the Dutch and Swedish postcode lotteries, the South African government through the Department of Environmental Affairs and its public entities, South African National Parks (SANParks) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (Ezemvelo), have been working closely with Peace Parks Foundation to plan detailed projects as part of the Rhino Protection Programme.
In the last four months alone, since the funding has been received, Peace Parks Foundation has put the following projects in motion:
- A collaboration with the Joaquim Chissano Foundation in Mozambique, which is working with the Mozambican government towards launching an anti-poaching and counter-trafficking programme as well as the deployment of sniffer dogs on trafficking routes. A noteworthy element of this programme is the establishment of research and information gathering capabilities in Mozambique to support the effectiveness of the programme and policy making.
- An agreement with Mozambique’s Ministry of Tourism to further counter poaching activity by upgrading field communications technology used by rangers, as well as a shared radio communications systems across the international border. The agreement further includes providing training, incentives and equipment to rangers and improving rangers’ working conditions within Limpopo National Park, which abuts Kruger National Park. Together the two parks form a core component of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. An essential component of this project entails supporting the judicial system in Mozambique to effectively implement the new Conservation Areas Act that will bring about much stiffer penalties for anyone involved in illicit wildlife product trafficking.
- In KwaZulu-Natal in partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) have been deployed on a trial basis to test the capability of an assortment of UAV technologies as instruments to support Ezemvelo’s conservation, law enforcement and anti-poaching operations in varying environmental and operational conditions. The use of UAVs is specifically intended to provide law enforcement officers with aerial support at night and thus reduce the risk faced by ground staff. So far the project has already had some positive impact and the presence of UAVs within EKZNW has been instrumental in disrupting illegal activities in general.
- In association with Ezemvelo, tests are being run as part of research to find the most viable and effective means to devalue the horns of live rhino. The study is expected to be concluded by the end of 2014 and a programme will only be deployed once it is clear which method or combination of methods will be the most effective devaluation strategy. The research and development of all the devaluation methods strongly takes into account animal welfare and animal health as part of the process.
The three main devaluation techniques being investigated and tested include:
- The use of tracking technology through the placement of tracking devices on rhino. Ezemvelo has made significant progress with investigations into the use of tracking technology and has identified various rhino reserves that may benefit from the use of tracking technology to manage the welfare and security of vulnerable rhino populations. Due to the sensitive nature of the project no further details can be divulged;
- The option of stimulating the controlled irradiation of rhino horns and thus create a detectable “radioactive” signature tag on rhino horn; and
- The chemical alteration of rhino horn, which investigates means to alter the internal colour, taste or smell of rhino horn through the use of approved chemical substances that will remove its commercial value for consumption.
- In the Kruger National Park, a variety of projects have been developed together with SANParks and are being prepared for implementation. These range from surveillance technology, equipment and training, to the care of rhino orphans as well as supporting wildlife veterinary surgeons to treat injured and traumatised rhino.
- An equally important project has been developed with the Wildlife Veterinary Unit of Onderstepoort at the University of Pretoria. The project will support the collection and management of rhino identification and DNA information, which is vitally important case information for the successful prosecution of rhino poaching criminal cases.
- Aligned to the latter, combatting international crime around the smuggling of rhino horn is essential. WWF Netherlands, as a co-recipient of the Dream Fund, is establishing an independent Wildlife Justice Commission that will collect evidence, prepare legal cases, and coordinate political lobbying and public pressure to stop wildlife crime. The design phase has already been completed.
- Peace Parks Foundation is also working with local partners and in Vietnam to educate consumers and reduce the demand for rhino horn.
“Unless we combine efforts, create partnerships and pool resources on all fronts, rhino will face extinction. Pioneering efforts are often regarded as controversial but we would prefer exploring all options in a responsible manner rather than looking back and saying we could have done more to save the species.” Myburgh concludes.