The war on rhino poaching cannot be won without the participation of communities, Chief Executive of the South African National Parks (SANParks) Fundisile Mketeni said on Tuesday.
“While carrying out our work at national, regional and international level to address the scourge of rhino poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, work is also being done at community level by institutions such as SANParks to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino,” Mketeni said at a ceremony marking the World Wildlife Day in the Kruger National Parks (KNP), one of Africa’s biggest game reserves in northeastern South Africa.
The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day is “Wildlife Crime is serious: let’s get serious about wildlife crime”.
The aim is to highlight the positive role that local communities can play in helping to curb illegal wildlife trade.
As the eyes and ears of the government, the communities must join forces in combating poaching by blowing the whistle on this heinous crime, Mketeni said.
South Africa has adopted a four pillar strategy towards addressing the rhino poaching scourge. A key pillar highlighted in the national strategy focusses on one of the critical game- changing interventions-namely creating opportunities for communities to make alternative economic choices.
South Africa bears the brunt of rhino poaching, losing 1,215 rhinos last year.
South Africa is the custodian of the world’s rhinos. In the country, the loss of rhinos could be equated to a loss of revenue for many communities resulting in a decline in living conditions, a loss of jobs through a decline in tourism and hunting through the country’s sustainable utilisation policy, and a sad loss to a part of the country’s natural and cultural heritage, Mketeni said.
South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 white and black rhinos, of which most are found in the KNP. This represents 93 percent of the world’s total rhino population, according to Mketeni. “The South African population is one of the last viable rhino populations in the world, which makes it vulnerable. South Africa is, therefore, the last remaining hope for the world, in terms of rhino conservation,” he said.
Rhino poaching, worth billions of dollars, deprives local communities of income that could be used to create jobs and improve livelihood in the long term instead of benefiting a small group of criminals in the short-term, Mketeni said.
Even internationally, through the sustainable development goals, there are calls to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade by increasing capacity of the local communities so as to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for future generations, he said.
In going forward, South Africa is embarking on a number of new initiatives around the KNP with a focus on projects that support the game-changing pillar of South Africa’s integrated rhino strategy, according to Mketeni.
This includes, for example, addressing basic human needs such as water provision to poor neighboring communities to be funded through rhino-related programmes, to economic opportunities associated with various benefits derived from live rhinos through community-managed rhino conservation initiatives.
In the short term, the SANParks seeks to focus on communities bordering the southern KNP Intensive Rhino Protection Zone (IPZ) with the broader vision expanding around the extent of the park’s border.
The focus has been on the community and the youth-not only the role they can play, or are playing, in combating rhino poaching, but in assisting to protect the country’s natural heritage and their economic future, Mketeni said.
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