​Minister of Environmental Affairs Highlights Progress on the Implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros

13 February 2019


The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane, is reporting back on the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros. This report covers the period 1 January to 31 December 2018. 

The Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach was adopted by Cabinet in 2014 and draws together the work of this Department together with the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster Departments and Agencies. These include the Departments of Defence, Correctional Services, the Ministry of State Security, the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation or Hawks and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The strategy is supported by related initiatives in our South African National Parks (SANParks), our provincial conservation institutions, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Financial Intelligence Unit in the Ministry of Finance and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Compulsory Interventions

Intensive Protection Zones (IPZ) 

In line with the Law Enforcement outcomes from the Rhino Conservation Lab and our experience of the past five years, specific actions are being pursued to implement best practice throughout South Africa within national, provincial and private parks.

Through the IPZ concept, the appropriate resources are being deployed to specific areas, including our National Parks as well as adjacent private reserves. In addition there are also similar initiatives in our provincial parks. 

Technology developed by, amongst others, the CSIR is used to detect and track poachers, while the planning and execution of actions led by the rangers and supported by other role players are coordinated in Joint Operations Centres situated in various parts of the country. Both government and private partners continue to explore digital technology security solutions as force multipliers with the aim of improving early detection measures on its high risk reserves.

Apart from the good cooperation between all Security Cluster members and other State Departments, cooperation with private rhino owners has become the norm. This is complimented by the excellent support from the local industry, NGO’s and SA citizens at large.

1.4 Arrests, investigations and prosecutions

1.4.1 Arrests

From 1 January to 31 December 2018, a total of 365 alleged rhino poachers and 36 alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested nationally. In 2017, a total of 518 poachers and alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested. A total of 229 alleged poachers were arrested inside and adjacent to the Kruger National Park, 40 more than the 189 arrested in 2017.  

During 2018, a total of 104 firearms were recovered in anti-poaching operations inside the KNP and a further 74 firearms were recovered in operations/investigations linked to the KNP.

1.4.2 Investigations and Prosecutions 


Better collaboration between the different law enforcement role players such as the conservation and environmental authorities, the SAPS Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit, the Hawks and SAPS Crime Intelligence during 2018, is having a positive impact. This improved cooperation is benefitting both anti-poaching and crime prevention operations as well as focusing efforts on specific high priority investigations.

Some of the notable successes for 2018 include the following:

Operation Sunrise which involved an integrated approach by the Hawks, SANParks, and the Department of Environmental Affairs that was focused on the illicit supply chain of rhino horns from the Kruger National Park to Gauteng. This two-year operation resulted in the arrest of Mandla Mashele and Kelvin Malapane, who have subsequently been charged with illegally buying rhino horn, in contravention in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA).

In Mpumalanga 11 alleged rhino horn smugglers and poachers were arrested in separate cases. In Standerton, Mpumalanga, members of the Hawks’ Wildlife Trafficking Section, Crime Intelligence, the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANParks, arrested two men for illegally selling 20 rhino horn.  The integrated investigation was focussed on the illegal trafficking of stockpile horns in South Africa. The suspect had wanted to sell these rhino horns on the black market for profit.  Two other suspects were later arrested as well.  The accused will appear in the Standerton Magistrate’s Court on 4 March 2019. 

In the second case, code named Project Broadbill, Petrus Mabuza and Joseph Nyalunga, who were already facing rhino poaching and smuggling-related charges, were arrested in September 2018, together with five others for the trafficking of rhino horns illegally sourced from the Kruger National Park and other provinces. The joint operation between the Hawks, SANParks, the Mpumalanga Provincial Police, Stock Theft and Endangered Species units, Counter Intelligence, Special Task Force and Forensics from the SAPS and other important role-players that participated in the arrest of 7 high profile suspects, which included police officials. Mabuza and Nyalunga were arrested as the syndicate leaders and the assets resulting from these illegal activities were targeted for recovery. This is was one of the most significant operations geared towards combating rhino horn trafficking in South Africa and is an example of the success that can be achieved through integration and effective cooperation between the role-players in our effort to combat rhino poaching.

Some of the high-profile cases that remain on the court roll include:

  1. State v Groenewald and 8 others (Pretoria High Court) Trial date: 1 – 12 February 2021
  2. State v Ras and 9 others (Pretoria High Court) Motion application: 29 November 2019.
  3. State v Gwala and others (Mtubatuba Regional Court) Trial date: 30 January 2019.
  4. State v Nyalungu and 9 others (Nelspruit Regional Court) Trial date: 15 April 2019.
  5. State v Landela (Skukuza Regional Court) Trial date: 12, 14-15 March 2019.
  6. State v Ndlovu and others (Grahamstown High Court) Partly heard trial date: 28 January 2019
  7. State v Petrus Sydney Mabuza, Nozwelo Mahumane, Moshe Thobela and Romez Khoza (White River Magistrates Court). Next court date: 15 April 2019.
  8. State v Petrus Sydney Mabuza & Jospeh Nyalunga (White River Magistrates Court) Next court date: 15 April 2019.
  9. State v Mandla Mashele and Kelvin Malapane (Daveyton Magistrates Court)  Case is trial ready.
  10. State v William Tumishin Mokgati, Hlengani Samual Hlungwan and Joao Mazive (Kimberley Magistrates Court)  Case is trial ready.

There are currently 318 rhino poaching-related cases on the court roll involving 645 accused and 897 charges.  275 of these cases are trial-ready.

It should be noted however that the lifting of the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn does not mean that rhino horn in private possession can be sold without a permit.  No-one is allowed to trade rhino horn (including selling, donating, or in any way acquiring or disposing of rhino horn) without a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs as well as relevant possession / transport permits issued by the provincial conservation departments. Commercial international trade in rhino horn is and remains prohibited in terms of the CITES provisions.   Private rhino horn owners should take care not to be drawn into the illicit activities or markets.

Prosecutions finalised

From January 2018 to December 2018, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) obtained convictions in 78 of the 82 cases that went to trial.  This represents a 95.1% conviction rate. The 78 cases involved 135 accused, all of whom were convicted of rhino poaching and related matters and this translated into over 500 years imprisonment in terms of sentencing in respect of these guilty verdicts.

The most prominent convictions for the period are:

  1. S v Shadrack Mathwasa who was sentenced to an effective 24 years imprisonment for trespassing in a national park, unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, and poaching.
  2. Thomas Broboza Mbhombi received an effective 18-year prison sentence and was declared unfit to possess a firearm after he was convicted of poaching, trespassing in a national park, and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.  
  3. S v J Mthopa, Monda Ndlovu, Patrick Khoza and Samuel Maseve were each sentenced to 28 years behind bars for conspiracy to commit an offence, conspiracy to hunt and dehorn a rhino, the  hunting, dehorning and illegal possession of rhino horn,  and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
  4. S v  Sam Nnone, Mthetho Kenny Sibiya & Butinin Ndlovu received an effective 15 years imprisonment each for rhino poaching, trespassing, providing a firearm and ammunition to a person not allowed to possess it, and the illegal possession of two firearms and ammunition.
  5. S v Patrick Nkuna was sentenced to 33 years and three months direct imprisonment for poaching a rhino, possession of unlicensed firearm and illegal possession of ammunition, trespassing in a national park, at attempted murder.  The attempted murder charges related to the fact that Nkuna has shot at the helicopter pursuing him damaging its blades.
  6. Mingjan Mo was convicted and received a wholly suspended sentence of 10 years, and fined R100 000.00 of which R40 000.00 was suspended after he tried to smuggle rhino horn pieces to China via PostNet and DHL.

1.5 Ports of Entry and Exit

Operations conducted during 2018 between Customs/SARS, Hawks, the Green Scorpions, Airport Security and other role-players saw the arrest of 7 Chinese and 4 South African citizens and the confiscation of 78 rhino horns, 1 rhino horn sculpture, two bangles made from rhino horn and 27 pieces of rhino horn.

Bail was granted to 8 of the 11 suspects and warrants of arrest have been issued in respect of 4 of these suspects as they absconded in contravention of their bail conditions.  The other cases have been postponed for plea and / or further investigation.

1.6 Training and awareness raising

The Department’s Green Scorpions have been regularly training officials based at ports of entry and exit across the country on matters pertaining to the illegal trade in wildlife, such as rhino horns and other parts and derivatives. During the 2018 period under reporting, 909 SA National Defence Force (SANDF) members responsible for patrolling border lines between ports received training. Joint inspections and operations were also conducted at a number of border posts in collaboration with the Border Management Authority. The improved sharing of information between all law enforcement agencies has allowed for more focused prevention, effective investigations, and successes. 

2. Managing Rhino Populations

2.1 Biological Management

The integrated initiative focus on continued movement of rhinos to expand ranges and support rhino strongholds.In small parks and provincial reserves, the translocation of rhinos seek to mimic how young animals disperse naturally. Within Kruger National Park, the translocation of rhinos from Kruger as part of South Africa’s biological management innovations of expanding ranges and establishing additional rhino strongholds are challenged by the emergence of bovine tuberculosis in both black and white rhino, albeit at low incidence. South Africa’s veterinary regulations require several procedures to ensure that translocated rhinos do not serve as a source of spreading the disease into commercial stock production areas of South Africa.The development of efficient systems to overcome this challenge is in progress.

Even so, innovative biological management have used translocations within Kruger National Park as a mechanism to direct poaching to focus less on cows. This goes hand in hand with initiatives to dehorn rhinos embedded in strategic approaches that target individuals that frequent poaching hotspots, but more importantly, approaches that minimize the losses of cows. Complimenting these interventions are guarding initiatives that focus on regular individual monitoring of individual rhinos. These combinations of interventions seek to ensure maximizing the breeding potential of both black and white rhinos.

The integrated initiatives of SANParks to manage its rhino population have had varied successes. Within Kruger National Park the continued onslaught of poaching resulted in a continued decline of rhinos. SANParks conducted a distribution survey of rhinos that forms part of predicting future rhino localities that can inform pro-active anti-poaching and biological management. This also allowed the evaluation of the robustness of the techniques to obtain formal rhino estimates.The evaluation is in progress.

2.2 Poaching Statistics  

This is the third consecutive year that we have seen a decline in rhino poaching, particularly in our national parks, and it is the first time in 5 years that the annual figure is under 1000.  It is not only indicative of the successful implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros Approach countrywide, but also a confirmation of the commitment and dedication of the men and women working at the coalface to save the species.

During 2018, the number of rhino poached countrywide decreased to 769.  This is a decrease of 259 rhino compared to 2017 when 1 028 rhino were killed for their horns.


A total of 421 rhino were poached in the Kruger National Park, 16.5% less than the 504 poached in 2017.  The number of poacher activities in the Kruger National Park, however, declined by only 2 recorded activities during the year, with a total of 2,620 incursions and 125 contacts recorded during 2018.  In 2017, poacher activities stood at 2 662 and contacts at 120.

The provincial and national breakdown for 2018 is as follows:

SANParks 504 422
Gauteng 4 2
Limpopo 79 40
Mpumalanga 49 51
North West 96 65
Eastern Cape 12 19
Free State 38 16
Northern Cape 24 12
Kwa-Zulu Natal 222 142
Western Cape 0 0
 Total 1028 769


(421 in KNP and 1 in Marakele)

Regrettably, elephant poaching is also on the increase. A total of 71 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park between 1 January and 31 December 2018.  Specific risk areas have been identified and strategies to address the threat are being adapted and implemented. One elephant was killed in KwaZulu/Natal which brings the total for South Africa to 72 elephant for 2018.

3. Long-term Sustainability Interventions

A reporting template for the implementation of the Biodiversity Management Plans (BMPs) for the Black and White Rhinoceros species has been developed and will be taken through the approval process in the next financial year.The National Rhino Research Strategy has been approved for implementation and will inform appropriate interventions for enhancing the conservation of rhinos, working towards halting the threat of extinction of rhino, and to enhance the benefits for communities linked to rhino conservation. In line with the outcomes of the Rhino Lab, a government forum has been established to identify challenges and gaps, as well as strengthen consultation between stakeholders.

3.1 Export of live rhinoceros

In line with requirements in the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Department of Environmental Affairs has recommended the export of a total of 566  live rhino from South Africa since 2014, and 58 in 2018. The exports were both for zoological purposes and for reintroduction to range states.

The export and translocation of black rhino to Chad has been suspended indefinitely, following the death of four of the six rhino relocated to the Zakhouma National Park in May 2018.  

The carcasses of the four black rhino were discovered within weeks of being released into the park from the boma protected zone.  The animals were not poached.  The remaining two rhino cows are to be re-released back into the park once they have adapted to their new surrounds. 

3.2 Domestic sale of rhino horn

Since the dismissal by the Constitutional Court in 2017, of the application by the Minister of Environmental Affairs to appeal the 2015 decision of the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division, Pretoria) to set aside the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn, a total of 36 permits have been issued for the national trade in rhinoceros horns.  In respect of the permits issued, 15 permits were granted for the sale of a total of 1 342 rhino horns, 1 permit for the donation of 14 rhino horns, 1 permit for receiving 14 rhino horns as a donation while permits were granted to 19 buyers. 

3.3 Stockpiles 

The audit of rhino horn stockpiles held by private rhino owners and the state is advancing well.  All stockpiles must comply with the Norms and Standards for the marking of rhinoceros and rhinoceros horn and for the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes. 

One of the new amendments to the Norms and Standards for the marking of rhinoceros and rhinoceros and the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes, published for implementation on 21 September 2018, is the reporting of any rhinoceros mortality, irrespective of the cause of such mortality, as well as the theft of a rhinoceros horn, which must be reported to the permit issuing authority within 5 working days of discovering the death of such rhinoceros or the theft of such rhinoceros horn. Rhino owners and managers of farms where rhinoceros are kept have to ensure that they comply with the amended Norms and Standards.

3.4 Legislation

3.4.1    Revised Norms and Standards for the marking of rhinoceros and rhinoceros horn and for the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes

The revised Norms and Standards were published in the Gazette, No. 41913, on 21 September 2018 for implementation. These Norms and Standards replace the norms and standards of 12 April 2012. New requirements of the 2018 Norms and Standards include:

  • All live rhino that need to be darted after the commencement of the new Norms and Standards, regardless the purpose of darting, must be marked with one microchip behind the ear of the rhino, and one microchip in each of the horns;
  • Only 10-digit microchips may be used, and once a microchip is no longer in use, it must be destroyed;
  • All rhino mortalities, and any stolen rhino horn, must be reported within 5 working days of discovering such mortality or theft;
  • The owner of a rhino horn must keep the horn in an unmovable safe that must comply with SANS-953-1 and SANS 953-2;
  • Although the 2012 Norms and Standards required the collection of DNA samples for genetic profiling purposes, the new Norms and Standards clarify which samples must be collected, who may collect the samples, and where the samples must be sent to.

3.4.2     Draft regulatory measures for trade in rhino horn

The Minister published draft regulatory measures relating to trade in rhino horn, in the Gazette on 08 February 2017 for public participation, and again on 21 September 2018. These regulatory measures included:

  • Draft regulations aimed at regulating the lawful selling/ buying of rhino horn;
  • Draft prohibitions, aimed at prohibiting certain activities involving rhino horn; and
  • A draft listing notice, proposing the deletion of Eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli) from the list of invasive species, and the inclusion thereof in the list of threatened or protected species, in particular, as a protected species.

The public consultation process has been concluded, and the Department of Environmental Affairs is in the process of finalising the draft regulatory measures for implementation.

4. International and regional cooperation   

International cooperation remains a critical component of our overall response strategy (both at a regional and international level) to halt rhino poaching, and related wildlife crime.  As South Africa we continue to engage countries where rhino horn seizures take place in order to request that samples of the rhino horn DNA be sent to South Africa for analysis in line with the CITES resolutions. This enables us to link these seized horns to poaching cases and live rhino or rhino horn stockpiles, thus providing key information to further support investigations and understand transit routes.  

Towards the end of 2018 the global high level commitment to combat wildlife crime was again reinforced during the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT).  At this event South Africa pledged to continue the important work of implementing and further enhancing the integrated, multi-disciplinary approach in tackling wildlife crime as a serious organised crime; to ensure closer collaboration with our international partners and law-enforcement counterparts and continue to focus our efforts on dismantling the more sophisticated operational layers of wildlife smuggling networks.

5. Conclusion:

Combating rhino poaching remains a national priority, and as such, all the relevant government departments will continue their close collaboration to ensure that this iconic species is conserved for generations to come.  Although we are encouraged by the national poaching figures for 2018, it is critical that we continue to implement collaborative initiatives to address the scourge of rhino poaching.

The Department of Environmental Affairs calls on members of the public to report any suspicious activities around wildlife to its environmental crime hotline which is 0800 205 005 or the SAPS number 10111.

For media inquiries contact:

Albi Modise on 083 490 2871