Speech delivered by SANPARKS Chief Executive, Mr Fundisile Mketeni at the celebration of the World Wildlife Day event

Skukuza, Kruger National Park, 03 March 2015


Programme Director;
Executive Mayor:  Ehlanzeni District Municipality, Councilor Letta Shongwe
Executive Mayor: Thulamela Local Municipality, Councilor N.G. Mahosi
Executive Mayor: Thulamela Local Municipality, Councilor Sibusiso Mathonsi
Managing Executive: KNP, Mr. Danie Pienaar
Chief Director: Biodiversity Planning and Management, Dr Moscow Marumo
Our Traditional Leaders
Community members

Honoured Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Kruger National Park as we mark the second annual World Wildlife Day – a day set aside internationally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora in the world today.

South Africa is the custodian of the world’s rhino.  It is a conservation feat that our conservation fraternity and private landowners have worked hard to achieve.  But, our rhino, the world’s rhino, and many other wildlife species, are under threat – because of poaching.

While we are here to celebrate World Wildlife Day, we also join our partners internationally, especially in the continent to celebrate Africa Environment Day. Africa Environment Day, celebrated annually on 3 March, was established by the Organization of African Unity in 2002 as a way of raising awareness of the pressing environmental challenges facing the continent.

Since 2012, the Africa Environment Day has been celebrated in conjunction with Wangari Maathai Day, in order to pay tribute to the late Nobel Laureate's green legacy.  

This is a day to also remind us all of the urgent need to step up the fight against wildlife crime, which has wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts.  Wildlife has an intrinsic value and contributes to the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic aspects of sustainable development and human well-being.

In South Africa, the loss of a key member of the Big Five – the rhino – 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 our country’s natural and cultural heritage.

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.   This theme is complemented by two sub-themes “Wildlife and sustainable tourism” and “The role of local communities in conservation” as innovative solutions to the challenges posed by wildlife crime in certain regions around the world.

One of those regions is Africa. South Africa is home to approximately 21 000 white and black rhinoceros, of which most are found in the Kruger National Park. This represents 93% of the world’s total rhino population. 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.

It is because of this that the government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to addressing rhino poaching. This includes the introduction of new, and the amendment of existing, legislation and policies, and greater coordination between sister departments and law enforcement agencies as a means of combating wildlife crime. 

Among the most recent initiatives taken has been the implementation of the integrated strategic management of rhinoceros in South Africa, which has included, among several steps, the translocation of rhino from this very park to safe areas across South Africa and within the Southern African Development Community.  It has also seen the translocation of rhino from areas under the greatest threat of poaching to the intensive protection zone established to ensure our rhino are protected for future generations.

Other practical steps being taken include training of officials, particularly at ports of entry and exit, in the illicit international cross-border movement of endangered species.

Why the training, and why the focus on combating illegal wildlife trade you may ask.

Most simply put, the illegal trade in endangered Fauna and Flora is no longer an emerging issue and is recognised internationally as being amongst the most significant syndicate-led crimes in the world today. It is similar to drug trafficking and the cross-border movement of counterfeit goods. Criminal networks often exploit inadequate domestic laws and sanctions, ignorance amongst border control and other law enforcement officials, under-resourced and weak capacities in law enforcement, and the lack of coordination between competent authorities to smuggle endangered species worldwide.

This illegal activity, worth billions of dollars, deprives communities such as yours of income that could be used to create jobs and improve your lives in the long term instead of benefiting a small group of criminals in the short-term.  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.

In South Africa, the extent of rhino poaching has resulted in the recognition of wildlife crime as a national security threat leading to the creation of a sub-committee of the National Joint Operations on Intelligence and Security (NATJOINTS) specifically focusing on wildlife crime. 

The Department of Environmental Affairs has also, over the years, trained and developed a sound working relationship with institutions within the judicial system, resulting in higher sentences being given in relation to wildlife cases.

One of the gaps that had remained was the absence of Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) at South Africa’s ports of entry and exit to support other role-players to ensure increased detection and proper subsequent investigation of criminal activities involving wildlife.

This will be addressed through the deployment of the Department’s Green Scorpions who will take over the functions relating to the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act at Oliver Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) in April 2015.  We will continue to build capacity among our officials, and undertake to establish similar capacity in other designated ports of entry and exit.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 stipulates that “everyone has the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that promote conservation and use of natural resources”.

This trusteeship is vested in national legislation, among others the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA), which stipulates that the organs of state through application of biodiversity legislation must manage, conserve and sustain South Africa’s biodiversity and its components and genetic resources.

But, it is also up to each and every one of us to ensure that our environment is protected, and that our wildlife is preserved.

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.

Ladies and gentlemen, you, as the eyes and ears of our government, the police and your communities, must join forces with us in combating poaching by blowing the whistle on this heinous crime.

South Africa 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.

We have long realized the importance of engaging communities in park conservation activities. For instance, projects around Kruger National Park have contributed to a variety of South Africa’s socio-economic strategic initiatives:

A number of wildlife donation and ownership initiatives as well as resource use and harvesting projects  have contributed directly to expanding the vision of improving livelihoods and growing our country’s green economy; community ecotourism initiatives such as community private-public partnerships, community park and ride initiative, curio arts and crafts outlets at park entry gates; infrastructure support projects in communities in support of broader government service delivery initiatives such as school computer and science laboratories; job creation and skills development through the Expanded Public Works Programme, including contractor development programmes, environmental monitors, and extensive and diverse environmental education initiatives. Several of these programmes are embedded within the broader Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) initiatives.

In going forward, we are embarking on a number of new initiatives around the Kruger National Park with a focus on projects that support the game-changing pillar of South Africa’s integrated rhino strategy. 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, we seek to focus on communities bordering the southern Kruger National Park Intensive Rhino Protection Zone (IPZ) with the broader vision expanding around the extent of the Park’s border. Initial discussions have already taken place with communities associated with the Lisbon area and areas between Phabeni and Numbi Gates adjacent to the Kruger National Park. .

Ladies and Gentlemen, since 2012, SANParks has engaged traditional healers in villages bordering the Kruger National Park. These have included the Hoxane, Nkambeni, Makoko, Daantjie, Mnisi, Mathibela, Jongilanga, Mbhuzini, Mgobozi, Kwa-Mhlutswa, Malele and Amashangana communities.

During the first World Wildlife Day event held at Pretoriuskop last year, the Minister handed over a certificate confirming the handover of five white rhinos to the Mdhluli Tribal Community.  The purpose of the rhino handover was to instil some responsibility to the communities to take care and appreciate wildlife and to have ownership of the rhino.

Last year, KNP Management hosted a Youth workshop involving young unemployed people from areas around the southern part of the Park. The purpose was to educate the youth on the effects of poaching in general with specific reference to rhino poaching as it prevails in the country at the moment. At that workshop, the youth came up with resolutions or suggestions regarding how the country should deal with the rhino poaching.

In addition, the Kruger National Park has been host to members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Environmental Affairs, Safety and Security and the executive committee members of political parties and unions from municipalities such as the Ehlanzeni and Bohlabela District Municipalities in the southern part of the Park.

The focus, as you have heard, has been on the community and the youth – not only the role you can play, or are playing, in combating rhino poaching, but in assisting to protect our natural heritage and your economic future.

I would like to appeal to you, as the communities who are reliant on our natural world as a means of survival – economically and socially – the stand up and declare that no rhino, no wild species of plant or animal – be it a pangolin, a lizard, a cycad or a tree – will be destroyed on your watch.

Stand up and join me in declaring:  Not on our watch!

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