Anti-poachers raise their sights

Jabulani Ngubane was fresh from a ‘bust’. He’d just been with South African police when they arrested two men, part of a multi-million dollar rhino horn smuggling syndicate, at a toll booth on the Johannesburg to Durban road, and he was still buzzing.

As rhino security intervention co-ordinator for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the provincial body in KwaZulu-Natal which boasts a proud history in rhino conservation, Jabulani is responsible for tackling the poaching menace in some of South Africa’s most high profile rhino reserves, including Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, where we’re meeting him. It’s a tough ask. Only days before our meeting, the discovery of two white rhino carcasses on the reserve had taken the KZN death toll in the first five months of 2012 to 23. But there are signs of progress.

‘In KZN in 2010-11 we’ve reduced poaching levels by 13 per cent,’ Jabulani tells us. ‘It’s not enough but it’s a good start. And with these syndicate arrests, you will see more results in future months.

The latest arrests were part of an undercover sting operation aimed at tackling criminals higher up the poaching food chain. ‘We’d arrested a lot of guys at the lower levels, but the numbers of rhinos being poached was not changing. As much as you can arrest the guys at this level, it’s so easy to replace them, explains Jabulani. ‘But if you arrest the top guys you cut off the supply of money and knowledge and skills. If you arrest the buyers and the exporters, you break the chain’.

The toll booth arrests were a mopping up operation – earlier police had moved on other members of the syndicate. ‘We bust them at their house, with 55kg of rhino horn, ivory, leopard skins, scanners, weight machines and cash,’ says Jabulani.

Infiltrating the poaching syndicates is a slow and dangerous process, and can feel like an unequal battle, he admits: ‘One of the guys we arrested was carrying a million dollars in a suitcase. For us we strongly rely on government subsidy and corporate donors. We have to work by protocol – those guys do not have protocols, they work on gut feelings. We have to prove to the auditors what we’ve done with the money; they don’t have to do that!’

But for us it’s beyond being dangerous. It’s our livelihood. If we don’t protect these rhinos as best we can, nobody will do it. It’s part and parcel of our heritage. It’s not like a job. It’s like our family business.’

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2 Comments on “Anti-poachers raise their sights”

  1. Kevin Bewick July 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Keep up the good work, Jabu,

    Regards.

    Kevin,

    A.P.I.G.S.A.

  2. camilla August 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    You may feel alone fighting this cause (as I do fighting mine) but know that so many are watching from afar and hoping you guys win through. You are putting your lives on the line and that is amazing.

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