Both white and black rhino were at the brink of extinction by the early 1900’s. Through the efforts of South Africa’s Provincial- (notably KZN) and National Parks agencies in cooperation with private game reserves, the S.A. rhino population was systematically rebuilt through a process of translocation to protected areas where they had become locally extinct. By the late 1900’s South Africa had achieved a remarkable resurgence in rhino numbers, thereby providing a home to more than 80% of Africa’s rhino.
With the implementation of the CITES trade ban on rhino products in 1977, most legal channels of access to rhino horn were shut down. When it was realized that rhino horn still found its way to Asian markets through pseudo-trophy hunts, further restrictions were imposed. Continued demand, mostly in Southeast Asia, coupled with the closure of all the legal rhino horn supply channels, naturally resulted in international crime syndicates taking an interest in South Africa’s growing rhino population. Elsewhere on the continent, rhino populations had already been decimated. An initial rise in rhino poaching within South Africa was met with decisive resistance and successfully contained. Until 2007, reported poaching levels remained negligible. Likely because inventory became exhausted, the market price for rhino horn in Vietnam reached extraordinary levels. The retail price in 2011 appeared to be in the region of $65,000 per kilogram. This high price encouraged a far more concerted and sophisticated organized crime element to engage in rhino horn trafficking, as evidenced by the tenacity of the current illegal suppliers.
As the number of poached rhino escalated alarmingly, commentators wrote that the year 2012 would go down in SA history as the worst year for rhinos in the modern era of conservation. They were mistaken. Although an unprecedented total of 668 animals were recorded to have been poached in South Africa in 2012 (a 50% increase from the previous year), the figure, unbelievably, jumped by another 50% to 1004 animals lost in 2013. In spite of the firm stand taken by conservation agencies and massive investment in security by private reserves, the rhino attrition rate in 2014 (by August 2014) is even slightly higher than in 2013. The national rate is now three animals per day.
GRU – The Project
The cluster of nature reserves on the western boundary of Kruger National Park (KNP) is collectively responsible for the protection of the largest free roaming rhino population that can be found on private land. The bulk of these reserves share unfenced boundaries with KNP and are therefore seen to be responsible not only for protecting their own interests but those of South Africans at large. Animals, big and small, roam freely between KNP, the SabiSand, Timbavati, Klaserie, Manyeleti, Balule, Olifants River and Umbabat. The adjoining reserves, Kapama, Moholoholo and Selati, though separated from the main cluster by fence or road, face the same onslaught and are important allies in fighting the scourge of rhino poaching.
The GRU reserves are strategically important as a western buffer zone to the KNP. GRU provides a working and trusted platform for the implementations of a number of interventions which are focused on reducing rhino poaching. Ties have been forged with organizations and law enforcement agencies that share the following broad objective: To have a focused, collaborative and coordinated approach to all work in the GRU area with particular focus on intelligence-led operations, information management and anti-poaching across the project area which will result in;
• The proactive prevention of poaching incidents
• The identification, arrest, evidence collection and prosecution of anyone involved in poaching.
Participating reserves, each contribute an annual subscription fee to fund intelligence operations run by individuals with experience in counter-insurgency tactics, counter-intelligence and information analysis which is aligned with the relevant law enforcement agencies. The information is processed in collaboration with organs of state such as SANParks and Crime Intelligence.
“The onslaught against rhino is striking right at the heart of conservation’s last stronghold. If the integrity of our protected areas is compromised or lost, there is no other fall-back position. The fight to save the rhino is therefore symbolic of the fight to preserve Africa’s last wild places.” –Andrew Parker, a founding member of GRU