Recent success for iSimangaliso in the war against conservation crime

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Swift action by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rangers this week, supported by SAPS, has resulted in four major successes in the battle against poaching in iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the past few days.

“iSimangaliso-based Ezemvelo field rangers are commended for their diligence and commitment to the protection of our natural heritage” says iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis. “Poaching is a crime that will not be tolerated. If unchecked, not only could it result in the extinction of endangered species in our lifetime, it will also negatively impact on the local tourism economy, community jobs and livelihoods.  iSimangaliso accounts for 11300 direct permanent tourism jobs and has created over 54000 temporary jobs in the area.”

The 220km long iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first world heritage site, includes 8% of the country’s coastline.  iSimangaliso is home to 80 species categorised by the IUCN as rare and/or endemic.  Lake St Lucia makes up 80% of SA’s subtropical estuarine area.  The uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso is a listed RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance) and accounts for over 50% of South Africa’s 829- odd birds species.

Late last night the 30 June 2015, St Lucia APU field rangers received information that poachers had entered the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the southern section of Western Shores in order to check snares that they had previously set. The Anti Poaching Unit was deployed and assisted by the SAPS Hluhluwe Stock Theft Unit. 3 suspects were arrested.  They had in their possession 4 fresh red duiker carcasses, a fresh nyala bull skin and a large quantity of meat. A snare was also found in their possession and it was established that the group had already reset a large number of snares before exiting the Park. In addition to the above, a leopard tail, spotted hyena skin and body parts as well as two nyala female skins were located at a suspect homestead. A case was opened at the Mtubatuba SAPS.

During a routine patrol on Monday 29 June 2015, Ezemvelo field rangers in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso came across the fresh spoor of what turned out to be five suspected rhino poachers. The specialist uMkhuze-based Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) responded and whilst following up on the spoor came into contact with the five suspected rhino poachers who ran away when they were challenged. With the assistance of the ZAP-Wing aerial anti-poaching team, a hot pursuit followed, but the poachers managed to get away. During a follow up patrol the next morning to sweep the area where the contact took place, the APU recovered a .375 rifle with a silencer along with an axe and a back pack. The SAPS Hawks were contacted.  Though no arrests were made, this is considered a huge success since rhinos were saved and another firearm was taken out of the system.

This success follows on from arrests on Sunday the 28th June, made in a joint operation, which resulted in the arrest of two poachers with a 303 rifle and silencer while trying to enter iSimangaliso’s Western Shores just off the Mtuba- St Lucia road (R618)  turn off to Monzi.

There was further success against conservation crime within iSimangaliso Wetland park last week on 25 June. The quick reaction by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Marine Conservation staff working in the park resulted in the seizure of illegal fishing gill nets and poaching equipment in the Lake St Lucia Estuary section of the world heritage site.  Gill netting, which involves stringing wide nets across estuaries and rivers to indiscriminately capture fish of all sizes and types, is banned in South Africa’s estuarine systems.

At first light, the Conservation Marine Manager, Siboniso Duma, received a call from the local SAPS station regarding a boat that was observed in the estuary near the Sunset Jetty. Duma immediately notified his colleagues and since the Lake water level is currently very low, they had to drive around to Dukuduku where they intercepted the suspects. According to Duma, “As they saw the vehicle approaching, the suspects ran away, leaving behind four gill nets with a total length of 1229m, five white buckets, three of them containing fish and two empty, and one white bag full of fish. The seized fish, totaling 428 specimens of various species, were taken to the St Lucia Crocodile Centre as crocodile feed”.

An additional eighteen illegal boats which were found hidden in the vegetation along the estuary shoreline within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park boundary were rendered inoperative. In recent weeks it has been reported at the St Lucia SAPS Sector 4 Joint Compliance Committee that these boats, apart from being used for illegal gillnetting, have also allegedly been used by perpetrators to cross over the Lake St Lucia estuary to pursue criminal activities in St Lucia town.

Illegal or suspicious activities should be reported to iSimangaliso’s 24-hour emergency line 082 7977944.