WESSA Rhino Initiative
Rhino poaching has reached crisis levels in South Africa.
The main objective of the WESSA Rhino Initiative, established in early 2010, is to raise funds and awareness in order to help curb rhino poaching, and to contribute towards a number of important national intervention strategies to secure wild rhino populations, forever.
WESSA is actively involved in implementing and supporting anti-poaching interventions at several levels. Our interventions are proactive and aimed at lasting solutions that will benefit rhinos as well as other wildlife. WESSA supports all custodians of rhinos, and acknowledges the sterling work being done by conservation authorities.
WESSA has done work across many of the major rhino populated provinces. A particular focus area is in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces (Kruger National Park complex) which, when combined, houses the majority of the world’s rhinos.
Poachers operate freely over the landscape and are not inhibited by protected areas, provincial or international boundaries. Therefore stakeholder coordination is vital. Without improved communication, stronger support networks and an integrated approach across traditional boundaries, the war against poaching will never be won. To do this requires time and focused effort to develop and maintain strong inter-sectoral relationships and build trust. WESSA is working with a number of other credible and like-minded organisations as there is no way that we can do everything and the resource pool out there is limited. We also aim to prevent duplication with other projects so as to again optimise our resource use.
WESSA has contributed to network development and landscape resilience to poaching through its involvement in two key nodes which have established a track-record of breaking down barriers to ensure trust is built and supportive relationships are developed to ensure stakeholder coordination:
Project Rhino KZN – This an association of like-minded organisations which enables co-ordination of rhino conservation interventions to eliminate rhino poaching and secure the rhino populations in KZN. WESSA is a founding member.
Game Reserves United – Over the past 18 months, most of the reserves to the west of the Kruger National Park have been working collaboratively to establish a coordinated effort to combat rhino poaching proactively. Through increased investment into investigations and retrieval of defendable information, the initiative aims to secure the borders of participating private reserves in an area that is a strategically important buffer zone for the Kruger National Park. This effort, known as Game Reserves United, is being coordinated under the auspices of the WESSA.
GRU through key proactive and strategic interventions aims to increase area integrity management and monitoring around the associated reserves in order to reduce rhino poaching by 50 percent each year for the next three years. GRU is assisted by an air wing and the addition of the Jabiru aircraft has, from September 2013, provided much needed aerial support.
Key Rhino poaching interventions undertaken by the WESSA Rhino Initiative over the last year:
- Key engagements have taken place with international communities – these include Western governments as well as the former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano and his foundation, the Chissano Foundation.
- Over 2000 copies of the special Rhino issue of EnviroKids Magazines were handed out to children in South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. The magazine is both an educational teaching aid and a valuable tool to help sensitise children to the value of rhinos and what is happening on the ground to this charismatic species. WESSA believes that educating the youth, especially those in close proximity to the poaching hotspots, is a critical component of a multi-pronged approach. WESSA is grateful to Kingsley Holgate for his support in distributing the magazine to a huge number of schools.
- WESSA has sponsored the piloting of a number of rhino tracking devices to assist in increasing the effectiveness of anti-poaching efforts. These include satellite tracking ankle collars for rhinos which are under threat. The aim is to get accurate information on the preferred areas of the rhinos’ habitat which will allow for more effective deployment of rangers.
- WESSA sponsored a critical skill training course for 12 rangers in Zululand which focused on tactical tracking training.
- WESSA contributed to information gathering around the Kruger National Park which led to a number of successful arrests of suspected rhino poachers.
- A Wildlife Crime and Information Mapping workshop for reserve managers, sponsored by WESSA, was conducted in the Lowveld.
- WESSA provided over 40 DNA kits to rhino owners for registering their rhino onto the Rhino DNA database system (RhoDIS). The purpose of RhoDIS is for as many of South Africa’s wild rhino population (private and public) to be registered for assisting in prosecutions and the genetic management of the metapopulation.
- WESSA currently hosts the KZN Midlands Wildlife Security Initiative (MWSI) at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. The MWSI, run under Project Rhino KZN, aims to work with all rhino owners in the KZN interior (i.e. outside of Zululand).
- WESSA has been involved in fundraising to support the implementation of the Rhino Initiative objectives.
- Through advocacy work WESSA contributed to a number of government processes aimed at assessing the current rhino poaching issues including a workshop with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Environment.
Every day we are learning more about the current rhino situation and thus, whilst being proactive, we need to be flexible and innovative in our selection of interventions. We also need to continue to work with a number of other credible and like-minded organisations to prevent duplication and to achieve maximum conservation benefit. Our aim and challenge is to keep the public involved and informed through communication and actions in line with WESSA’s mission of public participation in caring for the Earth.
Project contact details
Chris Galliers, Unit Leader
Tel: 033 330 3931 ext 2146
Cell: 079 5044 296