Big Game Parks (Swaziland)

Another rhino poaching attempt has been thwarted at Hlane Royal National Park.

6 heavily armed rhino poachers from three different countries carried out their plan to plunder one of Swaziland’s (and Africa’s) rarest and most vulnerable iconic wildlife species.

At approximately 01h00 on Thursday morning (10th August), three heavily armed poachers entered a remote area of Hlane Royal National Park in a vehicle. A joint team of Royal Swaziland Police and Big Game Parks Rangers managed to intercept the vehicle deep in the bush during the anti-poaching operation, before any rhinos were poached.

When an attempt was made to arrest the suspects, the Police and Rangers came under immediate fire. The ensuing exchange of fire resulted in a Mozambican and a South African suspect being fatally wounded. A third Swazi suspect being wounded and admitted to hospital under Police guard. This suspect has a number of previous poaching convictions, and despite this, remains an employee of Hlane’s neighbouring RSSC Simunye Sugar Estate.

A second South African registered getaway vehicle was also apprehended and a Swazi and two South Africans were arrested on board. One of the South Africans is an SAPS Police Reservist in Mpumalanga and is believed to be the mastermind behind many rhino poaching cases across South Africa.

Two vehicles, a high-powered .375 hunting rifle, silencer, ammunition, an axe, daggers (knives), cane knife and carry bags were seized at the scene. The serial numbers on the hunting rifle have been erased and it is suspected to be stolen. .375 rifles are extremely powerful weapons and are often used for poaching rhino and elephant. The weapon is known as an “elephant gun” for its deep penetration and killing power.

This is the second attempt to poach rhinos in Swaziland this year. The previous attempt was also unsuccessful and was made by a rhino poaching group from South Africa on 10 June 2017, also on Hlane Royal National Park. It included Swazi, South African and Zimbabwean nationals.

In February this year two Taiwanese nationals were arrested at King Mswati lll International Airport while they were smuggling 31 pieces of rhino horns out of Swaziland on board a flight to Johannesburg en-route Hong Kong. Investigations have revealed that at least three of the suspected 9 rhinos poached in this consignment were poached in Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu Natal provinces across South Africa.

The intense poaching of more than three rhinos per day in South Africa shows no sign of abating as criminal syndicates continuously adapt to strategies employed by law enforcement agencies in the various rhino range states. Rhinos used to occur in 33 countries in Africa.

Rhinos now exist in just 11 rhino range states, having become locally extinct in the others. Of

the 11 countries, 6 had lost their rhino populations, but have subsequently reintroduced the

species. Swaziland is one of the six.

As evidenced in this case, corrupt officials very often facilitate the illegal acquisition and

trafficking of rhino horns and other wildlife products. Many cases have occurred, especially in

South Africa, where Police officers, game rangers and other officials have been involved in the

illegal rhino horn trade chain.

With the increasing militarization and other law enforcement pressure on poaching

syndicates, especially in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and an escalation in the level of

conflict, many poaching groups have turned their attention to alternative perceived soft

targets – including Swaziland.

It is nothing short of a miracle that Swaziland has lost only three rhino to poaching in the past

24 years given that rhinos have been poached to extinction for a second time in Mozambique

and that South Africa has lost 6000 rhinos to poaching since 2010, with most of these in the

provinces neighbouring Swaziland.

If Swaziland shows lenience in dealing with such cases, the floodgates will be opened and

Swaziland’s small rhino population will not be able to withstand the poaching onslaught.