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Minister Edna Molewa hands over forensic trailers to assist in rhino poaching investigation

29 May 2015

 

 
 
Minister Edna Molewa handed over four 4X4 forensic trailers to SANParks, the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism, as well as to the Limpopo Department of Environment and Tourism and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.

The fight against rhino poaching was bolstered today with the handover of four 4X4 forensic trailers to SANParks, the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism, as well as to the Limpopo Department of Environment and Tourism and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.

The trailers, purchased by the Department of Environmental Affairs through funding provided by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP-GEF) Rhino Programme, will assist in the investigation of rhino poaching and other wildlife crime.

Improved investigative capacity and crime scene management in respect of rhino poaching related cases are among the measures outlined in government's Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros, as announced by Minister Edna Molewa on 12 August 2014.

For example, when urgent forensic sample results are required for bail hearings involving suspected poachers, it is vital the samples are processed to ensure that the evidence in question is not only acceptable, but delivered within a specified time frame for court purposes. Furthermore, correctly collected and handled samples meet chain of custody requirements critical for successful prosecution. This type of evidence can assist in among others, placing suspects at poaching crime scenes, identifying weapons used, and linking horns seized with rhino poached.

The trailers have been equiped with, amongst others:

  • generators
  • mobile fridges in which to store genetic material
  • metal detectors
  • electronic calipers
  • scales and knife sharpeners

"This newly available equipment will further aid crime scene management in outlying areas where the correct equipment needed for on-scene forensic investigations is not readily available," said the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa.

The overall goal of the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme is to improve efforts to combat wildlife crime in South Africa’s Protected Area System, with a focus on rhinoceros. This is done through inter alia, improved forensic technologies and capabilities, particularly DNA-based forensics, and data sharing and coordination systems betweenrelevant groups,to better control the recent upsurge in poaching of rhinoceros in South Africa.

In order to achieve these objectives, specific outcomes were developed for the project.

These include improved and efficient forensic capacity (techniques, procedures, training, equipment and institutional arrangements). To achieve this, two key areas have been identified, namely the review, revision and formalisation of wildlife crime scene investigation protocols (Standard Operating Procedures); as well as the provision of essential wildlife crime scene and forensics equipment.

The relevant compliance and enforcement institutions highlighted the need for wildlife crime scene forensic collection kits and mobile forensic units.

The four Forensic Mobile Units will be utilised by the four Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) institutions that have been prioritised due to the large volume of biodiversity rhino crime scenes.

The trailers were officially handed over by Minister Molewa to Ms Lize McCourt, the Chief Operating Officer of SANParks, the acting chief director of environmental affairs in Mpumalanga, Dr Almerie de Lange on behalf of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), the MEC for economic development, environment and tourism in Limpopo, Mr Charles Sekoati, and Ms Manketsi Tlhape, MEC for rural, environmental and agricultural development on behalf of the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism (NWDEDECT).

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Free State have already received similar trailers through a donation by the US Department of State.

"The Department of Environmental Affairs has long acknowledged that the fight against rhino poaching cannot be won alone, and in this regard we are grateful for the support of our international partners," adds Minister Molewa.

In addition to the above, funding from the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme has also been utilised to provide advanced crime scene management training in November 2014. Further courses are scheduled for later in the year. The provision of advanced crime scene management training is also one of the key areas highlighted in the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros.

Furthermore, these traininginitiatives are currently being used to develop crime scene filming material to serve as visual supplementary training material for rhino crime scene investigators.

Funding from the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme will also be utilised later this year to convene a Magistrate Awareness Symposium during August, as well as a Prosecutor Training Conference planned to take place in November 2015. Although these sessions were due to take place over the four year period of the UNEP-GEF programme, a decision was taken to consolidate these into two larger events this year as there is an immediate need to reach as many justice stakeholders in the present financial year as is possible.

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Albi Modise 
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