Minister Creecy honours rangers on World Ranger Day 2019 at Kruger National Park

31 July 2019

 

Program Director, Mr Isaac Phaahla
MEC for Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs in Mpumalanga, Mr
Vusumuzi Shongwe,
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs Honourable Fikile Xasa,
The Chief Executive of SANParks, Mr Fundisile Mketeni,
Members of the SANParks Board and Managing Executive,
Colonel Ndlangamandla of the South African National Defence Force
Major General Phahla of the South African Police Service,
Game rangers and conservationists,
Community representatives,
Members of the media,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here today celebrating my first World Ranger Day Commemoration, with all of you, our honoured guests.

Today is also my first visit – in my official capacity, as the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries – to the Kruger National Park.  

And so it is an important honour to be with the men and women who work on the frontline of conservation and fight against poaching in protected areas across the country.   

We gather today, as we  celebrate 25 years of our democratic dispensation. A dispensation  in which Section 24 of our Bill of Rights enshrines  a safe and healthy environment. It also places on us a duty to protect the  world around us for future generations to enjoy.

We also assemble in the year in which the Global Biodiversity Assessment Report warned that as many as a million species are under threat of  extinction.

This significant research highlighted the major drivers for biodiversity loss as: change in land use, over exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and alien invasive species.

It also cautioned that loss of biodiversity and environmental degredation will directly impact on our ability to  achieve the  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those linked to poverty eradication, food security, health, water provision and sustainable cities.

Here in our own country, more than two million South Africans are directly dependent on our natural resources and the natural environment for their income.  We all agree today, that our country‘s richness in biodiversity, ecosystem services, and wealth of indigenous and local knowledge, is potentially a strategic asset for sustainable development.

The National Development Plan requires us to leave future generations an environmental endowment of at least equal value to the one we have now. 

As government, we endeavor to do this by declaring new protected areas, sustainable land management, protection of forests and securing strategic water sources.  Through our institutionalized rehabilitation programmes we continue to invest in the restoration of degraded lands and improvement in the functionality of ecosystems.

We are fortunate that our country also has a well-developed suite of policy and legislation for the management, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

 

The Kruger National Park is an international icon of conservation and tourism and an area where nature is preserved for future generations. It is one of the nineteen national parks countrywide, providing employment and economic growth opportunities to nearby communities.

Illegal poaching and the illicit wildlife trade continue to threaten both our conservation and sustainable use efforts.

The Kruger National Park has been under heavy attack from poachers in the past decade. This has placed a huge burden on the field rangers working here. Lately, that pressure has increased for rangers in KwaZulu-Natal as poachers turn their attentions to our wildlife there.

The first and perhaps most important approach to protecting biodiversity and wildlife -associated crime in our parks, has to be the economic and social well-being of communities living adjacent to our protected areas. This is a necessity if we are to avoid our youth falling prey to syndicates recruiting foot-soldiers for illegal activities.

The People and Parks Programme specifically focuses on people living adjacent to the protected areas, including those who were historically displaced. Our bi-annual National People and Parks Conference provides communities, living alongside our protected areas, with a platform for engaging government and informing policy.  

In 2010 we launched the National Co-management Framework which has facilitated a number of co-management deals between communities and owners of private game reserves that enable transfer of skills, job creation and access to direct benefits.

An Access and Benefit Sharing Framework ensures communities have access to natural resources, for cultural, medicinal, and other consumptive and non-consumptive uses. We have also expanded the conservation areas on communal land, managed by local communities.

All these initiatives are now co-ordinated under the umbrella of the Biodiversity Phakisa which contributes to national priorities such as, job creation, poverty alleviation as well as enterprise and skills development.

During this sixth administration, our Department has set ambitious targets to transform the biodiversity economy.  We are supporting 107 projects with infrastructure such as game fencing, water reticulation, game donations, training and capacity building for new and emerging game farmers.

To optimise the economic, development and job creation potential of our indigenous plant wealth, initiatives like the BioProducts Advancement Network South Africa (BioPANZA) are aimed at working with industry, and conservation to ensure rural women in particular benefit from both the intellectual property rights of indigenous knowledge systems and the cultivation and harvesting of indigenous plants.

Despite our best efforts, wildlife crime continues to threaten our biodiversity. Rhino poaching in particular remains a critical problem in our protected areas. 

In the past three years, South Africa has shown a measure of success in decreasing rhino poaching, not only in our national parks, but also in other protected areas, including provincial and municipal game reserves, and private conservation areas. 

Last year, 2018, was the third consecutive year that rhino poaching has decreased with 769 reported incidents.   In the first 6 months of 2019, 318 rhino have been poached countrywide, a modest decline of 68 incidents over the same period last year.

From January to June 2019, 122 alleged poachers were arrested within the Kruger National Park.  Nationally, 253 arrests were effected in the first half of 2019 in respect of both rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking.  A total of 61 firearms were recovered during operations in the KNP in this period.

These success have been achieved through the implementation of the 2014 Integrated Management Plan which combines the use of technology, extensive anti-poaching work, as well as the management of the rhino population. 

It also involves extensive international collaboration across our borders to ensure that rhino poachers are brought to book where-ever they hide.

As we focus on the war against rhino poaching, we remember that our field rangers are in the midst of a battle for all our plant and animals species – be it the elephant, the pangolin, our many reptile species, trees, and plants such as the cycad.

Ladies and Gentlemen I am sure we all agree the time has come for us to review our efforts in the war on illegal poaching and wildlife trade.  Together with our sister departments in the Security and Justice Cluster we need: better controls at our ports of exit, more support in the war on the ground, and faster prosecution of offenders.

Accordingly I will be convening a meeting with Minister Bheki Cele and Minister Ronald Lamola so we can better co-ordinate our collective efforts against increasingly syndicated poaching crimes.

We also understand that for our Rangers fighting the war on the ground need more support, be it through provision of adequate and appropriate tools of the trade or reward and recognition.  I am, accordingly asking you Mr Mketeni, in your position as CEO of SANPARKS, to put forward a proposal in this regard to myself.

The successes we have had, in the anti- poaching war would not have happened without you, our rangers.Today we honour your commitment and dedication to ensuring that our wildlife is protected. Today we celebrate your achievements and we mourn with you the passing of those who have made the supreme sacrifice.

Ranger Respect Mathebula lost his life in July 2018 defending our rhino.The Mathebula Family and the Kruger Park management unveiled a plaque in his honour near Malelane yesterday.

To the Mathebula family, I would like to say Thank You, we honour your sacrifice.  We will pick up your son’s fallen spear. We will continue his fight. He shall not have passed in vain.

In recent years, our rangers have had to understand how poachers think and remain one step ahead of these criminals aiming to kill and main our wildlife.Unfortunately some Rangers have had to act against their own when colleagues and, in some cases, friends, who have bowed to greed.

In this regard it’s important to salute the SANParks Ranger Wellness Program, which won an award at the Rhino Conservation Awards 10 days ago.

We also express our thanks to Project Embrace which assists our rangers to deal with the stress and trauma that accompanies working under dangerous and life-threatening conditions.

Congratulations go to Lance Corporal Samuel Ndlovu of the Kruger National Park who was a joint winner of the Field Ranger of the Year Award at the Rhino Conservation Awards earlier this month. He shared the position with Senior Sergeant Nderu Loormuyeni from Chyulu Hills in Kenya. The SANParks Environment Crime Investigators also walked away with the award in the Political/Judicial/Investigative Support Category for fighting against organized wildlife crime in South Africa.  

I would like to conclude by extending my gratitude to you, our Rangers.  Our many unsung heros and heroines whose daily commitment and hard work has not been recognised in ceremonies or through awards.

I choose to see you beyond your work, uniform and rank.  I choose to see you as community members, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters in your homes.  I see you as neighbours and community leaders in your own right.  I see you as breadwinners, husbands and wives.

You are persons of great courage and commitment. You are making a significant contribution to the future of our country and our planet. I salute you once and all!

I thank you.