The world is in the midst of a poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) crisis which threatens survival of many species. Poaching and IWT involves a wide range of species including insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals. IWT has been estimated by different sources to be worth USD 7–23 Billion annually. Targeted species in South Africa include terrestrial mammals such as rhino, endangered plants including cycads and marine species such as abalone. South Africa lost 1,215 rhinos to poaching in 2014 up from 13 rhinos lost in 2007. Demand for wildlife and wildlife products was driven by need for pharmaceuticals, food, pets, ornamental and traditional medicinal purposes. The poaching crisis and IWT are no longer emerging issues. The poaching crisis began in the mid 2000’s when demand for ivory and rhino horn significantly increased. From that time, wildlife crime has become more sophisticated and now involves large‐scale, transnational organised crime. The spike in wildlife crime poses a growing threat not only to wildlife but also to national security, rule of law, sustainable development, and the well‐being of local communities. The scale and nature of the challenges posed by wildlife crime have been recognized in international fora. International organizations such as CITES and INTERPOL have held discussions and made decisions on interventions to reduce or curb this crime. High level political conferences have also addressed the issue. Despite these national and international efforts, corruption, weak legislation, weak judicial systems and light sentences allow criminal networks to continue being involved in IWT because, to them, it is a low risk business with high returns. South Africa has enhanced its law enforcement efforts to combat poaching and IWT. The South African governmentʹs approach to criminal justice is contained in the overarching 1996 National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). The NCPS motivated a shift in emphasis from crime control to crime prevention which is a shift towards understanding crime as a social issue rather than a solely security issue. It is based on 3 pillars, that is, improving the criminal justice process, reducing crime through environmental design, changing public values and education and reducing transnational crime. The 1998 White Paper on Safety and Security builds on this NCPS framework. It focuses on three key areas, namely law enforcement, crime prevention and institutional reform to meet delivery goals. While both these documents are still applicable to understand South Africa’s approach to criminal justice, the overall strategies seem to have shifted. The South African Police Service adopted a high profile strategy in March 2000 to combat crime in particular hotspots. The White Paper on Local Government 1998 also calls for crime prevention and encourages its integration with other aspects of local development. Partnerships with NGOs and community‐based organizations are called for especially in areas where local government lacks skills, including crime prevention. In 2012 Cabinet approved the Integrated Social Crime Prevention Strategy developed by the National Department of Social Development. Further the White Paper on Community Safety Forums (2012) led to the establishment of community safety forums, which are supposed to be coordinating structures at local government level. The National Development Plan published in 2012 also attaches significant importance to the safety. The key enforcement institution for wildlife crimes in South Africa is the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) through its Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI). According to the DEA, illegal hunting continued to be the predominant wildlife crime in the 2014/2015 fiscal year. There were 386 arrests for rhino related offences which was an increase from 343 arrests in 2013. The number of environmental crimes finalised increased from 165 to 265 cases in the 2014/2015 reporting period, compared to the 2013/2014 reporting period. The conviction rate also increased from 86% to 94.7%.
Author: Didi Wamukoya
Publisher: African Wildlife Foundation
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