SANDF should be given responsibility of protecting rhino

Wed Jan 21, 2015 11:37 pm

SANDF should be given responsibility of protecting rhino, says Ezemvelo head

BY NCE MKHIZE, JANUAR 21 2015, 17:10

ACTING CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife David Mabunda says the responsibility of safeguarding the endangered rhino should be given to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Last year more than 1,030 rhinos were brutally killed by poachers in SA, in 2013 1,004 were killed and 668 were killed in 2012.

In an exclusive interview with BDlive, Mr Mabunda said rhino deaths were escalating alarmingly and soon there would be no rhinos left in this country.

"This is no longer a conservation war, but it is a war of our sovereignty so we should look at it in terms of our national security. The poachers from our neighbouring countries come heavily armed in the still of the night and kill our rhinos.

"This is counter-insurgency and we should respond accordingly. The conservation agencies do not have the skills or resources to deal with this alone and that is why this responsibility should be handed over to the army (SANDF).

"Today rhinos are being targeted, tomorrow it will be lions and we don’t know what will be next. These poachers must be made to feel that SA is not their playground," he said.

Mr Mabunda said all conservation agencies, including Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and SANParks, and others who are under pressure to respond to rhino poaching would gladly accept assistance from the SANDF to track down poachers and police poaching hotspots.

"Protecting the rhinos must be seen in the context of maintaining a healthy and safe environment, creating jobs through tourism; protecting the heritage that we are all proud of. Without heritage, we are nothing," he said.

During Mr Mabunda’s tenure at the helm of SANParks he proposed a plan to evacuate 500 rhinos to secret locations secured by SANParks rangers and to sell off another 250 rhinos to individuals and privately owned game reserves and lodges in a desperate bid to save the species.

Mr Mabunda was appointed acting CEO at Ezemvelo in December last year.

This was after CEO Bandile Mkhize and the organisation’s chief financial officer, Darius Chitate, were suspended pending their disciplinary hearings into allegations of a number of misdemeanours.

Mr Mabunda has said his first task is to "clean the image" of Ezemvelo and restore its financial status.

"When I came here the institution was desperate and many people were worried about their future and careers. In my letter to staff I told them that I want to bring it back from instability, from the catastrophic position before growing its revenue. It is not that simple but it must be done," he said.

He said he had set up a team to "plug the holes" in the organisation’s various revenue streams so that they "collect every cent that is due to the institution". These include the 23 shops that the organisation runs in its facilities.

"Our long-term plan is to take opportunities to partner with other businesses. Our core business is to look after animals in our camps and lodges. We will be looking at outsourcing noncore businesses, such as running the shops, which require cutting-edge retail skills so that we can get maximum returns. We also need to improve our customer service levels to excite our visitors and exceed their expectations.

"My other goal is to change the environment in which the young generation is far removed from conservation. We have to be relevant to them because they are our future customers. We can only do this by engaging in programmes that bring the youth closer to us," he said.

Ezemvelo’s board has said it has full confidence in Mr Mabunda and, depending on the outcome of the disciplinary hearing against his predecessor (Dr Mkhize), they are more than likely to give him a long-term contract.

"He is one of the best in the field and so far we are happy about what he is doing. We like the fact that he is driving a programme to clean up the image of the organisation," said Comfort Ngidi, chairman of the Ezemvelo board of directors.

Chris Galliers, manager of rhino protection at the Wildlife and Environmental Society of SA, said Mr Mabunda faced many challenges.

"He has to raise staff morale at Ezemvelo and ensure the organisation has sufficient funds to carry out its mandate. On the conservation side he has to drive anti-rhino-poaching initiatives and ensure that Ezemvelo remains relevant," said Mr Galliers.