A joint effort from conservation agencies and the community against environmental and general crime in the central lowveld is reaping benefits - up to a point. Albert Machaba, regional ranger for the central region in the Kruger National Park (KNP) and also chairman of the Central Joint Operational Committee (C-Joc), believes environmental crimes are not regarded with the priority they deserve by the local judiciary.
"Poachers are arrested but often the case files get lost or the suspects are released without being charged or receive such light sentences that the crimes seem irrelevant," says Albert. About two years ago, local conservation and law enforcement agencies met with local and provincial magistrates and prosecutors to explain their needs.
According to Albert this meeting had some positive impact, albeit only in the short term, and may be pursued again in the near future. Vincent Barkas, of Protrack, believes poaching is a far more serious and costly crime in the area than can be derived from the available statistics. "Even after almost three years of working together, we still do not have any idea of exactly how huge and costly the poaching problem is," says Vincent.
He encourages all conservation agencies, farm and reserve owners and other conservation stakeholders to report all poaching incidences to a central point - either the police, Protrack or even CJoc. "Only then will we be able to present the true picture to the magistrates by showing that poaching and environmental crime are high priority crimes in the area."
C-Joc comprises community forums from areas adjoining the Park and other conservation areas, as well as the local police, the SANParks corporate investigative services section, the Limpopo department of environmental affairs, the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), other reserves in the central lowveld and the KNP and Hoedspruit - based Protrack.
The committee meets monthly at Chimanemane in the Timbavati where common issues are discussed and problems addressed. C-Joc's main aim is to coordinate the various efforts and activities by the individual agencies and so provide a united drive for a more secure environment.
Environmental awareness and education programmes such as the Timbavati Bush School and Kruger community forum initiatives are included in these drives. To report all your incidents - approaches by poachers, carcasses found, etc - please contact Protrack on 015 793 2585 or the Hoedspruit Police on 015 799 4000 or the Kruger National Park's Albert Machaba at 013 735 6311.