South African National Parks (SANParks) would like to state categorically that a story that appeared on Carte-Blanche on Sunday, 24 June 2018 by Ms Kathi Lynn Austin alleging that SANParks senior personnel together with members of the South African law enforcement agencies could by implication be involved through action or neglect, in “gun trade” destined for poaching activities in the Kruger National Park is characterised by inaccuracies and is regrettable.
Against hard statistical facts on successes recorded on combating rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park specifically, the programme continued to insinuate that “we are losing the fight against rhino poaching”, which is completely not true.
What the programme failed to cover is a fact that SANParks is governed by the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) which limits its operations within protected areas or national parks. Therefore SANParks Environmental Crime Investigators (ECI) would not have been in a position to pursue gun smugglers as they are not mandated to carry out such operations.
According to SANParks this has unfortunately cast doubt on the tremendous amount of work and the great strides that have been achieved in the anti-poaching campaign and unduly discredited the role that SANParks continues to play as a conservation agency. Men and women in our parks put their lives on the line daily and are committed to the rhino campaign and to doing their utmost to seeing an end to the poaching scourge.
It has to be noted that the interview footage that was utilised, was conducted with Major General (Ret) Johan Jooste of SANParks in 2015. It is not current as is portrayed in the programme and has been used to bias the opinion of viewers.
It needs to be emphasised that from the very first informal meeting held with Ms Austin’s on her request, it was made clear to her that whilst her mission to expose gun supplying networks to poachers will be supported through legal means, she could never be resourced for or included in any project.
During 2015 SANParks ECI unit compiled a list of confiscated fire-arms seized from suspected poachers of which the contents were shared with Ms Austin and subsequently handed over to the relevant law enforcement agencies. The matter was also raised with Czech Armory (CZ), the international rifle manufacturers who promised to follow the correct channels to express their concerns. Therefore, insinuations made on Carte Blanche implicating Major Gen Jooste in criminal activities are wrong and highly counter-productive to follow-up investigations into the supplying of guns to would-be poachers.
All the parties involved including Interpol, knew about the consignment of CZ weapons from Portugal to Mozambique and deliberated on possible actions. It was made clear that there was nothing illegal about the transaction and that no intervention could be made. With this coming from the SAPS, it is hard to understand that there was any expectation of such a long-distance intervention on a legal transaction between two sovereign states. Even more so from any SANPaks official as such a matter simply falls outside the mandate of the organization.
It is our view that despite repeated caution by SANParks and various law enforcement agencies, Ms Austin’s agenda is highly detrimental to the work SANParks continues to do and to many facets of investigations currently underway. Her biased approach is unnecessarily casting doubt on the SANParks’ proven commitment to fight wild life crime and corruption and SANParks accordingly rejects the negative statements made on the Carte Blanche programme. In this instance this programme has contributed negatively to the combating of illicit wildlife crime, which is highly regretted.
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