Eastern Cape 'Green Scopions' make successes

JANUARY 28, 2016

They have earned the nickname 'Green Scorpions', because although they may be a small unit, they pack a powerful sting in protecting the Eastern Cape's natural beauty and value.

The Green Scorpions are the committed and dedicated Compliance and Enforcement Officers of the province's Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (DEDEAT), and they form a thin and effective green line between criminals who poach, steal or destroy the province's natural assets.

The two biggest environmental criminal activities faced by the province continue to be the scourges of rhinoceros poaching and illegal trade in rare cycad plants.

In the 2014/15 year, the country as a whole lost 1 215 rhinos to highly organised and resourced poachers during the year, of which 15 rhinos slaughtered for their horns were from the Eastern Cape -- but significantly not one was poached on any declared provincial nature reserve, Bongani Gxilishe, DEDEAT's Head of Department reported in the department's recent annual report.

While DEDEAT itself has to rely mostly on its own small number of dedicated personnel and in the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority (ECPTA), it is building up a network of volunteer honorary environmental officers who add more eyes and ears to its intelligence gathering capacity.

Joint Operations are also conducted with other law enforcement agencies such as the South African Police Services (SAPS), South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Department of Water Affairs (DWA), municipalities, and forestry and fisheries officers.

These operations include roadblocks, tracking down poachers and illegal hunters, as well as stopping the illegal removal of sand, discharge of sewage on land, and illegal clearing of indigenous vegetation.

Together with the SAPS's Special Investigations Unit, or Hawks, two major cycad dealing gangs were bust during the previous year, resulting in the arrests of eight smugglers.

Six cycad thieves were convicted and each sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Forty-eight cycads were recovered and a significant number of them were replanted in the wild.

A crackdown on illegal sand mining on the Wild Coast resulted in the arrests of four people while five trucks were impounded.

The Wilderness Foundation also donated eight hours of helicopter flying time to help the Green Scorpions to take to the air and fly surveillance patrols along the coast.

Off-road vehicle (ORV) regulations task team meetings were held to contribute to better management of the Eastern Cape coastal area and the department is also engaged in continuous monitoring of species and ecosystems.

Biodiversity officials participated in the Cape parrot count and the department also participated in the Vulture Count Day as part of the species monitoring programme which included vulture nesting sites monitoring and recording.

Microchipping of cycads continued throughout the year as an ongoing exercise and a research project to restore the Albany cycad was conducted and results presented to the National Scientific Authority. An Albany Cycad Biodiversity Management Plan is being implemented with an identified landowner in the province.

A rhino horn stockpile audit of private game farms was also conducted with the support of the unit in the Chris Hani region.