The South African law-enforcement authorities combating rhinoceros-related crimes have for the first time been awarded Certificates of Commendation by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
“[The CITES commendation was an] affirmation that South Africa and indeed other range states are making progress in winning the war against poaching, despite the significant challenges we continue to face,” said Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.
The Department of Environmental Affairs said the Certificates of Commendation was issued at the discretion of CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanlon in recognition of “outstanding examples of enforcement-related work… ” whose outcomes “serve as an example to the wider law enforcement community and further the aims of CITES in preventing illegal trade in wildlife in an innovative manner.”
The multi-sectoral team includes the South African Police Service (SAPS) and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), supported by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.
The South African team was acknowledged for their participation in Operation Whisper, an undercover operation targeting organised crime groups involved in rhinoceros poaching and the illegal international trade in rhinoceros horn.
The multi-faceted operation resulted in a significant number of arrests of suspects involved in the illegal killing of rhino in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the trafficking of rhino horn between KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
“Operation Whisper is a perfect example of the synergy needed between different law-enforcement authorities, which translates complex investigations into arrests, prosecutions and the disruption of criminal networks,” Minister Molewa said.
The SAPS units involved included the Durban Organized Crime Unit, National Intervention Unit, Technical Support Unit and Forensic Science Laboratory; working in close cooperation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Gauteng, with logistical support provided by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.
The certificates were accepted by Minister Molewa at a CITES Ministerial Dialogue on for Key States concerned with the Illegal Trade in Rhinoceros Horn in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.