Saving the Wild’s mandate is to dismantle poaching syndicates, and protect the black rhino and elephant tusker gene pool. We accomplish this through advocacy, intel driven investigations, solving the poverty link to the poaching crisis, and supporting safe havens. In 2019 we expanded our mandate to include a climate disaster fund. We run and support projects in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Our advocacy is worldwide.
2019 End Year Report
DIRECTOR’S NOTE | JAMIE JOSEPH
Africa’s poaching crisis has dragged on for more than a decade. There are endless successful anti-poaching stories that illustrate the extraordinary lengths people and parks will go to protect their animals. And yet every day more elephants and rhinos die at a horrific rate, often by poachers out on bail. The weakest link continues to be corruption, and yet it is very rarely addressed.
We have started work on the demand side, and it’s still too soon to report on, but we do have an ambitious project in the works, in Asia but outside of China, and host to one of the most destructive wildlife markets.
In South Africa, Saving the Wild continues to lead the crusade against corruption – by far the hardest uphill battle in the rhino crisis – and in the three other countries we operate we are able to step out of the cesspit of corruption and contribute towards projects that bring us joy and give us hope. We continue to protect the black rhino gene pool with financial donations to vets on the frontline.
In Mozambique, our operatives are having excellent results on arrests and convictions: elephant, rhino, leopard and pangolin. Unlike South Africa, the law is now acting as a deterrent and next week there will even be a workshop on prevention of corruption.
In Kenya, our partners Big Life Foundation celebrated an elephant and rhino poaching statistic of ZERO in 2019. As part of our mandate to protect the elephant tusker gene pool, we cover the intel budget for the area in the Amboseli ecosystem where the tuskers tend to spend most of their time.
And in Zimbabwe, in July, we joined forces with local stakeholders and initiated the ‘Feed Mana’ programme during unprecedented drought in the Zambezi Valley. During our three months on the ground we sowed the seeds for a poacher to farmer transformation programme to take place in 2020.
The future of Saving the Wild is film. For more than four years we have quietly been piecing together a documentary unlike anything ever produced before. It will reveal the dark underbelly of the rhino crisis in South Africa, home to 80% of the plummeting population, and the reality of a species going extinct because the government is so corrupt. Whistle-blowers and informers, kingpins and a crooked cabal of justice officials; this is the outrageous true story unfolding right now. We are entering the final chapter…
We will premiere the trailer of ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’ feature documentary at an event with Helen Clark on the 3rdof March. Three times New Zealand Prime Minister (1999-2008), and former UNDP Chief (2009-2017), Helen is our champion and our hero, and a universal role model of what it takes to lead with unwavering integrity.
We have two other films currently underway; a sweeping cinematic tribute to the last great tuskers, and a documentary that will take us on a journey into unknown territory – the loss of priceless biodiversity as climate change continues to wipe out billions of animals – how do we become armed with the tools to fight a battle even more devastating than poaching and organized crime?
Through film, our goal is to soar to new heights, connect with millions of people worldwide, and ignite movements that bring meaningful change.
Saving the Wild is largely funded by a handful of extraordinary humans and through our social enterprise partnerships. These are the people we break bread with and share confidential information with. People who have made their mark in the world and are giving back through philanthropy, collaboration and mentoring.
Six years ago it was just me kicking up dust and writing stories from the frontline. We’ve come a long way, and I promise you this, the best is still to come.
Saving the Wild does not want the monopoly on exposing and eradicating corruption enabling rhino poaching. We are too small and we simply do not have the funding to cover both Kruger and Zululand with the highest density of rhinos in the world. Almost all organizations choose to stay neutral and avoid conflict, and we sympathize with many of them. Maybe they’re vets, or they look after rhino orphans – wildlife investigations is not their business. They don’t have the skillset for it.
But there are other environmental organizations with budgets that run into millions upon millions of dollars, and they continue to remain silent on corruption – the number one factor enabling rhino poaching. We are going to lose the rhino if the big organizations don’t step up. There is strength in numbers.
Dumisani Gwala – Blood Rhino Blacklist
Saving the Wild defied history through our relentless pursuit of justice when we got the alleged Zululand kingpin Dumisani Gwala to trial in April 2019. He has been arrested many times before, not just in violation of the endangered species act, but also for assault – grievous bodily harm, and theft of motor vehicles. Gwala was arrested in December 2014 for attempted murder of a police officer and dealing in rhino horn. Had it not been for Saving the Wild exposing the corruption in the courts, again and again, his case would have been thrown out years ago.
But his defence continues to make a mockery of the court, delaying trial with excuses that include “I have sore feet” or “I have a headache”, and the last show took place on 6 February featured the notorious defence attorney Ngwenya appearing to lose his mind and forcing trial to be postponed to 21, 22 and 23 April. A year into trial and the first witness is yet to be fully cross examined. This court circus is not the exception to the rule; it is how South Africa runs it’s courts. Other poaching trials have dragged on for twice as long and longer, but we cannot let that happen in the case of the accused rhino horn dealer. There is just too much at stake. While Gwala is out on bail rhinos will continue to be butchered at an alarming rate. Since Gwala’s arrest in 2014, no high level target has been arrested. This is due to the police not acting on intel given to them by Saving the Wild, and the police persecuting officers who do pursue high level targets. The work must speak for itself.
The only significant drop in rhino poaching in KwaZulu Natal came after Saving the Wild exposed massive corruption inside Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) in October 2017 when we published our expose ‘Rhino Massacres – can Ezemvelo Handle the truth?’ We never got a thank you from state run organization Ezemvelo for exposing the corruption, but they did quietly shift and fire the rot we exposed, and poaching plummeted from 222 rhinos killed in KZN in 2017 to 142 in 2018. But the latest figure of 133 rhinos killed in 2019 is no drop considering there are so few rhinos left, making it much more difficult for poachers to find the animals. And we have it on sound information that not all poaching incidents are being reported.
The constant here is Gwala, who, at the time of his arrest a spokesperson for the operation said around 80% of the rhino horns in the KwaZulu Natal Province were going through his hands. Saving the Wild has chipped away at ‘The Gwala Syndicate’, diminishing his power, but the real difference will come on his judgement day – if the state does not sabotage the case.
If justice is done, then for the first time in history a rhino poaching kingpin will be convicted and locked up for many years to come.
As for the alleged Kruger kingpin, Petros Mabuza aka “Mr Big”, it was Saving the Wild’s intel that led to Mabuza’s arrest in June 2018. Unfortunately it is once again out of our hands because the man keeps getting bail under extremely suspicious circumstances. Unless the National Prosecuting Authority takes the bail verdict to the High Court – which they said they would – Mabuza has won. Saving the Wild is not going to waste another five years fighting it in the courts. We have the advantage in Kwazulu Natal because there is so much evidence of corruption in the courts through bank trails – the corrupt magistrates were so arrogant that they got sloppy. And the links to The Gwala Syndicate are rock solid.
Mabuza is smart, cautious, and incredibly powerful, with a very long list of police and court officials on his payroll – and he cannot be beaten if he is out on bail. We’re not going to waste donor money pretending that we can win this battle. Our only chance is that Mabuza gets locked up without bail, and when it goes to trial the magistrate or judge is of the utmost integrity, as well as the prosecutor. If there is a will there is a way – but the government shows no will.
The South African government is driving our rhinos into extinction by creating conditions that make it impossible to save them.
The shutdown of Rhodis in July last year – DNA rhino forensics testing – is a sly move to conceal the identity of the horns going to Asia. Many of the biggest seizures in Asia last year were in fact either government or private owner stockpile horns; it’s obvious from the way the horns are cut. Worse, by stopping forensics testing, it jeopardizes every case tried in South Africa. This is blatant sabotage.
Worse, the corruption when we make it to a courtroom continues without consequence, and even now in Kruger, the Skukuza court is at risk of being shut down. Police officers and rangers continue to be persecuted for pursuing high level targets and exposing corruption.
We cannot win like this. Something has to give…
Saving the Wild will complete our mission in Zululand, and we will put the ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’ on the global map through our feature documentary. The world will see how the South African government has been playing them for a decade. And then there will be an outcry. And, we hope, the last of the rhinos will be saved.
Eric Nzimande – Blood Rhino Blacklist
On 19 February, via a public platform on Twitter, I sent this message to South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery:
Court President Eric Nzimande under investigation since 2015. Parliament finally suspends him in October 2018 in the wake of international pressure, then nothing. Murders, rapists, poachers continue to walk free. This is your legacy:
“I share your concerns about how long this matter is taking to be finalized but I cannot interfere with the judiciary, ito the separation of powers as provided for in our Constitution. Complaints against Magistrates are handled by the Magistrates Commission before being referred to Parliament.”
-South Africa Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery
And this is how it is in South Africa, present day. Hide behind the Constitution and let murderers and rapists walk free – so long as they throw enough blood money at the judges and magistrates. What is not widely known is that it was Deputy Minister John Jeffery who signed off on all of Nzimande’s rotten post recommendations.
And so if the Magistrates Commission let Nzimande off the hook, then so too is Deputy Minister John Jeffery. We wonder if they are dragging the Magistrates investigation out for so many years until Nzimande retires? Nzimande is suspended with full pay. The next few weeks will be telling.
My security detail when I go to court and am most vulnerable to attacks is provided (for free) by the man who was Nelson Mandela’s Chief of Security during Madiba’s presidential years. Madiba would be horrified if he were still alive and the President of South Africa. And he certainly would not let his ministers use the excuse “separation of powers” while a father repeatedly rapes his 11 year old daughter and the magistrate lets him off claiming he is a “loving father”; one of many rape cases bought through bribery.
Many of the cases connected to the ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’ are either poaching, or rape. These are crimes against humanity as much as it is a theft of our natural heritage.
Keeping in mind Saving the Wild has been contributing to investigations since the start of 2016, first through the grossly incompetent Magistrates Commission, and then through the police investigation – these corrupt justice officials should have been arrested last year. Who exactly is blocking the police investigation this time? Why has no one been arrested? Who is protecting all of these corrupt justice officials?
And perhaps, most telling, why does South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa continue to stay silent on such a monumental issue?
These are the questions that need to be answered. This is the battle that still needs to be won. And Saving the Wild will keep on fighting, because we know enough to know it’s not over yet.
We would like to take this moment to thank all of the celebrity activists who have supported us through our ‘Justice for Rhinos’ campaign. Asking some of the most famous people in the world to wade into a corruption battle is a very big ask, and we are extremely grateful for their support.
19 July 2018. Kruger Ranger, Respect Mathebula, was murdered by a rhino poacher yielding an AK47 weapon. Saving the Wild immediately hit up the intel network in hot pursuit of the killer. Very quickly the name ‘Judas’ was given to us, and we were told he was a Mozambican soldier. And so we waited for him to return, but he didn’t.
The next time the ‘Judas’ target turned up was November 2018 when there was a shootout just across the Kruger/South Africa border into Mozambique territory spanning the Lebombo mountains. A Mozambican policeman/ranger had been shot with an AK47 and was bleeding to death. Through the valiant efforts of a joint Mozambique/South Africa rescue operation, the ranger survived.
Simon Judas Samboca, a Mozambican soldier, was tracked down and arrested on the wildlife reserve, but the attempted murder weapon was never found.
Following this incident, Saving the Wild began supporting intel driven operations in Mozambique, as well as legal watching briefs for court proceedings.
One year later, in November 2019, Judas was convicted with a 14 year sentence for violation of the biodiversity law (5/20917). There wasn’t enough evidence to convict on attempted murder, but a swift 14 year sentence is better than a trial that drags out for years in South Africa, often with interference that leads to acquittal.
We wish we could tell you that the man who murdered Kruger ranger Respect Mathebula is now locked up in jail, but we cannot prove it, even though it certainly looks that way. Many rangers and law enforcement on both sides of the border would agree, if they had a platform to say so.
Rest in peace Respect. You are cherished. Your brothers in arms honour you.
Mozambique, the country that shares a border with Kruger and Zululand, is showing political will. The courts are not dragging out trials for years, and the law is acting as a deterrent with serious jail terms upwards of 12 years. If we are to honour our rangers and police, we must honour them with justice. Well done to all involved.
2019 Convictions include:
Pangolin trafficking 12 years.
Illegal possession of firearms and poaching – 14 years (Judas).
Rhino and elephant poaching – 20 years.
2020 Trials coming up:
19 cases of pangolin trafficking.
10 cases of ivory trafficking.
2 cases of leopard trafficking.
We are confident 2020 is going to be a breakthrough year for our Mozambique chapter, and we will continue to support South Africa’s rhinos from across the border where many of the poachers come from.
We continue to make significant financial contributions to our partners Big Life Foundation for protection of the tusker gene pool and intel driven operations. Specifically, Saving the Wild is covering the intel budget for the area where tuskers tend to spend the majority of their time.
Recently, in a cross border operation, Big Life discovered through their intelligence network that a syndicate was closing in on two of the biggest tuskers: Tim and Tolstoy. It took time and a lot of groundwork, but they set a trap and the syndicate leader and several others were arrested.
There are less than 30 tuskers left on earth, and the Amboseli ecosystem where Big Life patrols is home to some of the biggest, and their genes must be protected, for this life, and for future generations.
Sadly, Tim passed away at the start of February due to natural causes. Perhaps the most famous tusker in the world at the time of his death, he has become an icon for his species.
Saving the Wild is committed to the protection of Tim’s offspring and the tusker gene pool in support of Big Life Foundation. Over the years and decades to come we look forward to sharing stories from the field as we watch his sons rise to be kings.
Zimbabwe – Feed Mana drought program
Saving the Wild together with Mana Pools stakeholders initiated the ‘Feed Mana’ drought intervention back in July after consulting with local vets and ecologists. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was experiencing an unprecedented drought in the wake of climate change, and all around us animals were starving to death. Due to very little rainfall over the summer, there was hardly any grass to be found, and the arid conditions we were witnessing in June was what one would expect to see in November just before the rains.
Mana Pools is home to a handful of iconic elephant bulls who can stand on their back legs to reach the hardest branches. We saw how Boswell, the famous tusker, was trailed during the drought by mothers and babies, as he was able to reach the highest branches while others starved to death with no grass on the ground to feed on. Boswell’s genes live on. And as climate change continues to wreck havoc on earth, the preservation of this tusker gene will go on to save many lives in the future.
Even during times of crisis, such as an unprecedented drought, we have seen elephants show composure and grace that lacks in our own humanity. We have much to learn from these extraordinary modern day dinosaurs.
THE FUTURE: ASIA
Over the course of 2020 Saving the Wild will be supporting a strategically driven project in Asia and tackle the demand for illegal wildlife parts – the end game. We also have absolute proof now that China is making significant leaps in the battle to dismantle poaching syndicates, and they should be commended for this. That story to follow. (watch this space)
THE FUTURE: CLIMATE DISASTER FUND
Saving the wild is pointless if there is no planet. If future generations are to have any future, we feel that every environmental charity in the world has a duty to advocate for and try to save priceless biodiversity affected by climate change disasters. On the 6thof January Saving the Wild launched a US$10 000 climate disaster fund after approaching our major private donors. It might not seem like a lot of money, but it’s 7% of our annual budget and with that we are making a stand.
At the start of the year I was in Australia to see first-hand an apocalyptic wildlife disaster and assist the vets and wildlife carers on the frontline. More than a billion animals have died so far. The summary of the full story below:
From all that I have learned during my two weeks on the frontline is that we are absolutely unprepared for the next climate disaster. Not just Australia, but the world. Next time it could be Africa, or America, or India. We can pounce on roos and koalas, and rush them off to vets, but we sure as hell can’t pounce on rhinos and lions, bears, or tigers.
Humans are being killed in the line of fire, and priceless biodiversity is disappearing right before our eyes. I can understand now why soldiers come back from war and struggle to talk about what they saw. What I experienced in the ash forests will haunt me forever; the sound of silence rings in my ears, and the stench of death stifles my breath. And if we as a global community do not take the lessons from the present, adapt and evolve, there will be no future.
STATEMENT OF ACTIVITIES IN NEW ZEALAND DOLLARS – CHARITY NUMBER CC52014 (Tax exemption status) – For year ended 30 June 2019.
Read the entire financial report on the New Zealand Charities website.
Thank you to everyone who has our back. And thank you to everyone in the Saving the Wild network who continues to risk their lives and their sanity in these tireless efforts to keep saving the wild. We have your back!