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Rhino poaching increases after South Africa eases lockdown restrictions
3 May 2021, 5:33 PM

Rhino poaching is on the rise again in South Africa since the government loosened coronavirus restrictions, following a year-long lull due to the pandemic, wildlife parks say.

The strict limits on travel, including international travel, imposed in March last year had the happy side effect of keeping poachers at bay. In 2020, 394 rhinos were poached, 30% fewer than the year before and the lowest yearly tally since 2011.

But then South Africa began easing international travel restrictions in November.

“Since November, December last year and into 2021, this landscape and particularly Kruger National Park has been experiencing serious numbers of rhino poaching incidents,” says Jo Shaw, the Africa Rhino Lead for WWF International Network.

She declined to say how many incidents had occurred.

“There is a very real and realised threat as poaching pressure has increased since lockdown perhaps to meet the demand from the international markets,” she said.

Rhino poaching often involves both local poachers and international criminal syndicates that smuggle the high-value commodity across borders, often to Asia where demand is high.

Their methods are cruel: rhinos are sometimes shot with a tranquiliser gun before the horn is hacked off, resulting in the animal being left to bleed to death, Save the Rhino said on its website.

Other rhinos are killed with high-powered hunting rifles before the horn is removed, said Julian Rademeyer, director of the organised crime observatory for east and southern Africa at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

Reserves, which have been battling tighter budgets amid a coronavirus-induced lull in tourism, have also been forced to cut back on anti-poaching patrols, compounding the threat to rhinos.

Some reserves use dehorning as a way to prevent armed poachers from taking advantage of easier cross-border travel.

Veterinarians cut the horn at the stub, rather than removing it all, which prevents the rhino from bleeding to death. Balule Nature Reserve, located in the greater Kruger system has de-horned 100 rhinos since April 2019.

The country’s environmental ministry is expected to release its 2021 half-year poaching figures at the end of June.

“As restrictions over time have become less, there has been an uptick in poaching as a result,” said Rodemeyer.

South Africa has about 16 000 rhinos located within its borders, Frances Craigie, chief director of enforcement at the environmental ministry told Reuters.

But relentless poaching and drought in the North-East region has hit the rhino population hard. In the Kruger National Park, the number of rhinos has plummeted almost more than two-thirds in the last decade to around 3 800 in 2019 from 11 800 rhinos in 2008, a South African National Parks report showed.

IPL game postponed due to COVID-19 cases
3 May 2021, 1:55 PM

Monday’s Indian Premier League (IPL) match had to be rescheduled after two players tested positive for COVID-19, raising doubts over the fate of this year’s edition of the world’s richest Twenty20 tournament.

The match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders was postponed hours before its scheduled start in Ahmedabad after two Kolkata players tested positive.

“Varun Chakaravarthy and Sandeep Warrier were found to be positive in the third round of testing in the last four days,” the league said in a statement.

“All other team members have tested negative for COVID-19.”

IPL authorities did not give more details but local media reported that spinner Chakaravarthy had left the bio-bubble for a shoulder scan after which the positive cases were reported.

“…Kolkata Knight Riders have now moved towards a daily testing routine to identify any other possible cases and treat them at the earliest,” the league said.

KKR’s medical team was tracing close contacts of both the players, it added.

ESPNcricinfo reported that three non-playing members of the Chennai Super Kings, including chief executive Kasi Viswanathan and bowling coach L. Balaji, also tested positive on Sunday.

The trio went for another round of testing on Monday to rule out the possibility of false-positive reports, ESPNcricinfo said.

Chennai officials were not immediately available to confirm.

A senior Indian cricket board official told Reuters last week that the league would continue as planned, defying fierce social media criticism for staging the tournament amid India’s national coronavirus crisis.

Australian players Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa, and Kane Richardson cut short their IPL stints and returned home.

India on Monday reported more than 300 000 new coronavirus cases for a 12th straight day.

IPL chairman Brijesh Patel did not respond to requests for comment but a member of the league’s governing council said there was no threat of the tournament being called off.

“We are investigating how the infection happened but we have full confidence in the bio-bubble arrangements. It’s totally secure,” the member told Reuters by telephone requesting anonymity.

Last year’s IPL was staged in the United Arab Emirates because of the pandemic.

The UAE is also the backup venue for this year’s Twenty20 World Cup which is scheduled to take place in India in October-November.

Israeli state watchdog to investigate religious festival stampede
3 May 2021, 1:40 PM

Israel’s government watchdog said on Monday it would open an investigation into the death of 45 people crushed in a stampede at a Jewish religious festival last week.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said his office, which audits the government, would look into the circumstances surrounding the event at Mount Meron in the Galilee region.

“I wish to announce today that I intend to open a special audit that will investigate the circumstances that led to this tragedy,” he told reporters.

Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday after one of its worst civilian disasters. Six US citizens were among the dead, along with two Canadians, a British citizen, and an Argentinian.

Englman’s office can examine and make public its findings, but cannot bring criminal charges. Many in Israel have called on the government to form a higher-level committee with greater authority to investigate what happened.

The comptroller’s office had several years ago labelled as hazardous the Mount Meron compound in northern Israel where the festival took place overnight last week between Thursday and Friday.

Questions have been raised as to whether the government and police were reluctant to limit the crowd size at the site so as not to anger influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised an investigation after the deaths.

His mandate to form a new government, after an inconclusive March 23 election, expires on Wednesday. Public calls to determine responsibility for the incident look likely to be an issue for any incoming administration.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the annual B’Omer celebration that includes all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

At some point a large crowd pushed its way into a narrow tunnel and 45 people, including children, were asphyxiated or trampled.

Englman said he would investigate the actions of all groups leading up to and during the festival – “from the level of decision-makers to those in the field, including law enforcement.”

He would also examine the compound’s upkeep over the years and whether previous failings had been dealt with.

A third objective will be to come up with a strategy for handling large-scale religious events in Israel in order to”prevent a repeat of this kind of tragedy”.

The Justice Ministry has separately said it will look into whether there had been any police misconduct.

VIDEO: Weekly Global COVID-19 Wrap, 30 April
30 April 2021, 3:38 PM

In this week’s Global COVID-19 Wrap, SABC News captures highlights from all corners of the globe, as the number of confirmed infections worldwide continues to rise.

Currently, the COVID-19 cases worldwide stand at over 151.1 million with more than 129.1 million recoveries and deaths at 3 180 150 million.

In South Africa, the number of confirmed cases has surpassed the 1.5 million mark, whilst the death toll has risen to 54 331.

On the rest of the continent, 52 African Union Member States have so far reported 4 587 788 cases; with over 121 848 deaths and 4 112 028 recoveries.

COVID-19 stories making headlines around the world:

The Art of freedom: SA artists depict “freedom”
27 April 2021, 8:00 AM

As South Africans commemorate Freedom Day, artists have depicted freedom in their work.

In their own words, the artists tell stories of  South African’s perception of freedom.

The artworks showcase the artist’s view of the country’s current reality, past and future.

Titled: Sharpeville

Artist: Semi Lubisi ( @semi_sa )

“This painting is a representation of one of the events that led to the Liberation & Freedom of South Africa.” –  Semi Lubisi

The events of the 21st March 1960, where the Apartheid Police Force fired on a crowd of Black people, killing or wounding some 250 of them in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging. It was one of the first and most violent demonstrations against apartheid in South Africa.

The protest was against the Pass Laws, thousands of people left their passes at home and marched to Sharpeville Police Station to surrender themselves for refusing to carry passes chanting freedom songs and calling out the campaign slogans “Izwe lethu” (Our land); “Awaphele amapasti” (Down with passes); “Sobukwe Sikhokhele” (Lead us Sobukwe); “Forward to Independence, Tomorrow the United States of Africa.”

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