28 June 2012
Funding worth R25-million from the World Bank-administered Global Environment Facility (GEF) will assist the South African government in its bid to stop rhino poaching and the illegal international trade in rhino horns, the Environmental Affairs Department said on Wednesday.
The funding will be used to strengthen wildlife forensic and enforcement capabilities. “The allocation is a shot in the arm for efforts by government to fight rhino poaching,” the department said in a statement.
Advances in the field of science have made it possible to use DNA analysis in the examination of evidence for a variety of legal issues involving wild animals.
In this vein, the Environmental Affairs Department plans to sign a memorandum of understanding with the University of Pretoria to facilitate future collaboration in the analysis of rhino DNA.
Revised norms and standards
The funding from the GEF comes two months after the government gazetted revised norms and standards concerning how samples are to be taken for DNA analysis.
According to the revised norms, samples are to be collected from the hunted animal and the hunting trophy, including horns, to verify the legality of the hunt.
Samples may also only be collected by either a registered veterinarian responsible for the darting of live rhinos; an official from the issuing authority trained in the collection of samples; or the official or environmental management inspector who attended the hunt and is trained in the collection of samples.
The funding also comes as a South African government delegation prepares to visit Hong Kong to take DNA samples of the rhino horns confiscated by the Hong Kong authorities in November last year.
Thirty-three pieces of rhino horn, 127 pieces of ivory bracelets and 759 pieces of ivory chopsticks were found in the shipment.
The DNA will be taken on these horns and matched with the samples in the current DNA database; matches may provide evidence that could be used in further prosecutions.
“The South African government would like to urge all non-government organisations and organisations involved in fighting rhino poaching to continue working together with law enforcement agencies and research institutions to utilise science-based evidence for the conviction of alleged poachers,” the department said.
South Africa is home to approximately 22 000 white and black rhinos, of which 12 000 are found in the Kruger National Park. This represents 93% of the world’s total rhino population.
“The South African population is one of the last viable rhino populations in the world which makes it vulnerable,” the department said in a statement.
“South Africa is therefore the remaining hope for the world in terms of rhino conservation.”