SA to take rhino trade plan to CITES

25 July 2013

A report released by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs has recommended legalising and regulating the rhino horn trade while creating a national fund for increased intelligence, security and awareness to combat rhino poaching in the country.

The Rhino Issue Management report was compiled by a team led by former South African National Parks CEO Mavuso Msimang, following a wide-ranging series of workshops and consultations with non-governmental organisations, communities, traders, professional hunters, ecologists, resource economists and ordinary citizens.

Trade proposal for CITES 2016

The report states “that there is support to include commercial international trade in rhino horn as an integral part of South Africa’s comprehensive response strategy to address the continued illegal killing of rhinos,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This recommendation has formed part of the decision by the Cabinet that South Africa prepares and submits a rhino trade proposal for consideration at the 17th Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016.”

The report’s recommendations had also helped the Department of Environmental Affairs to review and update its rhino response strategy, the department said on Wednesday, adding that it was key to the report’s findings that “there is no single solution to the rhino poaching scourge.

“From this, it is quite clear that our efforts will pragmatically require the employment of a range of strategies along several fronts.”

Security review

The report recommends a review of the country’s existing rhino security strategy, including a serious upgrade of security on the South African border with Mozambique, backed up by agreements to be negotiated with both Mozambique and Zimbabwe that provide for the protection of wildlife in the Kruger National Park.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Environmental Affairs, more than 500 rhinos have been killed for their horn in South Africa since the beginning of the year. The Kruger National Park continues to be the hardest hit, with 321 rhinos poached there since January.

Over the same period, 129 suspected poachers have been arrested, while a number of others have already been sentenced and are serving prison terms. Last year, 135 poaching-related arrests were made.

The government has put a number of initiatives in place to curb poaching, including signing agreements with Asian countries, including Vietnam, where rhino horns are in high demand because of their supposed medicinal qualities.

National rhino fund plan

The Cabinet is also backing the report’s proposal to create a national rhino fund to help attract uniform funding for security, awareness and increasing the number of rangers at South Africa’s conservation parks.

South African National Parks (SANParks) spokesman Paul Daphne, speaking at the release of the report on Wednesday, said SANParks, which had been given R75-million to address rhino poaching this financial year, planned to recruit 150 extra rangers for the Kruger Park National. So far, 72 had been hired.

Fundisile Mketeni, a deputy director-general in the Department of Environmental Affairs, said that while the situation was extremely serious, the rhino species was not about to become extinct.

“The death rate has not yet surpassed the birth rate,” Mketeni said. “But the indicator of success for South Africans and the world will be less rhinos killed. We will continue to improve on our strategies to achieve that.

“We understand this is an emotive issue, you are angry as South Africans,” Mketeni said. “But we can do more with your interventions. We appeal to you to read our strategies and participate. We are in this thing together.”

Mketeni said a national fund would allow civil society, the corporate sector and international funders to make financial contributions to save the rhino. He said there were currently more than 4 000 organisations that collected donations purported to address rhino poaching.

“This is not working; we need to have one central funding mechanism,” he said.

Centralised permit system

Mketeni said the government was doing all it could to combat rhino poaching, but agreed that a lot still needed to be done to clean up the system, including improving security at the country’s borders and dealing with corruption.

Other recommendations in the report include the creation of a centralised permit system and database for live rhino sales, rhino horn sales and rhino hunts.

Presently, professional hunters, hunting outfitters and trainers only register in individual provinces, and if they are non-compliant in one province they can apply to operate in another province.

Legislation strengthening regulation and enforcement in order to prevent abuse of the hunting permit system will soon be passed in Parliament. The draft law will mean that a person who is involved in an illegal restricted activity, but who does not physically carry out the activity, can also be found guilty of an offence.

SAinfo reporter and SAnews.gov.za