#ShockWildlifeTruths: Paris Zoo rhino poaching highlights SA's dire fight

2017-03-08 15:33 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - Conservationists and wildlife-lovers have been outraged by the recent poaching of a rhino in a zoo in Paris, with the incident proving that no rhino is safe any longer. 

Zoo director Thierry Duguet told The Associated Press on Tuesday, 7 March, that the 4-year-old white rhino at the wildlife park near Paris has been shot three times in the head by assailants who stole the animal's horn. 

Duguet said poachers broke into the Thoiry Zoo overnight and used a chain saw to remove the horn from the rhino named Vince. Zookeepers discovered his carcass Tuesday in the rhinoceros' enclosure.

SA's rhino crisis highlighted 

While tragic, the reckless poaching incident highlights - on a global scale - how intense and fearless the criminal industry has become. SA's dire fight against poaching, specifically, also gained more international attention after the Paris incident, as the Thoiry Zoo made specific mention of SA's rhino poaching stats and poaching incidents. 

"In recent years the poaching in South Africa has seen an increase exponentially," the Zoo said in their official statement of Vince's death. 

They make specific reference to the horrid Thula Thula poaching last month, which targeting orphaned baby rhino. "On 21 February, the orphanage dedicated to Thula Thula rhino in South Africa was attacked. The team has been seriously molested and killed several young rhinoceros," the Zoo's statement reads. 

The incident in SA caused an international outcry, with donations and help pouring in from across the globe. 

READ: Anti-poaching community outraged: Donations flood in for attacked rhino orphanage

But even with the help of do-gooders and conservationists, it overwhelmingly shows governmental and other law-making authorities need to back anti-poaching initiatives more radically.

According to the latest report from SA's Department of Environmental Affairs, rhino poaching statistics has dropped significantly from 1 175 incident in 2015 to 1 054 rhino poached in 2016 - an overall 10.3% decline. 

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: 10% rhino poaching decline in 2016 but still 1 054 rhinos too much

Despite this success, the number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park continues to increase. 

This means that poaching of rhino is still very much a lucrative industry for criminals, but that it is getting more and more difficult for poachers to be successful in SA - one of the hardest hit countries for rhino deaths. 

The DEA warned that for SA, poaching was spreading to other provinces within our country. But as seen in the recent Paris poaching, the pandemic has even spread to countries where rhino don't even occur naturally.

Are we doing enough, fast enough? 

If anything, such horrifying crimes - attacks on juvenile animals in protected enclosures - should be reason for more radical interventions on a global scale. It's a clear indication that our rhino resources are running into the red and that criminals are exploiting every avenue possible in order to get their hands on horn. 

There are initiatives to stop the crimes, but the continual rhino slaughter begs the question: is it enough? 

In SA the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros, the multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary approach involving Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the South African National Parks (SANParks), the Department of Defence (as a leader of the SANDF) the South African Police Service (SAPS) and its Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) also known as the Hawks, the State Security Agency (SSA), the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as the provincial conservation authorities, is gaining momentum the DEA says.

'Gaining momentum', however, might not be a good enough status of our biggest hope against rhino poaching, considering the urgency of the matter. Added to this, the DEA is also planning to legalise the domestic sale of rhino horn in SA, a move they hope will ease the pressure. 

This, conservationists say, will only stimulate the market and result in a feeding of a greedy, cold-blooded industry that will mean the end of rhinos for good.  

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: DEA wants to 'clear its house' by selling rhino horn

International measures to curb wildlife crimes are also in place. In March last year, the European Union also adopted an anti-wildlife crime action plan, stating that in order to ensure a sustainable future, wildlife crimes need to be fought on several fronts. 

Adam Cruise, in a Conservation Action Trust article published on Traveller24 on the topic wrote that, "Even though the EU has strict rules for trading endangered species, known as the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which requires all 28 Member States to ensure that illegal wildlife trade is considered a criminal offence in their national law, there are great differences in the level of implementation and enforcement of these instruments amongst the different Member States, especially among central and eastern European countries.

"In 2013-14, only 11 EU countries imposed prison sentences on wildlife criminals," Cruise said. 

But in March 2016 the new anti-wildlife crime action plan meeting outlined 32 measures to be carried out between then and 2020, with one of the important measures stating that wildlife trafficking would be considered as a grave and serious crime.

This meant convicted poachers, smugglers and illegal trophy hunters will face harsher sentencing - if caught.  

READ: Wildlife trafficking crackdown: EU adopts anti-wildlife crime action plan

The Paris poachers, however, are yet to be apprehended and police are still investigating the matter. If caught and sentenced according to the new EU law for wildlife trafficking, they could face four years imprisonment. The question remains: is it enough for a crime that is wiping out one of the world's most iconic species? 

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