+40k tonnes of rhino horn in hand, DEA confident it can regulate domestic trade

2017-07-25 06:30 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town - The Department of Environmental Affairs' (DEA) latest report on the status of rhino poaching in SA between January 2017 and June 2017, confirms a "slight decrease" in poaching nationally.

"A total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos," says The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa.

In Kruger National Park (KNP), Molewa says 243 rhino carcasses were found between January and the end of June 2017, compared to 354 in the same period in 2016, representing "a decrease of 34%".

However, while there has been a decrease in the number of rhino poached in KNP, rhino poaching has increased in other provinces - particularly KZN, which has seen over 130 rhino poached in the province according to Ishaam Abader, DDG at Legal Authorisation Compliance and Enforcement.

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Intensive protection zones

In an attempt to combat the increase of poaching in KZN, Molewa says "Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has begun strengthening its response capacity as an anti-poaching unit in line with the existing Mission Area Joint Operational Center (MAJOC). As part of the plan, they are now in the process of setting up an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) to ensure priority allocation of resources to where it matters most."

The zoning concept in the KNP proves to be a "success" according to Molewa, and therefore "this concept is also being rolled out in other provinces according their specific requirements and circumstances", she says.

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According to the report released on Monday 24 July, intensive protection zoning isn't the only way the DEA aims to protect rhino. "Rhino poaching is a National Priority Crime and we continue to pursue a number of strategies to tackle this problem," says Molewa.

Proposed regulatory measures for domestic rhino horn trade

The DEA has put in place a number of long-term sustainability interventions including the proposed regulatory measures for the Domestic Trade in Rhino Horn, in an attempt to decrease rhino poaching.

Draft regulatory measures, focusing primarily on the domestic trade,were published for public comment in February this year and "all inputs are being considered as part of the current approval process" according to Molewa.

These included specific provisions relating to the export of rhino horn for non-commercial purposes, such as personal use, hunting trophies, research or education and training as provided for by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  

ALSO SEE: SA domestic trade in rhino horn allowed as DEA appeal dismissed

Currently, major concerns have been raised about the online rhino horn auction that is set to take place in August this year, putting South Africa's domestic rhino horn trade parameters as set by CITES to the test, with the DEA stating that it does not allow rhino horn to be traded internationally.

The DEA also issued a statement with a compliance warning, to make the parameters of the sale clear, saying "international trade in rhino horn is, and remains, illegal, and steps will be taken against any individual or group attempting to illegally move rhino horn purchased on the domestic market out of the country."

SEE: First online auction of rhino horn to test SA rules as DEA issues compliance warning

In a previous response the department says it has "developed an electronic database that will capture extensive details on all individual rhino horns in private and government-owned stockpiles and all newly acquired horns, which will be entered into the database on a monthly basis".

According to Molewa on Monday 24 July, the provinces have completed an audit and are now verifying the stock piles and micro-chipping. "These measures will curb the illegal trade of rhino horn," she says.

Abader says while they do not provide exact figures of stock piles, a ballpark figure of the piles weighs "less than 45 tonnes". He also adds that regarding the process of assessing the permits for the upcoming online auction of rhino horn, "none have been issued as yet".

DEA draft regulatory measures

Molewa stresses two important issues regarding domestic trade in rhino horn.

"Firstly, in order to be in possession of rhino horn you need a permit. This is in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 2004 (NEMBA) as well as applicable provincial conservation legislation."

Requirements for the legal export of rhino horn:

  • The horn must have been subjected to DNA profiling
  • The horn must be marked by means of a microchip and a ZA-serial number (as prescribed in the TOPS Regulations)
  • The information of the owner of the rhino horn, and information relating to the markings of the rhino horn, must have been recorded in the national database
  • A CITES export permit, which also needs to make provision for the export as a Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) specimen, that has to be endorsed at the port of exit prior to exportation.

"To facilitate the national coordination of permits for the domestic trade in rhino horn, I will be the issuing authority for permit applications relating to the selling and buying of rhino horn within the borders of the country. However, this arrangement is dependent on the written agreement of MEC’s responsible for the conservation of biodiversity in the nine provinces," says Molewa.

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: 'Vague' rhino horn trade draft regulations questioned

The second important point Molewa raises is that "The commercial international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited in terms of CITES." She adds that "The Department’s Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) as well as those of the provincial conservation departments will continue to monitor compliance with the relevant regulations and requirements."

However many conservationists have raised the point of "why anyone want to buy rhino horn if it could not be onsold illegally to dealers in Asia where it’s worth more per kilogram than gold or heroin? With sophisticated poaching syndicates running circles around highly trained military personnel in the Kruger Park, the cost of protection to private owners is massive. Even storage of horn is at risk from weaponised raids".

SEE: SA domestic rhino horn trade: Devil in the details?

In a previous report Don Pinnock states, the "possibility and inducement of non-compliance is massive. A transaction can only take place with a permit issued by ‘the relevant provincial department’, some of which have been found to license Vietnamese prostitutes as legitimate hunters".

Pinnock says "selling horn beyond South Africa’s borders will be the hoped-for pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow. 

"It needs to be asked, what possible personal use could horn be used for? And who will monitor its use once it disappears into the carving sweatshops of Laos, Burma and other hidden corners of the Golden Triangle? CITES is a trade convention, not a police force , and no longer has any compliance capability." 


 But Molewa remains optimistic that communities can help and are central to SA's anti-poaching strategy. 

"Bringing local communities into the mainstream of conservation is central to our anti-poaching strategies. If our communities, and rural communities in particular have a real, tangible stake in the natural resources sector, we will be able to remove the incentive to become involved in the activities of the transnational organised criminal syndicates involved in rhino poaching," says Molewa.

Molewa reminds the public "to be vigilant and report suspicious activity" relating to rhino poaching and wildlife crime to the relevant authorities.

International and regional cooperation

South Africa has also signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU’s) with Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique and Kenya. "These MOUs have assisted to improve international and regional collaboration and several are currently under implementation," says DEA.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula also says that the “fence will be restored between South Africa and Mozambique” in an attempt to curb poachers from trafficking horn.

She adds that more information is required for improved security along the border. “We are looking at various initiatives and options to ensure we have tight border control in SA," she says.

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"Outside of the these MOU’s South Africa continues its collaboration with international law enforcement networks. We continue to engage in particular with the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)," adds Molewa.

"It is only through working as a collective that we will be able to put an end to rhino poaching," she says.

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