The ongoing scourge of rhino poaching in our country is an area of great concern to this government and ordinary South Africans.
South Africa has a proud track record of successful rhino conservation and has the highest number of White Rhinos on the continent. At the end of 2007 South Africa had conserved 35% of Africa’s black rhino in the wild and 93% of the continent’s white rhino.
We would like to urge all our communities to work with our law enforcement agencies and Game Parks Authorities to stop this looting of our national treasures.
Rhino poaching is a crime that is undoubtedly fuelled by a thriving black market trade in rhino horn. Since January this year, a total of 279 Rhinos have been poached, with 169 of them in the Kruger National Park.
The intensification of our anti-rhino poaching activities has seen 155 suspects arrested in relation to rhino poaching activities this year. Of these arrests, 65 were for rhino poaching related activities in Kruger National Park. For this I must commend the work of the 300 rangers and SANParks investigators, our security cluster departments among them being Defense, SAPS and State Security, who are at the forefront of fighting and preventing poaching.
Although the National Prosecuting Authority has dedicated prosecutors working on the rhino poaching cases, those who are operators in the field of rhino conservation and South Africans at large, who bear the brunt of this scourge, feel that cases take a long while before being concluded and also that the rate of prosecutions are still too low. Cooperation with the South African Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority is however being enhanced and we could soon have a prioritisation of the rhino cases.
Together with our various stakeholders, we have developed a holistic approach to tackle rhino poaching.
The investigations and intelligence gathering of rhino cases is overseen by a National Joints Operation structure (NatJoints) and the National Strategy for the Safety and Security of Rhinoceros and rhino horns in South Africa is being implemented by both the NatJoints and the interim National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCRU) across the country. We continue to strengthen our biodiversity enforcement and monitoring capacities to ensure compliance with our biodiversity legislation.
We commend the cooperation between enforcement units such as the SAPS organised crime units, the HAWKS, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, INTERPOL and The National Prosecuting Authority. The work done by South African National Parks in coordinating the NWCRU and finding innovative ways to fight this scourge is commendable.
The anti-poaching ability of the Kruger National Park has been increased by approximately 57 rangers in the last year. We also welcome the return of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to monitor the 350km of national border in Kruger National Park and other country borders.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recently commended our efforts as a country in curbing rhino poaching and the scourge of illegal trade in rhino horn at its sixty-first (61st) meeting of Standing Committee held in Geneva, Switzerland.
The CITES Standing Committee noted that rhino poaching and illegal trade in rhino horns is a phenomenon which is also occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Mozambique, Nepal and Zimbabwe.
South Africa's experience and interventions measures in fighting the illegal trade were well received and other member states affected by the same problem were encouraged to follow suit. CITES further appealed to consumer states to further improve controls and enforcement relating to the illegal trade in rhino horns.
The need for cooperation with Vietnam and Mozambique, among other countries is a priority for us. The Vietnamese delegation led by their Vice Prime Minister visited South Africa recently and we agreed to finalise a Memorandum of Understanding on wildlife trafficking. In September this year, we are expecting a Vietnamese technical delegation to specifically discuss wildlife management.
The relationship with Mozambique has to be strengthened to assist in the anti poaching and other wildlife crime issues. In a recently held bilateral security meeting between Mozambique and South Africa it was suggested in the Committee on Public Security that operations on anti rhino poaching should be elevated to a priority for both countries and that a cross border strategy for the safety of wildlife be developed within the next six months.
I am also considering additional measures that I aim to implement to arrest this scourge of poaching in our country. It is my intention to also engage with the various provincial Environment MECs to look at the possibility of placing a moratorium on the hunting of rhinoceros. This is one of a number of measures I am contemplating to further strengthen interventions to ensure that our rhino populations are conserved.
Before exercising my power in terms of section 57(2) (a) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (Biodiversity Act) I will consult with the MECs and follow a clear consultation process as prescribed in the Act.
Currently, the provincial conservation authorities issues permits for the sport hunting of rhino and an unfortunate challenge we are facing, in terms of the permitting of rhino hunting, is the abuse of the system by unscrupulous individuals.
Illegal hunting and the abuse of the permit system may be the main threats that could impact on the survival of rhinoceros in the wild in the near future.
To address the abuse of the permit system, the MEC’s and I recently approved the amendment of the norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros horn and hunting of white rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes.
Among others, these amendments will include the following:
• Provincial conservation officials must supervise rhino hunts and while attending these hunts the identity of the hunter must be verified.
• The official that attends the hunt must provide the Department of Environmental Affairs with the permit number, the information on the back of the permit and the microchip numbers.
• Official must take DNA samples after the hunt.
As promised the three studies that the Department is undertake will further inform the process going forward. The dehorning possibility impact study has been initiated and will be concluded within the next three months. The Terms of Reference for the two other studies, i.e. the feasibility study to determine the viability of legalising trade in rhino horn in South Africa; and the global competitive market research assessment study, have been advertised and the closing date for proposals is 2 September 2011.
We will continue to work with all our communities, provinces, game parks authorities, counterparts at sub-regional and regional levels and internationally including through CITES structures.
To view the briefing documents click on the links below.
Rhino poaching statistics:
Interventions to Address Illegal Killing of Rhinos: