Is South Africa a Worthy CoP17 Host?

Stephen Wiggins Article, Petition 12 Comments

In September 2016, CITES will convene the Conference of Parties (CoP17) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

CITES CoP17 Logo

However, questions have to be raised of the host nation, namely the South African Minister for Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa who will be welcoming delegates and hosting events at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg.

This is the same Minister that continues to oversee a country that houses some 200 ‘canned’ farms where lions and other big cats are ‘bred for the bullet,’ where wildlife poaching is increasing and prosecutions of some of those accused of rhino poaching crimes never seem to face trail for their wrong doing. A country that seeks to expand animal exploitation, not reduce it:


South Africa attempts to surreptitiously ‘legalise’ rhino horn harvesting and now South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa “pre-empts” (but this has been denied by Edna Molewa, 17 March 2016)  recommendations of the on-going ‘Committee of Inquiry’ (due to issue final report on commercial rhino horn trading, April 2016) within the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) budget document statement (Estimates of National Expenditure, 24 February 2016) – Source: Investigative Journalist, Julian Redemeyer, Annamiticus, 17 March 2016

Well, it’s plain to see in the actual DEA budget document that Edna Molewa is in denial, as the ‘Committee of Inquiry’ decision has indeed been pre-empted, or why would there be any need to state the submission to CITES of rhino horn trade proposals in February 2016? :

“The projected increased expenditure in the Administration programme and the Biodiversity and Conservation programme over the medium term is for the department to host the 17th conference of the parties (COP 17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in September and October 2016. South Africa will submit its rhino horn trade proposal at CITES COP 17. The proposal aims to reduce rhino poaching, as it promotes the legal selling of rhino horn. If this were implemented, the sales could generate significant revenue to supplement conservation funding” – Estimates of National Expenditure, 24 February 2016, page 3

Last May, a group of international wildlife conservation experts warned that even the suggestion of opening the global trade in rhino horn would almost certainly increase the risk of poaching.”

South Africa’s official approach to rhino conservation involves a contradiction. While calling for the protection of rhinos as a species, it promotes their use as a resource to be exploited for human gain. It is bound to fail” – Professor David Bilchitz, courtesy of Conservation Action Trust

Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand, October 2015 – “We find that a legal trade will increase profitability, but not the conservation of rhino populations” –  By Douglas J. Crookes, James N. Blignaut , Journal for Nature Conservation.

South Africa also maintains CITES hunting quotas for rhino, but rhino hunting is not compatible with conservation, because it sends out the tacit message that it is OK for a paying hunter to kill a rhino, so why shouldn’t a poacher also seek to profit from a similar animal’s demise?

Rhino Hunting is not Compatible with Conservation,” Professor David Bilchitz, Daily Maverick, 14 March 2016

“….Edna Molewa recently refused to impose a moratorium on the issuing of hunting permits for rhinos.”

She [Edna Molewa] insisted that the legal international trade in live rhino and the export of hunting trophies poses a low risk to the survival of the species in South Africa and should be allowed to continue. In this, she is tragically wrong. There is an extremely close link between legal hunting and poaching, which the minister is unwilling to acknowledgeSource: Daily Maverick, 14 March 2016

In her [Edna Molewa’s] approach, the minister views rhinos instrumentally — that they only matter to the extent that they are useful to humans. By this ethic, individual animals have no moral worth other than in terms of the money we can gain from their lives (through tourism) and their deaths (through hunting). Conservation, for the minister, is only about ensuring there will be rhinos in the future that we can exploit“- Source: Professor David Bilchitz, Annamiticus, 23 March 2016

White rhino (Ceratotherium simum) – CITES Appendix I listed, with a total population of 20,409, or less. Poached for rhino horn. South Africa and Swaziland exempted from CITES Appendix I.

Petition – “CITES UPGRADE OUR RHINO TO APPENDIX 1” – South African Fight for Rhino

Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) – CITES Appendix I listed, with a total wild population estimate of just 5,042 to 5,455 rhinos (IUCN 2015 estimates). Poached for rhino horn. Namibia and South Africa both had CITES quotas of 5 in 2015.

South Africa’s rich wildlife heritage is imperilled unless our policies and practices are rooted in respect for the individual interests and welfare of animals. This requires, for instance, that a moratorium be imposed on rhino trophy hunting. South Africa needs to send a clear message that we care about the animals that share our land for their own sake, not simply for the pursuit of profit” – Source: Professor David Bilchitz, Annamiticus, 23 March 2016

Since 2013, “rogue South African trophy hunters are directly involved in “a mad scramble” to poach rhinos and get their horns out of the Kruger National Park,” Daily Maverick, 8 July 2013

Fund raising for anti-poaching equipment for Balule Nature Reserve (Greater Kruger) in the absence of sufficient authority support.

Rhino Vinnie

Fund raising to help baby rhino, Vinnie (pictured above) reach safe sanctuary.

Rhino poached at SanWild

Link to graphic SanWild video showing the true brutality (pictured above) of rhino poachers as they attack and hack without mercy or compassion (not recommended for sensitive viewers……), plus the bravery of the anti-poaching units that confront them.

African Lion

South Africa’s first Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for the African Lion, 7 April 2015 (Gazette No. 38706), seeks to encourage the trade in lion bones and recommends that wild lion populations should be downgraded from the current IUCN status of “Vulnerable” to “Least Concern” in South Africa, mainly because of the ‘stability’ offered by all the 7,000 ‘canned’ lions held in the 200 odd ‘canned’ farms across South Africa.

It has been widely acknowledge elsewhere, that these ‘canned’ farm population are genetically mutated through poor breeding and offer no conservation value in that regard.

The ‘plan’ was prepared in co-operation with “associated stakeholders,” including and the plan remains ‘current’ though it is now clearly even more out-dated in regard to its casual assessment of ‘canned’ farming in light of hunting trophy import restrictions now based upon proven sustainability and proven contribution to conservation.This South African BMP is ‘current’ at the same time when every other truly concerned organisation is seeking to ‘uplist’ the African lion from CITES Appendix II to the higher protection of CITES Appendix I at the next CITES CoP17.

South Africa’s justification for reducing lion protections is based on bad science. Their Department of Environmental Affairs claims that there are about 1,600 mature individual lions in South Africa, and that when the population tops 1,500, the IUCN’s Red List should change the status of the species. But any recent lion population data is clearly missing for any scientific based decisions to be made.

The last lion survey was done in Kruger National Park in 2005 – nearly 11 years ago. According to Dr. Pieter Kat of LionAid, “you cannot use [that data] in any management plan as it is well beyond the ‘sell by’ date.” And the Management Plan itself admits that truly “wild” lions (those outside of protected reserves) have not been studied at all. Until more research takes place, there just isn’t the science available to make sound decisions regarding the management of wild lions in South Africa.

Petition – For South Africa to withdraw its current BMP for the African lion
Petitions – To enhance the protection and status of the African lion


When will South Africa consider revising its wildlife ‘thinking’ and planning away from profiteering from animal exploitation?

If South Africa were to table a proposal to lift the ban on the international rhino horn trade at the CITES COP 17 “they are going to lose badly”” says Will Travers, President of the Born Free Foundation

Travers warns that the reputational damage for the host country could be substantial if the conference “was remembered for South Africa getting badly beaten over a very ill-conceived proposal which should never have come to the floor in the first place” – Will SA Legalise Rhino Horn Trade?” Conservation Action Trust, 17 March 2016

From the outside, South Africa still seems to be struggling with its National Identity in the wider context. But does South Africa want to continue to embrace an image of state complicit animal/wildlife exploitation as well, to further tarnish Nelson Mandela’s hard fought for legacy?


About the author: David Bilchitz is a Professor at the University of Johannesburg and Director of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC). He is also Secretary-General of the International Association of Constitutional Law. He has presented a more academic version of this argument at a conference at Harvard University on Animals and the Constitution, Can the Environmental Rights in the South African Constitution Offer Protection for the Interests of Animals?


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    1. Post
      Stephen Wiggins

      Martin, Thank you for the link – I have just been reading about the ‘alleged’ connection between South Africa’s Minister of State for Security, David Mahlobo and Chinese trafficking syndicates for rhino horn etc. The corruption and infestation of collaborators seeking to ‘utilise’ and profit from wildlife is shocking – South Africa needs to change its stance on wildlife ‘utilisation’ and the message it sends that promotes additional illicit activity to ‘cash-in,’ before it accelerates key species to extinction.

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