As soon as a wildlife species becomes a commodity to be utilised, it’s all about the numbers – farmed and wild populations, market value, death rates and projections – the nonsensical demand curve, the eagerness to supply, the species’ likelihood of survival in the wild…….these ‘numbers’ become more stark when the species in question is in perilous decline.
On Monday, 24 July 2017, Minister Molewa, The Republic of South Africa, Department: Environmental Affairs (DEA) presented a statement (video link here) regarding South Africa’s on-going rhino strategy and the state of the wild populations within South Africa. Attendees included South Africa’s Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo (implicated last year in alleged links to rhino traffickers). The DEA’s ‘position’ being ‘informed’ by a month-long Rhino Laboratory held last year.
In terms of rhino poaching in 2017 – “There has been a slight decrease in the number of rhino poached 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” – DEA, 24 July 2017
But if one excludes the poaching statistcs reported from the Kruger National Park (KNP), rhino poaching has so far risen by 52% nationally in 2017 compared with 2016 – giving cause for considerable concern:
- Between Jan-Jun 2017: 529 poached, 243 from KNP (so 286 nationally);
- Between Jan-Jun 2016: 542 poached, 354 from KNP (so 188 nationally);
The projections suggest that again, over 1,000 rhino will be poached in South Africa by year end, with the targeting spreading away from the Kruger National Park.
“Internationally renowned rhino expert Dr Richard Emslie said that the latest poaching statistics were disappointing and indicative of continued strong demand for black-market rhino horns…….Emslie, a member of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), noted that the latest statistics were likely to reflect minimum poaching rates “ since not all carcasses were likely to be found immediately in vast landscapes such as Kruger“” – Source: Daily Maverick, 24 July 2017
The DEA also reported an alarming increase in elephant poaching within the KNP, which suggests the criminal networks are expanding and diversifying their activities, not diminishing:
“It is with concern that we also report that in 2017, 30 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park. The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat.”
Domestic Rhino Horn Trade
The DEA’s draft regulations for ‘domestic’ trade in rhinoceros horn are progressing – noting that all public “inputs are being considered as part of the current approval process” – DEA, 24 July 2017
But the risks of the loopholes and the negative consequences of such ‘domestic’ regulations are presumably being ignored as the DEA robustly defends the provision for export (with all permits necessary) for ‘personal use’ and states emphatically that:
“the commercial international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited” [apart from the obvious loopholes that can be exploited for export for ‘personal use’ of course] “in terms of CITES. That is correct, Ladies and Gentlemen, prohibited. South Africa is a signatory to CITES. The aforementioned draft regulations published for public comment relate to a proposed domestic trade.”
There was no mention in Minister Molewa’s presentation of the proposed rhino horn auction to be held in August by rhino breeder, John Hume. It has been reported that Minster Molewa was unaware of any such auction:
“One rhino farmer, John Hume, is already broadcasting an on-line horn auction with websites in English, Chinese and Vietnamese, although Molewea said she had not heard of this” – eTurbo News, 25 July 2017.
However, Minister Molewea’s own department, the DEA issued a statement raising concerns about these auctions on 17 July 2017 – “Department Environmental Affairs concerned about false impression created about domestic trade in rhino horn,” 17 July 2017.
So, does the DEA’s rhino strategy and latest statistics give cause for hope? Well, without increased levels of swift and harsh prosecutions for illicit behaviour at all levels, then ‘hope’ is muted:
Of the South Africans from the gaming industry arrested for rhino-related offences only “two were sentenced to jail time, while more than 93% were granted bail. Shockingly, seventeen of them were repeat offenders, and more than 20% worked in the veterinary field.” This analysis included the notorious Groenewald Gang, still to face justice for their rhino-related crimes from 2010 – IWB, 19 July 2017
If one intends to profit from the commercial exploitation of rhino for their horn, by pseudo-legal and/or illicit means, then yes, hope is given. In the meantime, the survival of the species in the wild looks less certain.
When one reads that the State has a reported stockpile of some 45 tonnes of rhino horn (conservatively estimated as worth some $1.3bn), then the incentive to export rhino horn stockpiles out of South Africa at some point becomes crystal clear – of course, the DEA is keen to point out that “….the commercial international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited in terms of CITES” but of course, the DEA have clearly promoted (within its ‘domestic’ regulations) loop-holes to exploit:
“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)” – DEA, 24 July 2017
The DEA’s draft regulations for ‘domestic’ trade in rhinoceros horn were indeed “published for public comment in February this year. All inputs are being considered as part of the current approval process” – but negative inputs are being duly ignored by the DEA it would seem.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the numbers – but the rhino’s numbers are being driven by the $$$s to be made by the rhino’s ‘utilisation’ by all parties concerned.