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More rhetoric from government won’t save rhino

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In a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday on the rhino poaching crisis, government provided little hope for rhino as speaker after speaker  lamented the rhino poaching statistics, repeating the same tired  calls to save the rhino but giving few concrete proposals as to how this could be done. Little detail was provided on the promised introduction of responsive legislation and policy amendments, nor on plans for innovative new measures to bolster rhino numbers and the vigorous pursuit of interventions for long term sustainability.

Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa’s  speech failed to deliver much of any real significance, apart from reiterating  that SA will continue to explore the feasibility of a legal trade in rhino horn and that the Cabinet Inter-Ministerial Committee and the Panel of Experts “are considering all options but have made no decision.”

The Minister has strangely refused to name the members this Panel of Experts when questioned at a media briefing last month, despite their names all having been published in the media. The Panel consists entirely of  well known supporters of the  pro horn trade movement and this, coupled with the highly restrictive Areas Work as defined by the Panel, make it unlikely that  any objections to the governments pro trade stance will  be tolerated.

The debate whether or not to trade rhino horn has polarised the South African Conservation community but international opinion is firmly against trade, leaving South Africa isolated and risking huge reputational damage when it’s bid for trade in rhino fails at COP17 in Cape Town in 2016.

Terri Stander, DA Deputy Shadow Minister of Environmental Affairs called on government ministers to take responsibility for allowing the poaching crisis to escalate, saying that “in 2010 a great National strategy for the safety and security of Rhinoceros populations in South Africa was developed; but in four years little has come of it…Frilly statements can be convincing, but the lack of results is more convincing.  The only thing lacking is genuine, collective, political will.”

She urged Molewa to scrap the current rhion poaching policing structure, indicating that rhino poaching has to be prioritised with a dedicated intelligence desk to develop strategies that a national organisation consisting of vetted stakeholder representatives can coordinate. She also pointed out that not one poacher above a level one offence has been arrested to date.

“A number of parties emphasized the lack of political will to address the causes of poaching and this is the real issue,” remarked Francis Garrard of the Conservation Action Trust, who witnessed the debate from the gallery. “The Minister also failed to explain why the vague MOU which was signed with Mozambique in April has not yet led to a comprehensive Implementation Agreement,” he added.

Stander also noted that, despite Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s insistent statement that hot pursuits were happening across the Mozambican border “all the time”, SAPS representatives had admitted that the hot pursuit claim was nothing but hot air.  “It is necessary to facilitate the process to change the rules of engagement and issue the relevant notices, get formal, written, hot pursuit agreements in place; and sign extradition treaties to prosecute suspects in South Africa,” stated Stander.

Up to 12, armed invasions originate from Mozambique in the Kruger National Park on a daily basis, a threat to the very sovreignity of South Africa which the South African Defence Force seems unable to prevent.

Some good news came from Deputy Minister of Police, who announced the formation of a dedicated Rhino poaching Special Investigative Unit. The unit is located within the SAPS Cross-Border Unit and its members will include  detective heads of the member countries of Southern African Police Chiefs Co-operation Organisation (SARPPCO) member states.

In the wake of the debate, Jason Bell of the International Fund for Wildlife posted a searing criticism of Molewa’s stance, saying, “We have grown weary of South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa’s weak argument that South Africa, through its Constitution, aspires to protect rhinos through a philosophy of sustainable utilisation of natural resources.”

“Her “strategy” ignores a host of biological, ecological and ethical values, emphasizing only the economic value of rhinos,” he continued.

“Whether they be dead or alive. The view that putting rhino horn back into the marketplace through legal means as part of a sustainable use approach, is also wholly counter-intuitive. There is nothing sustainable about the current rhino crisis. Until the South African Government refocus their attention to tackling the criminal syndicates involved in the slaughter of South Africa’s rhinos, all else will be futile.”

Main Photo: (Michael Lorentz)
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