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Rhino poaching takes toll on heritage tourism

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Cape Town – President Jacob Zuma should directly engage the heads of South Africa’s neighbouring countries – especially Mozambique – to help bring an immediate end to rhino poaching, says former deputy environment minister Bantu Holomisa.

Speaking during Tuesday’s parliamentary debate on rhino poaching and its impact on South Africa’s heritage, the UDM leader warned that poaching was taking its toll on heritage tourism, one of the country’s most economically lucrative sectors.

South Africa was losing the poaching battle and the nation was embarrassed when “acts of criminality and cruelty” were committed in collusion with local officials.

Jackson Mthembu, chairman of the environmental affairs portfolio committee who introduced the debate, said poaching threatened “not only our heritage but also our security as a country and as a people”. South Africa’s conservation efforts and its “well-earned reputation” for saving rhino from extinction were being reversed and negated by “well moneyed and resourced” international crime syndicates.

More than 3 400 rhinos had been poached since 2006, mainly for their horn – more than 1 000 of them last year, while the figure this year was already more than 700 “and rising”, Mthembu said.

“We cannot allow this, as a people and as a country. We have a duty and an obligation to defend and protect this heritage. We all have a duty to spare the rhino for present and future generations.”

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said rhinos had been “emblematic” of Africa and its people “since the dawn of time”.

“The fight to protect rhinos goes way beyond the protection of a species – it’s intrinsically tied to our heritage… it’s what makes us South Africans.”

Referring to the government’s plan to move up to 500 rhinos from poaching hotspots in the Kruger National Park to safe areas elsewhere in the park and around the country, Molewa said this was one of a number of new interventions being applied to save the species. Such “translocations” had been used successfully in the past and had resulted in scientifically verified population increases.

Taking an increasingly military approach alone to poaching would not work, and the government’s strategy included awareness campaigns both locally and in user countries, as well as creating new economic opportunities in communities adjoining rhino areas, Molewa said. “It’s key that we involve communities every step of the way.”

But Terri Stander of the DA said that 736 rhinos had been killed this year, and she accused the cabinet of not taking sufficient steps to stop the “relentless massacre”.

“Ministers shouldn’t whine like spoiled children but need to take responsibility. The only thing lacking is the genuine political will to solve this problem.”

She brandished a list with the names of 72 “suspected poachers”, saying none had even been properly investigated, let alone convicted. “You can even call them on the listed telephone numbers.”

Stander argued that there was no credible national, co-ordinated anti-poaching strategy or structure, with the Hawks, police, National Prosecuting Authority and private rhino owners all operating in isolation. “No one knows who to trust due to reports of government officials, police and rangers being embroiled in syndicates.”

She called on Molewa to create a new structure consisting of “vetted stakeholder representatives”.

For the article in the Cape Argus click here.

Main Photo: Michael Lorentz

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