As the government inches closer to selling rhino horns to China and other eastern nations as a way to curb poaching, fresh questions are being raised on what guarantees can be made that the revenue will be spent on rhino conservation.
Six years ago, South Africa sold more than 51 tons of elephant ivory to Japan and China, but it remains unclear whether an independent audit was ever conducted to verify exactly how the R60 million proceeds were spent.
The once-off sale of government ivory stockpiles in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe in 2008 was sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) on condition that the four nations spent the money “exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant range”.
Cites also requested the countries “provide a short report” on how the proceeds of the sale would be spent. In 2009 Botswana and Zimbabwe provided detailed expenditure reports, and Namibia provided detailed examples of how its ivory revenue would be used.
Zimbabwe, for example, bought 10 Nissan patrol vehicles and four Toyota 4x4s and said supporting documents for all the transactions were available for inspection.
South Africa reported that it had set up a national steering committee to ensure that funds for the ivory sale complied with Cites requirements – but did not provide a detailed breakdown at the time on how funds might be used by the four beneficiaries (SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Mpumalanga Parks and North West Parks).
This week, in response to requests to provide a detailed expenditure breakdown, SAN-Parks said: “In accordance with the conditions set by Cites as well as SANParks Guidelines for the Use of the Elephant Ivory Fund, the revenue raised from the 2008 ivory auction was and continues to be used to meet the objectives in the following categories: elephant conservation, elephant management, community-based conservation and research and monitoring.
“From the original allocation provided to SANParks, approximately R36 390 000 has been approved to date on elephant conservation (39 percent) elephant management (46 percent), community-based conservation (3 percent) and research and monitoring (11 percent).
Responding to a similar request, Ezemvelo confirmed it had received R3.7m from the 2008 ivory sale. Of this, R1.5m was spent on upgrading the perimeter fence of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park to prevent elephants breaking out into adjacent community areas.
A further R843 720 was spent for similar reasons to fortify the fence around Tembe Elephant Park. Another R700 000 was used to fence off and incorporate the neighbouring Mfihlweni area and reduce human/ elephant conflict around Tembe, while R456 280 was spent on a contraception project to contain the size of the Tembe elephant population.
The remainder of the funds, R200 000, was spent on investigating new ways to reduce elephant/human conflict in the Simdlangentsha area next to Ithala Game Reserve.
Although no final decisions have been announced yet, the national government appointed a “panel of experts” earlier this year to make a recommendation to cabinet on whether South Africa should seek to re-open an international trade in rhino horns at the next Cites meeting in 2016.
Asked whether they had prepared any proposals for dedicated financial structures to guarantee that all rhino horn revenue would be spent on rhino conservation projects, SANParks and Ezemvelo directed queries to the national Department of Environmental Affairs.
Main Photo: (Michael Lorentz)