March 12 2013 at 06:00pm
By John Yeld
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Photo: Sizwe Ndingane
Cape Town – The “bandits” responsible for poaching South Africa’s rhinos are foreigners, and the international community must also accept responsibility for protecting these animals, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has told the international body that regulates all wildlife trade.
Molewa said that the world was “reluctant” to talk about the existing black market in rhino horns.
She was addressing the two-week-long 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which started this week in Bangkok, Thailand.
Species under discussion here include elephants, rhinos, sharks, rays, great apes, snakes, tortoises, turtles, crocodiles, antelopes and large cats. Conservationists have warned that the conference is being held “at a critical moment” as several species are moving closer to extinction because of unsustainable trade.
Molewa told COP16 that research had shown that poachers targeting South Africa’s rhinos – at least 146 had been killed already this year – were from outside the country, and that rhinos had become the focus of alleged international poaching syndicates.
“We therefore need to share intelligence and law enforcement efforts with our neighbours and consumer states to reduce demand for rhino horn. In other words, we need greater safety and security co-operation and research development. An important call needs to be made that protecting our rhinos is everyone’s responsibility.”
Molewa pointed out that 50 alleged poachers, three of them believed to be couriers, had been arrested since the beginning of the year. However, the initial arrests had shown that only those “at the bottom of the (poaching) pyramid” were being caught.
“Our observation and analysis is that the value chain of the syndicates is a complex one. They recruit ordinary people from communities adjacent to these rhino reserves as ‘sharp shooters’. The so-called couriers transport the horn to main cities, from where it (is) exported to consumer states.”
But South Africa was also achieving some law enforcement successes at a higher level, as had been shown by the recent case in which a Thai national had been convicted and jailed for 40 years for illegally trading in rhino horns.
Molewa pointed out that during one of three side-events at the conference, there had been “robust” discussion on the issue of rhino economics, and South Africa had shared its analysis of the markets for rhinos and rhino products.
“It became clear that the so-called consumer states have the buying power, and their citizens, especially the middle class, can afford to buy the horn. The willingness to pay and willingness to buy are prevalent in these consumer states,” she said.
“The need to deal with the existing black market is inevitable, and we need more dialogue at a global level to stop it. We don’t have answers to this problem, but we feel that this is an area the world is reluctant to talk about.”
South Africa welcomed the withdrawal of Kenya’s proposal to halt the trade in rhino trophies and rhino products until COP18 (in 2019), Molewa added. This would have placed a zero export quota on hunting trophies and trade in all other rhino specimens would be strictly regulated. The trade in horns is already banned.
“If (Kenya’s) amendment had been adopted, it would have prevented South Africa and Swaziland from using a management option that can be sustainable and beneficial for the conservation of the species,” she argued.
Molewa told the conference “categorically” that South Africa had not yet taken a decision on whether to apply to Cites at its next COP17, in three years, to legalise the trade in rhino horn, or to allow the once-off sale of rhino horn stockpiles to fund conservation efforts.
“The consultations here in Bangkok are a further step to the series of discussions held with stakeholders last year in South Africa, to facilitate a common understanding of key issues concerning the protection and sustainable conservation of our rhino population,” she said.
‘We are here for solutions to the problem of increasing rhino killings. The South African government is investing a lot of funding in conservation and security, and that liability continues to grow.
“It’s our understanding that someone out there is creating the demand for the rhino horn. The law of supply and demand is relevant in any commodity that is tradable, and it is for this reason that we want this discussed.”- Weekend Argus