By Songezo Zibi
AT US$8bn-$10bn/year, Vietnam’s illicit trade in wildlife and wildlife products dwarfs SA’s growing R10bn/year tourism industry. Vietnam and its rapidly expanding economy has become the epicentre of this large, extremely lucrative criminal trade that is second only to narcotics.
Much of the demand is driven by the requirements of traditional Chinese medicine, which uses natural plant, animal and mineral-based materials to create medicines for a variety of ailments. Most of these treatments are said to be ineffectual.
It is this trade that has fuelled SA’s relentless rhino poaching catastrophe, which has taken on a particularly macabre turn since 2008, when 83 rhino were killed for their horn, up from 36 the previous year. By 2010, 333 had been killed. The numbers kept accelerating to more than double that number in 2012. Almost 800 have been killed this year alone.
The killing, which happens at the same time as even more prolific killing of elephants in countries to the north of SA, has become a national wildlife conservation crisis.
According to the department of the environment, SA has approximately 18000 white and 4000 black rhino, numbers that look increasingly difficult to sustain, as killings will soon surpass births.
Roughly 25% of rhino are privately owned. Many of these owners rely heavily on being able to sustain the big five in order to attract high-value local and international tourists. Not only is the potential decimation of rhino therefore a nature conservation threat; it also puts at risk the very business model upon which many private game reserves are built.
Environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa has vowed to increase government’s commitment to fighting rhino poaching. “We will not allow rhino to become extinct on our watch. We, as government, working with our partners in the justice and security [ministerial] cluster, [SA National Parks\ and private entities are working hard to meet the continuous challenges being presented in dealing with the poaching crisis,” she declared in September.
But she has come under fire from conservationists. While arrest and prosecutions have increased in the past two years, the poachers still have the upper hand. More....