By Kim Helfrich
A year ago the Department of Environment Affairs was authorised to explore the possibility of legalising trade in rhino horn. Since then in the region of 900 rhinos have been killed and the 10 member “panel of experts” is analysing the rhino situation and interventions.
Latest statistics released by the Department show South Africa has lost 496 rhino to poachers since January this year with the Kruger National Park, as ever, the favoured hunting ground. No less than 321 rhinos have been killed in the iconic game reserve in 2014, which borders both Mozambique and Zimbabwe, making it the single biggest contributor to the national rhino loss of about 2.7 animals a day.
The Cabinet approved inter-ministerial committee (IMC) looking at ways and means of cutting the carnage that continues to dog the national rhino population is said to be investigating legalising trade in rhino horn. According to department spokesman Albi Modise, South Africa plans to table a proposal at the 2016 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (Conference on Trade in Endangered Species) as a possible way of halting the ongoing slaughter of rhinos in South Africa.
The panel of experts, under the chairmanship of Fundisile Mketeni, Environment Affairs Deputy Director General: Biodiversity and Conservation, has to report to the IMC before year-end.
Apart from analysing the current rhino situation and interventions to address illegal killing and illegal trade in rhino horn, the panel is also working on new interventions to stop rhino poaching as well as the socio-economic impact of poaching on communities, game farms and reserves. It is also, according to Modise, investigating models and mechanisms for trade. These include a once-off sale of stockpiled horn or government to government trade as well as control mechanisms including traceability of horn.
While the panel deliberates, rangers and soldiers are, as ever, in the forefront of the fight against poaching. This is done by endless patrols through thick bush assisted by intelligence and equipment from, among others, defence industry companies Denel Dynamics and the Paramount Group.
If their efforts are maintained at the same rate for the rest of the year, simple arithmetic indicates the country will lose a thousand rhinos in total by December 31, the second year running that the four figure mark will be reached.