JOHANNESBURG - The first World Wildlife Day couldn’t have come at a better time for South Africa, a country struggling to win the war against poaching. The Kruger National Park has lost the most rhinos in the country since the start of the year – 95 out of a total of 146.
The United Nations General Assembly on 20 December 2013 adopted a resolution making 3 March a day on which we celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of fauna and flora.
To mark the occasion locally, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), as the National Management Authority for the 40th anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), handed over five rhino to the Mdluli Tribal Authority in Mpumalanga.
Minister Edna Molewa said communities living in close proximity to the Kruger Park are often aware of the plight of the rhino and all the steps being taken to combat the scourge of rhino poaching.
“We are being robbed of our heritage by criminals with no respect for our nation and our pride as a people,” said Molewa.
While these words indicate a strong stance against poaching, recent actions by the Minister seem to contradict this. Minister Molewa was absent from a recent London conference on illegal wildlife trade, where a declaration was signed by a number of countries banning the trade of ivory and rhino horn – a significant step towards the global fight against poaching.
In a column for the Daily Maverick, writer and filmmaker Sharon van Wyk criticised Molewa’s lack of participation, citing the department’s statement that signing the declaration would be in conflict with existing South African policy. Van Wyk writes that if South African authorities signed the declaration they would not be able to profit from current stockpiles of rhino horn and ivory.
Besides these contradictory statements by Molewa, there are further challenges facing the struggle to protect South Africa’s endangered species, which include a number of other species besides rhino and elephant.
South Africa’s birdlife, for instance, has a number of species under threat, with a few of these highlighted in the infographic above.
Kerri Wolter, founder and CEO of the Vulpro Vulture Conservation Programme in Hartbeespoort, told eNCA.com in an interview that there is more interest in her project internationally compared to locally.
There are only 300 breeding pairs of Cape Griffon Vultures left in the Magaliesberg region and while the population is stable, it is not increasing sufficiently.
She also says that local organisations that work with endangered species need to collaborate more.
"We know that power lines, poisons and poaching are all detrimental and we’re all doing our own thing, which is having a positive impact, but if we put all our research together the impact could be so much bigger."
The Endangered Wildlife Trust, with more than 40 years of action behind its name, also says that South Africa need to do more to protect its species. Rynette Coetzee, a project executant at EWT says the problem lies in a lack of resources.
“There is a huge lack of staff capacity in all nine provinces so not enough people to enforce the current sets of national and provincial conservation legislation, hence the huge problem with the smuggling of live animals and animal products, both into and out of South Africa.”