Rhino poaching: plea for help

Lee-Anne Butler

THE government was committed to fighting rhino poaching in South Africa but could not do it alone, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in the Eastern Cape at the weekend.

She said that legalising the trade of rhino horn would go a long way towards fighting the decimation of the world’s rhino population. Molewa and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe attended a game capture to collect DNA samples from rhinos at Shamwari Game Reserve outside Port Elizabeth.

Last year, at least 668 rhinos were poached across the country, while this year, so far, 446 rhinos have come under attack.

South Africa has 85% of the world’s rhino population, with between 18000 and 20000 white rhinos and about 3000 black rhinos left within its borders. The DNA collection, funded by South African Breweries (SAB), will assist law enforcement authorities to track where rhino horns come from if they are found on the black market. It will also assist in the prosecution of those trying to sell rhino horn illegally.

Molewa said the establishment of a well-regulated international trade in rhino horn could help to curb rhino poaching, if implemented in conjunction with other interventions. She said: “We need to establish partnerships with private sector, NGO’s and civil society. We need to create more awareness, and members of the public who have information about syndicates need to come forward and report them.”

SAB chairman Norman Adami said the rhino issue was close to the company’s heart and that it had contributed R30-million to address the issue since 2004. This year it contributed a further R2.5-million to create awareness, educate, tag rhinos, purchase DNA testing equipment and facilitate DNA testing.

“Identifying rhino DNA means once a horn is recovered by law enforcement, horns can be linked to individual poaching cases. This works by establishing a connection between the horn trafficker, such as the poacher caught with horns in his possession, and the carcass of the rhino,” he said.

He agreed legalising the trade of legitimate stockpiled rhino horn from natural deaths was a step in the right direction.

Dr Johan Joubert, wildlife director at Shamwari Game Reserve, who facilitated the darting of the rhinos to assist in the DNA collection and micro-chipping of the animals, said the decline of the rhino population was severe during the 1980s due to poaching and hunting, but conservation efforts led to an increase in numbers until about 2009.

“If we get to a figure of about 1000 rhinos being poached in one year, we will start to see a decline once again. These DNA samples and micro-chipping of the horns will assist in bringing these poachers to book,” he said.

“If you do not have a specialised anti-poaching unit you run the risk of losing your rhinos to poachers.

“The cost of these units is your single highest expense as a reserve owner. We fear it may reach a point where reserve owners stop keeping rhinos because it is just too costly.”

Joubert said rhinos were more valuable dead than alive, as one kilogram of rhino horn costs between $20000 (R204000) and $80000 (R815000) on the black market.

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