New lab for rhino war
A donation of more than R25-million from the multinational Global Environment Facility will be used to create a forensic laboratory dedicated to analysing DNA from rhino horns.
The project, developed in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Affairs, the UN Environment Programme and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, will test DNA to help establish where horns have come from and whether they have been taken illegally from South Africa.
The analysis could be used as evidence in court against poachers.
Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Albi Modise said local experts were already on board to test DNA samples from horns believed to have been stolen from South Africa.
He said experts would travel to Hong Kong next month to sample DNA from horns intercepted there.
"We are also finalising a memorandum of understanding with China. Our approach is broad in terms of environmental crime. We have to engage with the countries the horns end up going to because, failing that, we will not win this war," he said.
"We are also mindful that [poaching] is not a locally engineered activity. We feel we are making inroads from the law-enforcement point of view. The challenge is that we see arrests but also see an increase in poaching."
In 2007, poachers killed 13 rhinos in South Africa. The number rose to 448 in 2011.
This year, 245 rhino have been poached, and 161 arrests made, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The Kruger National Park has been the hardest hit by poachers, having lost 147 rhinos since the beginning of the year.
In Limpopo, 34 rhinos have been killed illegally; KwaZulu-Natal has lost 25 rhinos and North West 24.
Of the 161 people arrested, 138 were poachers and 10 receivers or couriers.
Global Environment Facility chairman Monique Barbut said: "Rhinos are poached to supply an extremely profitable but poorly understood market.
"Based on the available information, the demand for rhino horn comes principally from Asia, with the major destination appearing to be Vietnam."
According to Cites, increasing demand has been fuelled by rumours that rhino horn can cure cancer, improve male sexual performance, treat hangovers and cleanse the body of the ill-effects of over-consumption of food, drugs and alcohol.
"Without swift action to reverse current trends, the rhino could be driven into extinction during the lifetime of our children," said John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Cites organisation.