Government in bid to halt rhino slaughter

26 January 2012 - 23:30 By CAIPHUS KGOSANA
A rhino. file picture
A rhino. file picture

About 328 rhinos will be illegally hunted for their horns in South Africa this year unless efforts are stepped up to curb the $20-billion trade.

A total of 780 white and black rhinos were hunted and killed for their horns in 2010 and 2011, forcing the government to step up the protection of the species from criminal syndicates.

Rhino horns are sold mainly in the Far East , where they are believed to have medicinal powers.

About 28 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year.

Department of Environmental Affairs deputy director-general for biodiversity and conservation Fundisile Mketeni said syndicates were using Mozambicans to breach the Kruger National Park fence and poach the rhinos.

"By the end of 2012, we will have lost 328 rhinos. We're looking at interventions and efforts but we need to reduce that [number]," Mketeni said.

He was addressing parliament's water and environmental affairs portfolio committee, which yesterday held public hearings on solutions to rhino poaching.

Mketeni said South Africa was working closely with the countries to which much of the rhino horn was taken, especially Vietnam and China.

Police arrested 194 poachers last year. Another 24 people were taken into custody for illegally transporting poached rhino horn. Twelve were arrested in connection with trading in rhino horn.

Mketeni conceded that the authorities in South Africa and overseas were unable to arrest the kingpins .

The government has put extra measures in place to monitor and control the canned hunting of rhinos after it emerged that some of the legal operators collaborated with criminal syndicates.

This has led to horns kept in private stockpiles disappearing and criminal syndicates acquiring rhino horns from private rhino owners who invite members of crime syndicates to their reserves under the pretext that they will keep the horns as a trophies.

But once secured, the "trophy" horn ends up in the black market.

According to Global Rhino Ultimatum, 69% of rhino trophy hunting is a front for illegal trafficking and trading in horns.

Figures show that 176 rhinos were hunted between 2009 and mid-2011 in North West. In July, members of a Thai syndicate were arrested on charges of illegal hunting in the province. Most of the 176 hunting permits were issued to Asians.

In KwaZulu-Natal, 47 permits were issued between 2009 and 2011.

Many conversation groups have called on the government to place a moratorium on the rhino horn trade. Others want it to destroy stockpiled rhino horns.

Mketeni raised committee chairman Johnny de Lange's ire when he admitted that the government did not know the size of private rhino horn stockpiles.

"We know how much the government stockpiles are - the ones that are in the reserve - but we don't know how much is in private hands," Mketeni said.

"Why not?," asked De Lange. "I'm flabbergasted to learn we don't know [the size of] the stockpiles."

Wildlife groups, however, estimate the private and government stockpiles to be between 10000kg and 12000kg. At the going rate of $60000 a kilogram on the black market, these stockpiles are worth about $600-million.

De Lange called on the government to get tough with private reserve owners who were resisting attempts to regulate canned hunting.

Some of the regulations include inserting microchips in trophy horns to monitor their movements and a requirement that state wildlife experts be present during hunting.

"If we have to take away the licences [of the private operators] to stop this, we will.

"We cannot let the species die on our watch," said De Lange.