MEDIA STATEMENT 29 MARCH 2012
STATEMENT BY THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS ON THE ONGOING RHINO POACHING AND UPDATE ON INTERVENTIONS AIMED AT ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
The number of rhinos killed illegally in South Africa for this year now stands at the shocking number of 150. The Kruger National Park has suffered the greatest losses with the poaching toll having reached 87.
The South African government continues to prioritise the illegal killing of rhinos. Our united approach has already seen 90 suspected poachers arrested this year.
In January, we indicated that the Department of Environmental Affairs will pursue a halt to the issuance of hunting permits to hunters coming from countries that do not have appropriate legislation to monitor whether the trophy is used for the purpose as reflected on the permits. In tandem with that decision and as part of our wider engagement with other countries, the Department of Environmental Affairs is in engagement with the Vietnamese Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on collaborations aimed at addressing the issue of hunting permits and measures to stop possible abuse of the system.
We have also asked the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development if they could conduct inspections and verify that the white rhinoceros trophies exported from South Africa to Vietnam are still in the possession of the hunters. This follows an investigation by the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCRU).
The hunting permits are issued by the provincial authorities. The applications are submitted to the national department during the application process to scrutinise whether the applicant has hunted in the specific year. Such scrutiny may also involve verification or engagement with the relevant CITES Management Authority in the hunter’s country of usual residence. In essence the process goes as far as the importing country verifying if the address provided by the applicant (hunter) is legitimate; the relevant authority in the importing country contacting the applicant to advise on CITES regulations and ensure that the applicant understands that the trophy must be retained for personal use (no commercial trade allowed); and verifying the validity of passports / visas by the relevant authorities. This information is provided to provincial authorities who then consider the information, in addition to all other legal requirements, including provincial and national legislation and make a decision based on the available information.
In addition, Minister Molewa has met with the Mozambican Tourism Minister, Fernando Sumbana Jnr. The urgent meeting was aimed at finding viable solutions to the scourge of rhino poaching that has seen the Kruger National Park (KNP) losing 252 rhino in 2011. Minister Sumbana emphasized the commitment of Mozambique to conservation by stating that the Mozambican government has prioritized law enforcement efforts that go beyond the narrow focus of rhino poaching.
Mozambique is currently pondering legislation that will elevate the offence of wildlife poaching to a criminal offence carrying heavier sentencing rather than the current offence of damage to property. He added that Mozambique’s natural resources are being plundered by organized Mafia. Further to the proposed legislation a new elite highly trained National Anti-poaching Unit has been formed and the first recruits will be graduating shortly and deployed in priority poaching areas.
Minister Sumbana further said that Mozambique is desirous of ensuring effective and efficient management of its parks. The Mozambican government has passed a decree creating a flexible state-owned agency similar to that of SANParks. This will assist with management effectiveness and allow greater flexibility in sourcing funding than is currently the case.
Minister Molewa has also met with her Public Works and Defence counterparts in Kruger and considered the fence in the western boundary. In the end it was concluded that the fence will be too expensive and difficult to maintain. Instead we are now looking at a buffer zone between Kruger and the private reserves/farms in Mozambique - same as on the western boundary where we have the private reserves (Sabi Sands). The same was discussed with the Mozambique authorities and our respective teams are busy with planning already.
With regards to the 150 additional rangers to be deployed at Kruger, the first group of the 150 new rangers have completed their competency test, all security checks as well as medical assessments. The first group which comprises of 75 new recruits are currently undergoing a 6 week intense paramilitary training course in the Kruger National Park.
With regards to the seizure of the rhino horn shipment in Hong Kong last November, the Department has since gone to Hong Kong and met with the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department. The meeting has agreed that a South African delegation would visit Hong Kong to take DNA samples of the seized goods so as to identify the source of these products and cooperate on the criminal prosecution of this case. South Africa has a mutual legal assistance agreement with Hong Kong which will be invoked to resolve the current situation.
The Department recently undertook a mission to the Peoples Republic of China to further engage on the draft protocol on rhino management which will be incorporated into the current MOU. Significant progress has been made in this regard and we are confident that it will finalised shortly.
Minister Molewa will this week engage her provincial counterparts on 30 March 2012 at MINMEC to approve for publication the amendments to the norms and standards for marking rhino horn and hunting white rhino for trophy hunting that we have drafted.
The department has made significant progress on the deployment of officers at designated ports of entry and exit. In this regard we are working closely with Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Home Affairs and Public works. The personnel at OR Tambo International Airport will be transferred to the National Department.
On the issue of the rhino horn stockpile in the possession of conservation agencies in South Africa, an inventory has been completed but due to security risks the Department cannot publicly announce the amount of stocks being held by these agencies.
There has been a lot of interest on the issue of South Africa approaching CITES with a proposal to trade in rhino horn internationally. At this point, we are not in a position to pronounce on the matter as the internal preparatory processes are not yet finalized. Before South Africa can approach CITES there are certain issues that need to be addressed.
For media queries, please contact
Albi Modise on 083 490 2871
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS ON 29 MARCH 2012