Make or break for rhino

Amanda Watson

Rhino-in-KNP.-Photo-Richard-Prinsloo-533x400

The “Boksburg Decision” will be one of the biggest influencers yet in the war on rhino poaching.

For three days, proponents and opponents of legalising trade in rhino horn made their case before the Committee of Inquiry (CoI) last week, established by Minister of Environment Edna Molewa to investigate its feasibility, or not. In July 2013 Cabinet authorised the Department of Environmental Affairs (DoE) to “explore the feasibility of South Africa tabling a proposal for the legalisation of commercial international trade in rhino horn at the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)”.

The decision makes light of Molewa’s statement that “As government we have not in the past and will not in future be swayed by anyone with vested interests in either outcome.”

That said, whichever side the CoI picks will have ramifications for the continued existence of the five million year old critically endangered pachyderm. It was estimated at the conference more than 240 have already been poached this year.

Held in the town of Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, whichever side the committee – operating under terms of reference set by Molewa – comes down on there will be howls of outrage, especially as the protest has arguably been somewhat flawed: A pro-trade committee top heavy with government officials, committee members with dubious pasts, organisations with representation on the committee making submissions, speculative submissions on where poached horn is going – no-one seems to have a definitive answer, is it China, or Vietnam, or is Vietnam a blind for China? – deep suspicion over the motives for the committee in the first place – what does the South African government really want to do with the billions of Rands worth of stockpiled rhino horn anyway?- are all problems the CoI will have to deal with.

With possible charges pending against chair Nana Magomola, credibility is one of its biggest problems. Even though Molewa has brushed it off saying she knew about Magomola’s issues with the National Gambling Board after being suspended by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies for breaching public finance rules and that Magomola was “innocent until proven guilty”, it’s something which will have to be dealt with.

Nonetheless, as South African’s do, we go our way while the rest of the world goes its way.

Three distinct camps emerged over the three days: Private owners, breeders, and national parks. With ample representation on the committee, it seems apropos government itself did not make any representation.

It was left to private owners and breeders – “profit-mongers” according to activists to punt for pro-trade while activists – the “loony left” and the “anti-legal trade brigade” as termed by pro-traders – fought against it.

The arguments were passionate and prolific, and summaries of most are available on the DoE website. The pro-trade lobby said private owners and breeders were paying millions in security and each time a rhino was lost, it cost them half a million rand. Most donations go to government which also had huge resources to draw on and farming the three-toed ungulate would promote numbers  while selling the horn – a renewable resource which could supply a kilogram a year – would fund security, jobs, and community initiatives.

The idea of paddocks full of dehorned rhino is not one which sits well. Countering this idea was the “anti-legal trade brigade”, the strongest argument coming from the SPCA which said farming would allow for endemic cruelty as government did not have capacity to enforce legislation, which still had to be put in place as there was none around wildlife farming.

Others said dealing with corruption, catching the kingpins in illegal trading, and stronger political will were the answers to saving the species.

It’s not an approach which has worked well thus far.

The CoI presents its findings to an inter-ministerial committee in September, which then takes it to Molewa who will present it to Cabinet.

 Terms of Reference of the Committee

To investigate, evaluate, report on and make recommendations relating to a diverse set of key areas including, but not limited to:

  1. An analysis of the current rhino situation and interventions to address illegal killing of rhino and illegal trade in rhino horn, with a focus on government initiatives;
  2. Identification of new or additional interventions required to create an enabling environment for the sustainable utilisation of natural resources and to strengthen the integrated approach of the government in addressing illegal killing and illegal trade, including the following:

Increased involvement of communities, including community ownership of wildlife and benefit-sharing by communities;

If trade was to be an option, the potential models / mechanisms for trade and criteria / conditions (issues to be considered include: models – strictly controlled trade, i.e. once-off sale of stockpiles, government to government trade or more open regulated trade; sources of specimens and specimens to be traded; the benefits and risks associated with the different options; possible trade partners and the criteria to be met by these States; conditions; and the financial mechanisms);

The socio-economic impact and potential benefits to communities, farmers, conservation authorities and rhino and elephant conservation, including the economic opportunities for communities from wildlife management, and the risks posed by wildlife trafficking (e.g.  infiltration of criminal elements in communities); implications for other range States, including precautionary measures; as well as implications for consumer States; the criticisms or concerns relating to trade and the means to address these criticisms and concerns; engagement strategies for the various role-players involved, with a special focus on communities; and key messages and information to be communicated.

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