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While it is reassuring that the rhino poaching statistics for 2016 show there has been a continued decline in the number of animals that have been illegally killed in South Africa over the last two years, it would be premature to regard this as a reversal in the fortunes for South Africa’s rhino population.
It is concerning that, according to the 2016 poaching figures released by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) today, over 1 000 (or the equivalent of three rhinos a day) continue to be lost to poaching and smuggling syndicates.
The reported reduction of nearly 20% in the number of rhino carcasses found in Kruger National Park to 662 is to be applauded in the face of the increased number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park. However, the apparent decline in numbers of white rhinos within the park must be a cause for concern.
Furthermore, we note that criminal syndicates have shifted their focus in response to these law enforcement actions, and the impacts of poaching have swept across South Africa. Key populations in KwaZulu-Natal in particular faced this impact in 2016, with 161 rhinos killed in that province, an increase of 38 per cent from the previous year.
Whilst it is to be commended that the focussed efforts of the SAPS show an increase in arrests, the rate of successful prosecutions still remains to be seen.
We are pleased to see the focus of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation on efforts towards disrupting and combating wildlife traffickers during 2016, as this is the level at which the illicit networks must be addressed.
We call on all countries implicated in the illicit trade in rhino horn to collaborate and address wildlife trafficking as a transnational syndicated criminal activity. In addition to on-going anti-poaching efforts at country level, we need to see tougher law enforcement and prosecutions of syndicates implicated in the transnational trafficking and use of rhino horn, including high level syndicate members located in source, transit and market countries, such as Mozambique and Viet Nam.
Furthermore, the release of the 2016 poaching statistics must be seen against the backdrop of an apparent shift in approach by DEA which on 8 February 2017 published draft regulations for domestic trade in rhino horn for public comment.
WWF will submit detailed comments to the department ahead of the 10 March deadline. However, this is an apparent shift from the decision made in May 2016 to not submit a proposal for international trade in rhino horn until basic governance measures are proven. Some of our concerns around the lack of capacity to control this proposed trade include:
- The apparent provision for legal international exports within the domestic draft regulations
- The known challenges in many potential transit and consumer countries with regards capacity to retain records of imported rhino horn trophies, or implement any enforcement around illegal consumption of horn;
- The priority need for the implementation of the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking to address the on-going illegal trade;
- The lack of capacity at a provincial and national level to ensure compliance within a legal trade in parallel with the extent of the existing illicit trade;
- The requirement for an electronic permitting system to be operationalised for effective tracking of permits;
- The known involvement of some elements of the private wildlife industry in illegal activities to relating to rhino horn and the potential impact of these regulations on pending court cases;
- The pending investigation into allegations levelled against the Minister of State Security David Mahlobo in an Al Jazeera documentary on rhino horn trafficking.
Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF-SA, comments:
“A decade has now passed since the initial upsurge in poaching in South Africa and huge effort has been invested in rhino protection yet the situation is still out of control and the toll on those working to address the challenge in the region is also unsustainably high.
“Committed conservationists have been defending wildlife at great personal cost. While military-style interventions may provide wins in the short term, these come with longer-term financial and socio-economic costs on both people living around protected areas and other conservation efforts. Ultimately, a more holistic approach is required in addressing the drivers of wildlife crime.
“In terms of the draft regulations for domestic trade in rhino horn, we are seriously concerned about the challenges that law enforcement and permitting officers would face in trying to manage parallel legal and illegal trade and exports - especially around linkages to international wildlife trafficking networks and will be submitting detailed comments to the department in this regard.
“Corruption continues to hamper efforts at all levels. This year must see greater collaborative partnerships between conservation and anti-corruption communities to deepen understanding of corruption risks and mitigation strategies.”
Read the full statement from the Department of Environmental Affairs here: https://www.environment.gov.za/mediarelease/molewa_progressonintegrated_strategicmanagement_ofrhinoceros