*On average 3 rhino die every day in South Africa from poaching.
According to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, poaching has cost the country a financial loss of $22 million USD just last year alone. So what is South Africa doing to combat this?
There are “stiffer” penalties in place now for confirmed rhino poachers. In S. Africa, kill a rhino and get 10 years jail time and/or a $110,000 USD fine. That is IF you get caught, and even then only IF there is substantial evidence. Considering a single rhino horn can fetch $300,000 on the Asian market, the fine seems worth the risk to a would-be poacher.
In addition SanParks (South African National Parks) is offering rewards of $10,000 USD for information which could lead to the arrest of a poacher and $100,000 if it’s information that could bust a syndicate. SanParks also introduced a reward system for informants. For reliable and steady information, meat, rations, or prepaid cell phone vouchers are given as reward. But this hasn’t seemed to help curb poaching.
De-horning hasn’t been as effective as it once may have been, offenders are hunting down the animals for even the small nub that is left. Apparently ANY horn is better than none.
The South African National Defence Force has deployed 265 soldiers to Kruger National Park. The Army is backing up the overwhelmed park rangers in the war on poaching. According to the SA Department of Defence, this IS working. Within 3 months after their arrival, poaching incidents have dropped from 40 in March to just 2 in June.
But although there were 56 arrests in 2 months, the dockets were conveniently “lost” and the suspects were released. This only points at corruption within the justice system.
So the country is looking at the desperate measure of legalizing the trade of rhino horn in a one-off sale of the country’s stockpile In order to do this, approval is needed by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Floral and Fauna) to lift the 30 year ban on rhino horn trade. CITES (which is like the UN for international wildlife) needs to reach a consensus through majority vote, which will take place at the next meeting in 2016.
Reminiscent of pre-election propaganda, the battle to win public opinion is beginning. Both the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs and the private rhino farmers are convinced this is the best option. Their argument is that by flooding the market with horn (which coincidentally the private owners have been storing up for years in preparation for a hopeful gold mine), it will bring down the demand.
This is at best, a flawed notion at conservation, at worst, a dangerous scheme to make the almighty dollar.
Remember the elephants: In 1989 a similar decision was made by CITES to lift the ban on ivory trade. Did the elephants benefit? There was a marked rise in the level of poaching soon after. In the 1980s the African elephant population was 600,000. Today there are approximately 400,000. Poaching elephants for their tusks, particularly in China, is rampant and there’s no end in sight. Recently there was even a government accredited ivory trader in China convicted in part of an illegal ivory smuggling ring!
Mathematics: Let’s look at the numbers. There are approximately 1.3 billion people in China, 87 million people in Vietnam, 69 million in Thailand, and 6.2 million in Laos. Even if we assume only a sixteenth of the population uses horn, that’s 92 million people. Yet there are only approximately 24,000 rhino left in ALL of Africa. The thought for is that the horn is a renewable resource; it does grow back, but at a rate of 1-3 inches per year. Hardly sustainable. So a one time sale will only wet the appetite of an already insatiable Asian market.
Common sense: Trade in horn is currently part of a lucrative illegal trade connected with international criminal syndicates, so by legalizing it, what message does it send? And does anyone really think that this will make the illegal trade magically stop? And even by doing it “only once”, it shows a willingness to sacrifice the rhino and weakness from the South African government.
Ethics: Removing the horn from the rhino is unnecessary and ineffective. The horn does NOT have medicinal value. Therefore by making this legitimate, it sends the false notion that it indeed should be a valued commodity, and that it’s acceptable to wantonly strip animals of their parts.
WHAT MIGHT WORK
Security & Prevention: The implementation of troops into Kruger National Park is making a difference. This should continue. For the areas in the country where it is not feasible to employ manpower at all given times, the controversial, yet seemingly effective method of infusing the horn with poisonous dye is an option. (See Rhino Rescue Project for more info.)
Ban Hunting: It is absurd that hunting of these animals is even allowed. It is only by permit, but considering the country can’t control poaching/hunting in the illegal form, it shouldn’t be an option until it can be better controlled.
Lay down the law: Even when the anti-poaching units fulfill their jobs, justice needs to be served. The reward for the horn needs to be met with an equally hefty punishment when caught. A slap on the wrist undermines the APUs and does absolutely nothing to deter them from doing it again. When poachers walk out of court smiling, something is very wrong.
Government: Have the WILL to enforce this. It is essential for the government, including the President to see the urgency of the rhino crisis, and truly want to make it a priority. Oversee the justice system, weed out the corrupt parties. South Africa needs to recognize their reputation, economy and crime level are seriously jeopardized. Send a clear and concise message this will not be tolerated.
International Cooperation: Maybe the most frustrating part of the horn trade is the easily available market on cyberspace. One of the most prevalent methods of international trafficking is through the internet. Although cyberspace easily facilitates illegal activities, it also makes for opportunities and avenues for monitoring and responding to trade activities. This requires a different kind of policing. TRAFFIC (the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) needs to continuously work closely with the responsible parties in the justice system.
South Africa has its hands full. The efforts of drones, tactics, toughening penalties and employing military are commendable. But whether CITES overturns the trade ban or not, it is imperative for the government to get serious and weed out the corruption. Without follow-through, nothing will work and ultimately our rhino will become extinct. Don’t let bureaucracy and corruption stifle conservation South Africa.