Edna Molewa, minister of water and environmental affairs, has finally signed a memorandum with her counterpart in Vietnam. This is hoped to bring law enforcement from both countries together in working to bring down the boom in rhino poaching and the illegal trade in its horn.
Molewa has seen other attempts to sign the agreement turned down when Vietnamese officials were not available.
In signing on Monday, she said, “We believe that this latest development at an international level is crucial for South Africa to effectively deal with the current scourge of poaching, and with illegal hunting largely driven by the international demand for the rhino horn."
She bemoaned the “continued slaughter of South Africa’s national treasure” and said this was why they started negotiations with the south-Asian country last year.
And with 618 rhinos poached to date – 448 were killed last year and 13 in 2007 – she said her department was using every tool possible to change the rapid escalation in numbers. By getting as many people as possible involved, this could be changed, she said.
“South Africa is looking forward to receiving the close cooperation from Vietnamese partners to stop the illegal trade of rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam," she said.
Cao Duc Phat, Vietnam’s minister of agricultural and rural development, said his country had already started increasing the resources available to fight rhino horn trade.
"So far, Vietnam has made strong commitments to tackle the illegal use of rhino horns, and we will increase our commitment," he said.
"With the signing of the memorandum, the two sides will sit together and draw a very detailed plan to address this problem," he said.
Albi Modise, spokesperson of the department, said that while public and media pressure had been mounting on the department – with quick results were being demanded – time was needed for each country to make sure its laws and international obligations could work alongside the memorandum.
Now working groups from both countries would hammer out the fine details of the memorandum.
The majority of this would be ready for the next Cites gathering in March 2013. Cites is the international convention that governs the trade of endangered flora and fauna. Rhino and elephant poaching is a big issue on the agenda.
Wildlife monitoring group lauded
Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group, released a report in August that said Vietnam was the primary destination for illegally traded rhino horn.
The organisation has also been instrumental in bringing the two countries together on the issue, and Molewa recognised the importance of their work during the signing.
Dr Naomi Doak, coordinator of Traffic Southeast Asia–Greater Mekong Programme, said, “The world’s rhino populations are hanging by a thread, and today the opportunity was taken to throw them another lifeline.”
The signing of the memorandum was a promising sign of collaboration, but this had to be urgently turned into action to turn the rhino crisis around, she said.
The memorandum extends to several other areas of biodiversity protection and cooperation, and runs for five years before it has to be extended.