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Rhino owners damn Creecy report

Some of the proposals regarding rhinos in a recent high-level panel report on the management of South Africa’s iconic wildlife species “potentially lay the foundation for legal dispute at a time in the future”.

This was said in a recent letter sent by the board of the Private Rhino Owners Association to its members. 

On 2 May, the forestry, fisheries and environment minister, Barbara Creecy, released the 582-page report by the 25-member panel, which was tasked with reviewing policies relating to the management, breeding, hunting and trade of lions, rhinos, leopards and elephants.

Among the panel’s 60 recommendations was ending the captive lion breeding industry and the lion bone trade. For rhinos, it included phasing out intensive breeding and a reversal of rhino captive-breeding operations, and for the development of alternative revenue streams for rhino breeders.

South Africa, too, would not lobby the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) to trade in rhino horn internationally until it meets the conditions of a 2016 plan to combat poaching, enhance public participation and rhino horn demand-management in destination countries. 

Pelham Jones, the chairperson of the rhino association, wrote that its submission to the panel was ignored and that certain proposals are in violation of section 22 and 24 of the constitution and “are discriminatory”.

Current laws — Cites and its resolutions, the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Nemba) and the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations — permit captive breeding operations and other rhino-related activities including trade, he said in his letter.

“The report proposes policy that is in conflict with this existing legislation and legal rights … and does not acknowledge the legal rights of owners of a captive-breeding operation.” 

Albi Modise, spokesperson for Creecy’s department, said it was “aware of the risks of potential litigation following the panel’s recommendations”. 

Jones said the panel’s position on the rhino horn trade sends a “clear message” that no income from horn sales can be expected to cover conservation costs or any supply to meet end-user demand, “thereby reducing poaching pressure on our wild populations. This while there has been a 67% drop in rhino values since 2014 and the impact of poaching in terms of “loss of asset, loss of production and devaluation amounts to a staggering R9.8-billion”.

He said the report does not provide clear incentives for private reserves, home to 55% of the national herd, to continue with their rhino conservation efforts. 

Instead, “rhino ownership has now become a liability”.

Jones said 63% of the national stockpile of rhino horn (47.5 tonnes of 75 tonnes) is privately owned and “this figure is growing daily”. The panel’s recommendation of horn stockpile destruction was thus of “grave concern”. 

“This terminology and failed media stunts we have seen elsewhere in Africa are no solution to our poaching challenges …. Stockpile destruction does not and will not stop poaching or illegal trade.”

The panel’s report is “extremely idealistic” and lacks short-term solutions, he said. “There are no recommendations … that will stop or reduce poaching on national, provincial or private reserves.”

Modise said the department would release its position paper on the implementation of the panel’s recommendations within days, and it would be published for public comment.

Since the report’s release, he said, Creecy had held discussions with a number of wildlife organisations. 

“The purpose of these consultations is to provide clarity on the recommendations and to provide opportunity to stakeholders to engage with the minister on the recommendations.”

Modise said formal consultation, in terms of Nemba, would be done when the regulatory provisions had been developed to give effect to the panel’s recommendations. 

Jones said: “We have expressed to the minister that the document is sadly lacking a lot of key information,” adding that the private sector had met Creecy. “We have agreed … that the private sector has to form part of the long-term solution.”

Kim da Ribiera, of the nonprofit Outraged SA Citizens Against Rhino Poaching, said the association does not represent all private rhino owners, nor did all its members “share the views expressed in this communication with regard to trade”. 

“Currently none of the South African breeders could apply to Cites to be registered as a captive breeding operation for rhino. 

“We have never supported trade as a solution to the poaching crisis.”

Legalising the rhino horn trade will not make illegal trade unprofitable. “It will, in fact, most likely preserve and reinforce the illegal sourcing of horn — poaching,” she said.

“We were unable to control the retail price with the once-off ivory sale and will not be able to control the retail price of rhino horn. Even with rhino farming, we would not be in a position to supply enough rhino horn to sustain a legitimised market,” Da Ribiera.

“We understand that all rhino custodians are under pressure. The longer we look to trade as an answer to the poaching crisis the less time our rhino have.”

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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