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Rhino wars - South Africa to make rhino horn trade legal?

05/04/2012 09:01:23


04 APRIL 2012. Today as I stand before you, it is with immense dismay that I announce that the toll of rhinos poached in South Africa for 2012 has reached the alarming figure of 159, in the midst of the increased anti-poaching effort.

Kruger rhino slaughter
The Kruger National Park continues to bear the brunt of these losses, with the rhinos poached in the park having reached a staggering total of 95. This is no longer an environmental management problem ONLY, but it has become a matter in which we have involved all law enforcement agencies. Operation Rhino continues and remains a standing agenda item of the National Joints Committee (Nat Joints Com), which comprises of senior members of SAPS Organised Crime Unit, The Hawks, NPA and the South African National Defence Force.

90 arrests
The arrests of suspected poachers made in 2012 have reached 90 which is a milestone. The continued arrests of rhino poaching suspects is reflective of the coordinated enforcement efforts across government aimed at addressing the scourge of rhino poaching. The government does not condone the current spate of illegal rhino killings but continues to vigorously fight this scourge by implementing the interventions that we highlighted last year. We also continue to look at new initiatives that can assist us in the fight against rhino poaching.

150 new rangers
It is at this Park that the first group of 75 of the 150 new rangers are currently undergoing a 6 week intense paramilitary training course. The 150 rangers are to be deployed in the Kruger National Park. They have completed their competency tests, all security checks as well as medical assessments.

Last week the Department announced that I held discussions with my counterparts, the Public Works and Defence Ministers, in Kruger and considered the fence in the eastern boundary. In the end it was concluded that the fence will be too expensive and difficult to maintain. Instead we are now looking at a buffer zone between Kruger and the private reserves/farms in Mozambique - same as on the north-eastern boundary of Kruger where there is a Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) arrangement. The same was discussed with the Mozambique authorities and our respective teams are busy with planning already.

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Request to Vietnam to check on trophies
We have recently approached the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and asked if they could conduct inspections and verify that the white rhinoceros trophies exported from South Africa to Vietnam are still in the possession of the hunters. This follows an investigation by the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCRU).

We are consulting at the diplomatic level and the outcome of this process will allow us to refuse all applications for white rhinoceros hunting by foreign hunters whose state of usual residence is Vietnam.

Vietnamese hunters being investigated
On 7 March 2012 an urgent application was launched against the Limpopo MEC: Economic Development, Environment and Tourism and the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs by Mr. Jan Walters Slippers t/a Ingogo Safari's in the North Gauteng High Court. The application was launched as a result of the Department advising provinces not to issue hunting permits to Vietnamese citizens due to various concerns regarding illegal hunting practices.

The applicant in this matter had applied for hunting permits for 5 Vietnamese citizens. The permits were authorised but subsequently not issued due to the advice from the National Office of the Department of Environmental Affairs mentioned above. He then brought the application in order to compel the MEC to issue the said permits.

The application was heard on 8 March 2012, and judgment was reserved until 9 March 2012. On the said date the court ordered the MEC to issue the permits, subject to the condition that the Vietnamese hunters submit themselves for interviews with designated Departmental officials for the purposes of verifying their personal details, backgrounds, financial ability and related information. The court afforded the Departments an opportunity to once more place the matter before it should the interviews reveal legitimate concerns.

The two departments made the necessary arrangements for the hunters to attend the said interviews, but were informed on the day of these interviews that the hunters were not yet in the country. It was there-after ascertained by the Departments that there were certain legitimate concerns. Based upon these concerns, the matter was once more placed before the court, which on 22 March 2012 ordered that the permits need not be issued. A cost order was made against the applicant. The full judgment was delivered on 26 March 2012.

Rhino horn stockpile
The rhino horn stockpile is an area that continues to generate interest. I do want to reiterate that an inventory of the rhino horn stockpile in the possession of conservation agencies in South Africa has been completed but due to security risks the Department cannot publicly announce the amount of stocks being held by these agencies.

On the issue of stockpiles, I want to use this opportunity to urge private landowners to register their rhino horn stockpiles with their respective provincial conservation authorities. In terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 it is a legal requirement that a permit is obtained to possess rhino horn. The rhino horn should also be included in a register and be micro-chipped. The public can contact the Department's call centre on 086 111 2468 for further information on this matter.

Trade in rhino horn
There has been a lot of interest on the issue of South Africa approaching CITES COP16 with a proposal to trade in rhino horn internationally. At this point, we are not in a position to pronounce on the matter as the internal preparatory processes are not yet finalized. I can however inform you that the process to prepare for the 16th Conference of Parties has been initiated and interested and affected Parties were invited to register to participate in this process. Registration closed on 30 March 2012 and we will consider the draft proposals received. Proposals must be submitted to COP16 by 04 October 2012.

Before South Africa can approach CITES there are certain issues that need to be addressed. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • All rhino horn in private and government possession must be permitted, marked, registered and verified
  • Strategic engagements with regional and international partners
  • Trading partners must be identified and confirmed
  • Legislation of trading partners must be amended to enable them to legally import and sell rhino horn (no legal trade permitted currently in consumer states)
  • Development of a proposed system for trade, including appropriate legislative provisions in South Africa and potential recipient countries (Similar to ivory trade process, where Japan and China had to provide for legislative systems to ensure control mechanisms are in place relating to ivory)
  • Cabinet approval needed before submission of a proposal to the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to amend the annotation to the CITES listing of the South African population of White rhino. Currently the annotation is for the exclusive purpose of allowing international trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations and hunting trophies. All other specimens are deemed to be specimens of species included in Appendix I and the trade in them shall be regulated accordingly (no trade for commercial purposes allowed).
  • If the process is similar to the African elephant down listing and ivory sale proposals, a Panel of Experts (PoE) will be constituted with a ToR that could include the following:


a) Evaluate the status and management of the rhino population, including:

i) the viability and sustainability of the population, and potential risks

ii) the affected range State's demonstrated ability to monitor the subject population and

iii) the effectiveness of current anti-poaching measures;

b) Evaluate the affected range State's ability to control trade rhino horn, including:

i) whether total levels of off take from both legal and illegal killing are sustainable

ii) whether control of rhino horn stocks is adequate to prevent the mixing of legal and illegal rhino horn;

iii) whether law enforcement is effective; and

iv) whether enforcement and controls are sufficient to ensure that no significant amounts of rhino horn taken or traded illegally from other countries are traded within or through the territory of the affected range State; and

c) where appropriate:

i) the trade in parts and derivatives from the White rhino other than the horn and the controls on such trade in the proponent State; and

ii) the controls on rhino horn trade in specified importing countries.


  • Based on the report by the PoE, the Conference of Parties will consider the proposal. Two-thirds majority must be obtained for a proposal to be approved.


The Department announced last week that I would engage my provincial counterparts on 30 March 2012 at MINMEC to approve for publication the amendments to the norms and standards for marking rhino horn and hunting white rhino for trophy hunting that we had drafted. The amendments were published on 30 September 2011 for public comments. I am pleased to announce that the amendments have been approved by MINMEC and will come into effect as soon as it is published in the government gazette.

With regards to the comments received during the comments period, the majority of comments related to but were not restricted to; measures to follow the movement of rhino horns being strengthened to prevent them from entering the international trade market; samples for DNA analysis should also be taken of the live animal when translocated and not only of the horn; confirmation of the bona fide status of the hunting client as well as a provision that horns, which form part of a hunting trophy , must be mounted in South Africa prior to the export of the horns.

To address the comments received, additional obligations and provisions have been included in the final draft norms and standards after the consultation process. Some of the provisions include all detached horns have to be marked by means of a micro-chip, as well as an external mark with a unique number. Additional information that is required from a hunting client in support of the application for a hunting permit; among others include proof of membership of a hunting association, or proof of previous hunting experience.

Some of the key amendments in the norms and standards include, the marking of all live rhinos sold and transported after commencement of the norms and standards that have not been micro-chipped will now have to be micro-chipped. The management of hunting of rhinoceros has been strengthened through among others, clarification that a person may only hunt and export one rhino for trophy purposes within a twelve month period; rhino hunts must take place under the supervision of a conservation official preferably an environmental management inspector from the province concerned.In addition, when considering an application, the issuing authority has to consider whether the country of usual residence of the hunting client, where the horns and hunting trophy will be imported to, has adequate legislation to ensure that the horns and hunting trophy will be used for the purposes as indicated in the CITES export permit. DNA sampling is a new section contained in the norms and standards.

DNA collection
This section states that DNA samples of rhino horns must be collected when live rhinos are darted for translocation, treatment and any other management purposes. DNA samples have to be collected from detached horns obtained through amongst others natural mortalities, dehorning, or rhino horn trophies, when such horns have to be micro-chipped. The results of these DNA samples aim to assist enforcement officials to achieve successful prosecutions during criminal proceedings.

The new norms and standards will strengthen the regulatory framework in terms of monitoring the legality of hunts and control over rhino horns. Stricter provisions relating to hunting were required to ensure processes are standardized and to reduce possible abuse of the system. The provinces have indicated that they will be able to implement the norms and standards.

We are continuing to do research work to find more innovative mechanisms to curb rhino poaching. We once again make a call to members of the public to continue with all efforts they have mounted and call for more innovations and involvement of the South African society.

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