Ahead of CITES South Africa conference rhino poaching continues unabated


September and South Africa’s hosting of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is fast approaching with warnings coming from the President of Botswana and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime about possible disappearance of species.

In South African rhino poaching remains the most rampant form of wildlife trafficking with rhino horn being sold in Vietnam at $50 000 a kilogramme but official statistics on rhino killing remain few and far between. The last official rhino kill figures released by the Department of Environmental Affairs was early in May and showed a national loss of 363 rhino, compared to 404 for the same period last year.

Unofficial statistics collected and collated by non-government organisations working on rhino conservation give a different picture.

According to Stoprhinopoachingnow South Africa lost more than 540 rhino to poachers’ high-powered hunting rifles in the first six months of this year.

Botswana president Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who is also current president of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), told a workshop earlier this month that “elephant, rhino and pangolins are being killed in large numbers to meet rising international demand for commodities such as ivory, rhino horn, scales and meat”.

He told delegates at the workshop on the illegal trade in wildlife, it (the illegal trade) “has the potential to wipe out endangered fauna and flora species”.

Add to this researcher Julian Rademeyer’s conclusion in his two part report rhino horn trafficking in southern Africa. He states “the networks that traffic rhino horn and other wildlife products are ruthlessly efficient, imaginative, endlessly adaptive and free of the strictures imposed by legal jurisdictions, bureaucratic regulations and international boundaries. They are everything the government bureaucracies and law enforcement agencies rallied against them are not. Time is of the essence and the onslaught on wildlife and the environment is only worsening”.

He maintains addressing the “systemic levels of corruption that undermine effort to protect rhino populations” will require a concerted effort. At the same time international co-operation and diplomatic relations will have to be heightened to disrupt trafficking networks along the entire length of the supply chain.
“High level political interventions including bilateral and multilateral law enforcement agreements on wildlife trafficking are required and should be led by government ministers in the police, state security, justice and foreign affairs portfolios in affected countries.”

The continued poaching and trafficking of species such as elephant, rhino and pangolin as well as captive lion breeding which has according to CITES “reached epidemic proportions” are among issues that will come under the microscope at COP17 in Sandton at the end of September.