Rhino conservation – Quo Vadis


The seventh and final item on Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s budget vote speech in the National Assembly this week dealt with rhino poaching.

Notwithstanding that rhino poaching and the illegal trafficking in rhino horn has been declared a priority crime, it appears the Minister sees issues such as a climate resilient economy, waste, chemicals, air quality, biodiversity management and conservation as well as government’s ambitious blue economy programme – Operation Phakisa – more important, at least when it comes to addressing Parliamentarians on how she plans to spend the funds allocated to her department by National Treasury.

This was seized on by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party’s shadow deputy environmental affairs minister, Johni Edwards, in his response to the minister.

He asked “do we want rhinos in 20 years?” and said in response to a “yes” that strategy around management and protection of this Big Five species would have to change drastically.
“Despite repeated requests to make statistics (on rhino kills and related arrests) available more regularly, no new information has been made public by the Minister since January 2015.
“According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) 1 338 rhinos were poached on the African continent in 2015, 1 175 of these were poached in South Africa. That means 88% of the African rhinos poached in 2015 were slaughtered on South African soil.
“While I take note of the fact that in 2015 40 less rhinos were poached than in 2014, I must ask: ‘What is it that you are trying to achieve?’ When we consider the stats before us we have actually conserved very little. Well done on the reduction, but this approach will only postpone the extinction date.
“Minister, we need the poaching to stop. Merely reducing the killings is not good enough. If this government takes conservation seriously, they need to act immediately. Every rhino that dies unnaturally brings the extinction date closer. Does this government really want to be remembered as the government that just didn’t care?” he asked.

Molewa gave MPs five minimum requirements needed to create what she termed “an environment conducive for rhino conservation in South Arica” and address rhino poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn.

The requirements are: adoption and implementation of the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking; community empowerment; biological management; responsive legislative provisions that are effectively implemented and enforced; and demand management, including information gathering to enhance knowledge about demand for rhino horn and identifying effective interventions to manage the demand.