South Africa identifies co-operation with Hong Kong and other parties as central to addressing the on-going killing of rhino at international level
8 Aug 2012
A high level South African delegation visiting Hong Kong have identified information exchange, awareness and education, enforcement and technology-sharing with authorities there as central to efforts aimed at addressing wildlife crime, especially the on-going scourge of rhino poaching in South Africa.
The delegation, comprising high-level representatives from the Department of Environmental Affairs and law enforcement authorities, today ended two-day talks with the Hong Kong authorities, non-governmental organisations and the Hong Kong media as part of South Africa’s efforts to foster co-operation at bilateral and multilateral levels to thwart the on-going scourge of rhino poaching.
The Hong Kong engagement follows the seizure late last year of rhino horns and worked elephant ivory by customs officials there. South Africa aims to send a team of experts to collect DNA samples from the seized rhino horn in a month’s time. The collection of DNA samples will aid in establishing the origin of the rhino horns and lead to possible prosecutions.
The collection of the samples is however dependant on the signing of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Maters between the South African and the government of Hong Kong. These samples are central in assisting the law enforcement agencies in identifying the possible origins of the confiscated items that are currently held by the Hong Kong customs.
The 33 pieces of rhino horn weighing 86.54kg and 127 pieces of ivory bracelets and 759 pieces of ivory chopsticks with a combined weight of 22.24kg is the largest recorded consignment of illegally traded rhino horn and elephant ivory originating from South Africa which has been seized outside of the country.
This request for assistance and cooperation with the Hong Kong authorities is in line with an agreement between Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to cooperate and assist each other in the fight against the illegal trade in CITES-listed species.
On 10 April 2012, Minister Molewa gazetted the norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros horn and for the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes in Gazette No. 35248 for immediate implementation. With regard to DNA profiling, the norms and standards state that when live rhinoceros are darted for translocation, treatment or any other management purpose, samples of the horns and blood must be collected by using the DNA kits provided by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.
Currently, the bank has over 5 000 rhino DNA samples and matches can be made with either hunted or poached animals. This evidence can then be used in a court of law to assist with a guilty verdict of an offender. This will enable South Africa to identify and link confiscated horns to a specific rhino, thereby identifying the source of the horns and whether or not it was removed illegally.
Since the beginning of this year, a total of 312 rhinos have been lost to illegal killings in South Africa. The continued efforts by the South African government to curb rhino poaching have resulted in a total of 187 arrests for 2012 thus far. 164 of the total arrests are at the level of poachers, 10 are receivers or couriers, 6 are couriers or buyers and 7 of the arrested are exporters.
South Africa is home to approximately 22 000 white and black rhinoceros of which 12 000 are found in the Kruger National Park. This represents 93% of the world’s total rhino population. The South African population is one of the last viable rhino populations in the world which makes it vulnerable. South Africa is the remaining hope for the rhino conservation globally and recognises that the global community support and co-operation must be enlisted to address the scourge.
South Africa has, among others, also put in place the following interventions to curb rhino poaching:
- The publication and implementation of the norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros horn and for the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes. The norms and standards state that all rhino horns whether acquired by a legal dehorning procedure, natural mortality or any other means; must be micro-chipped. As mentioned previously, DNA samples of the rhino horn and blood must be collected from all live rhino darted for translocation, treatment or any other management purpose. Furthermore, hunting applications must be accompanied by amongst others, proof of membership to a hunting association and proof of previous experience in hunting of any African species. In addition, a hunting client may only hunt one white rhino for trophy hunting purposes in a twelve month period. As a result, the government of South Africa have not received any hunting permit requests from the alleged consumers of rhino horn: Vietnam, Thailand or China since the implementation of the norms and standards.
- The Council of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has approved funding to the tune of R25 million that will be injected into efforts aimed at strengthening the current wildlife forensic capabilities in South Africa to combat wildlife crimes such as wildlife trafficking.
- The Department of Environmental Affairs has appealed to the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to conduct inspections and verify that the white rhinoceros trophies exported from South Africa to Vietnam are still in the possession of the hunters. Vietnamese authorities have failed to confirm this in writing and as a result, the department has recommended to all conservation authorities that hunting permits for white rhinos be refused to all Vietnamese citizens.
- Adding to the 500 rangers deployed at the Kruger National Park, an additional 150 rangers have been deployed to fight rhino poaching. The park has become the most targeted by rhino poachers having lost a total of 187 rhinos to illegal killing since the beginning of this year. The South African National Defence Force has also returned to the 350km of national border in Kruger National Park and other country borders.
The South African government would like to urge all Non-Government Organisations and organisations involved in fighting rhino poaching to continue working together with law enforcement agencies and research institutions to utilise science based evidence for the conviction of alleged poachers. South Africans are also urged to report any illegal rhino activities that they are aware of to 0800 205 005.
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Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs
8 Aug 2012
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