Moratorium needed on rhino hunting - Gareth Morgan

DA MP says legal killing of the animals has been abused to supply illegal trade

DA calls for moratorium on rhino hunting

The assault on South Africa's rhino population continues unabated. More than 220 rhinos have already been killed by poachers in 2011, and the total figure is sadly well on track to far exceed the 333 rhinos killed by poachers in 2010. The focus on protecting the rhino population has justifiably been on curbing the poaching of rhinos, and attempting to prevent the export of illegally obtained rhino horns. But it has now been revealed that a small number of professional hunters have been exploiting the legal hunting of rhinos as a means to export rhino horn into the illegal trade.

Rhino hunting is regulated according to the various provinces' needs, and it is essential that oversight be strengthened and governance improved at both national and provincial level.  For this reason, the Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, in consultation with the provincial MECs for Environmental Affairs and Conservation, to institute a short-term moratorium on rhino hunting to allow for an improvement in controls.

Several journalists have exposed in the last week how Thai nationals have allegedly been issued with hunting permits in the North West province over the last year. It appears that many, if not all, of these permit holders did not shoot the rhinos themselves, thus making the hunts illegal. Further, the reports of the investigative journalists have alleged that the rhino horns have been mounted as trophies and then exported to the Far East where the ‘trophies' entered the illegal trade in rhino horn. A rhino horn trophy is intended only for the use of the hunter who legally killed the rhino.

The provincial conservation authorities in the North West province have questions to answer as to how they allowed these practices to take place. However, we should equally be concerned about the other provinces that have ramped up the awarding of permits for the hunting of rhinos, notably Limpopo province and Mpumalanga province.

I will today be writing to the Minister to ask her to consider the implementation of a moratorium. She is admittedly in a difficult position, as the issuing of hunting permits is a function of the provinces. But as the national custodian of the environment she has a duty to consider all means to improve the protection of the rhino population.

There are a number of important action steps that the Minister needs to take to improve regulations around rhino hunting. First, there needs to be a national online registry of hunting permits. In real time, any provincial conservation official processing a hunting permit should be able to establish the record of the applicant across South Africa. At the same time, the national Department of Environmental Affairs would be able to track trends providing important intelligence on proposed hunts that may not be in line with the law.

Secondly, the national Minister needs to engage with her provincial counterparts about conducting a full audit of rhino hunts in the provinces over the last 18 months. It needs to be established to what extent (beyond the recent media exposés) government officials and professional hunters have been knowingly complicit in rhino hunts that have led to the rhino ‘trophies' entering the international rhino horn trade.

Lastly, the national Minister, informed by the best science available, needs to lead a discussion on the number of rhinos that should be permitted to be hunted in South Africa each year, and whether there should be a maximum allowable number of rhino permits for each province.

The DA is very aware that moratoriums of any kind can have unforeseen consequences. For this reason, if the Minister does institute a moratorium it should be for a stated time period, and she needs to commit to improving the regulation of rhino hunting during that time.

Statement issued by Gareth Morgan MP, DA Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, August 1 2011

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