Statement by the Department of Environmental Affairs on the issue of trade in rhino horn

06 June 2014


Recent media reports on the issue of possible trade in rhino horns by South Africa have been mischievous and have evidently been playing to the gallery by seeking to create confusion with regards to the government’s position on the proposed trade in rhino horns.

The South African government is well aware of the worldwide assault on wildlife, particularly rare and endangered species.South Africa, as home to more than 80% of the world’s rhino population, has been facing an onslaught from rhino poaching syndicates since 2008.

Our initiatives to address rhino poaching have incorporated not only increasing the number of rangers protecting our wildlife, but also improving regional and international collaboration with range and consumer states. It has also included introducing legislation and policy measures to support the tasks of those working to ensure rhino and other wildlife threatened by poachers and crime syndicates are protected and will not become extinct.

While the Department of Environmental Affairs was authorised by Cabinet last year to explore the possible legalisation of trade in rhino horn with CITES at the 17th Conference of Parties in 2016, no final proposal has been compiled, or decision made, regarding the future legal trade in rhino horn as an additional intervention to reduce the levels of poaching.

This means no final proposal has been compiled regarding the future legal trade in rhino horn as an additional intervention to reduce the levels of poaching.

Since the start of 2014, 442 rhinos have been poached in South Africa and 123 suspected poachers arrested.  The Kruger National Park has lost 293 rhinos to poachers, with 56 people, including a former ranger and two policemen, being arrested for poaching.

Of the total number of rhino poached, 48 rhinos have been killed in Limpopo, 41 in KwaZulu-Natal and 28 in North West.

As international anti-trade campaigns gather momentum, it is of critical importance to emphasise that South Africa’s position regarding the trade in rhino horn is being distorted by the anti-trade lobby and the media.

A Panel of Experts, under the chairmanship of the Deputy Director General: Biodiversity and Conservation in the Department of Environmental Affairs, Mr Fundisile Mketeni, has been appointed to assist the Inter-Ministerial Committee appointed by Cabinet to deliberate on the matters relating to a possible trade in rhino horn.

The Panel of Experts has started its work and will, in the coming months, listen to all sides of the trade debate before submitting a set of recommendations to the Inter-Ministerial Committee. No proposal to CITES will be finalised until all the questions related to the trade in rhino horn have been comprehensively debated and investigated.

The proposal to be tabled to CITES in 2016 will be based on sound research, take into consideration the terms of the recent London Declaration.  It will not be influenced by any individual wanting to “line their pockets” or any group opposed to South Africa’s sustainable utilisation policies. The proposal is part of a set of holistic interventions introduced by government, SANParks and conservation institutions to stem the tide of rhino poaching.

The suggestion by the Director of the University of Pretoria’s Conservation Ecology Unit, Professor Rudi van Aarde, that poaching is not an ecological, but a political problem and that the remark by Environmental Affairs Minister, Mrs Edna Molewa, in which she was quoted as saying that South Africa “did an ivory once-off sale and elephant poaching has not been a problem since” is mischievous.

Minister Molewa’s remark was made during an interview with a foreign news agency at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of Biodiversity and Conservation between South Africa and Mozambique in the Kruger National Park on 17 April 2014.

It is important to note that South Africa’s elephant were not affected by poaching for more than a decade following the once-off sale, approved by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2007. The sale of ivory by South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in November 2008 to approved Chinese and Japanese buyers was authorised by CITES, and was the first sale permitted following a ban on the trade in elephant and elephant products by CITES in 1989.

While South Africa has been fortunate to escape the onslaught on elephant populations by poachers across Africa in recent years, the country is ready to deal with any elephant poaching incidents. Safety and security measures have been developed, and actions taken, alongside steps to address the menace of rhino poaching, to ensure elephant poaching does not increase in South Africa.

South Africa has been mindful of any attempts by international criminal syndicates to expand their elephant poaching operations across the country’s borders, particularly since South Africa was warned at the 16th Conference of Parties to CITES in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2013, that elephant poaching was expected to become a problem as of the start of 2014.

The cross-border crime of rhino and elephant poaching, as with all wildlife crimes, requires coordinated and joint responses not only by individual countries and environmental authorities, but also by domestic, regional and international security agencies to ensure that terrorist groups and well-organised cross border crime syndicates are unable to benefit from particularly endangered species such as the rhino and elephant.

Poaching remains the biggest threat to South Africa’s rhino and our successful conservation track record. Addressing this scourge is not simple and there is no single solution. South Africa believes that the decision to table a proposal at the next CITES CoP is timeous, and may be a step towards addressing a scourge that is decimating one of our iconic Big Five species. South Africa is however not in any way insinuating that the possible trade in rhino horns would be a panacea to the problem of poaching.

While the government’s decision on whether to table a proposal at the CITES CoP17 or not will be based on the outcome of the Inter-Ministerial process, South Africa believes that legalising the trade in rhino horn will in no way contribute to increased poaching.

South Africans and members of the international community are encouraged to report incidents of poaching and tip-offs to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111 or Crime-Line on 32211

Rhino poaching statistics


South Africa 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
KNP (SANParks) 146 252 425 606 293
MNP (SANParks) 0 6 3 3 0
GP 15 9 1 8 3
LIM 52 74 59 114 48
MP 17 31 28 92 14
NW 57 21 77 87 28
EC 4 11 7 5 10
FS 3 4 0 4 4
KZN 38 34 66 85 41
WC 0 6 2 0 1
NC 1 0 0 0 0
 Total 333 448 668 1004 442


Rhino poaching arrests statistics


South Africa - Arrests 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
KNP 56 133 73 82 67
MNP 0 0 0 0 0
Gauteng (GP) 0 10 26 16 10
Mpumalanga (MP) 2 34 66 73 16
Eastern Cape (EC) 0 0 0 2 7
Limpopo (LP) 22 70 34 34 36
North West (NW) 11 26 32 21 2
Free State (FS) 0 7 6 0 0
KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) 32 63 20 4 25
Western Cape (WC) 0 0 0   2
Northern Cape (NC) 0 0 1 0 0
Total 123 343 267 232 165


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