Statement by the DDG, Mr Ishaam Abader, on behalf of Minister Edna Molewa as South Africa marks World Wildlife Day at OR Tambo International Airport

03 March 2018

Statement by the Deputy Director-General: Legal Authorisations Compliance and Enforcement in the Department on Environmental Affairs on behalf of Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, as South Africa marks World Wildlife Day at OR Tambo International Airport


Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

I trust the inspection of a consignment being exported from South Africa by the Department of Environmental Affairs’ compliance officials this morning has been informative.

We are here at O R Tambo International Airport to celebrate World Wildlife Day.

The 3rd March marks the day annually that countries around the world turn their attention to the role played by all people in the protection of wildlife and their habitat.  The theme for World Wildlife Day 2018 is Big cats: predators under threat.

World Wildlife Day was first proclaimed in 2013 at the 68th session of the United National General Assembly (UNGA), and aims to raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.  Among the actions required to advance the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals is to raise public awareness on the links between wildlife conservation, rural livelihoods and sustainable development, as well as the role of governance and public-private partnerships.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) states that big cats, which are among the most widely recognised and admired animals, are facing many and varied threats worldwide. These are caused mostly by human activities.

South Africa adheres to the principle of sustainable utilisation of natural resources, as well as those principles set out in the National Development Plan aimed at creating a climate-resilient society while growing the economy and increasing jobs.  

Lion and leopard are also members of the Big Five and the international trade (import and export) in specimens of these species and cheetah, and their derivatives, is governed by CITES. The Scientific Authority in South Africa ensures that the trade and utilisation of the species does not negatively affect their existence in the wild. 

A range of measures have been introduced in South Africa to ensure that our cat populations are conserved and properly managed.  This includes the implementation of a Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Lion.  The Scientific Authority of South Africa conducted a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) as required by CITES.  The final NDF was published for implementation on 23 January 2018.

The Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) for Lion states that there are at present no major threats to the wild and managed lion populations within South Africa, although the management of re-introduced wild lion needs some improvement. Minor, but non-detrimental threats include over-utilisation, disease, poaching and conflict with communities around protected areas.

However, World Wildlife Day is not just about Big Cats.  It is a Day on which we should consider the effects human activities have on all wild animals in our country.  It is also a Day on which we have an opportunity to thank those law enforcement officials, conservationists and ordinary citizens for the work they do to ensure our wildlife is protected for future generations. Wildlife crime has become a serious matter that deserves our attention at the highest levels of governments across the world, with numerous resolutions and commitments being made, as part of the collaborative international effort.

Wildlife crime not only threatens natural resources, but also the economy through financial burdens and the loss of economic and development opportunities. 

As a country richly endowed with natural resources, South Africa is not immune to these challenges with criminal syndicates targeting iconic species, such as the cycad, rhino, elephant and lion, as well as species not often considered as being under threat – birds, tortoises and reptiles, including lizards and snakes.

People are the cornerstone of conservation. By facilitating the creation of sustainable livelihoods for our communities and giving them a stake in the management of wildlife, they will be less vulnerable to recruitment by poaching syndicates.

The declaration of wildlife crime as a priority crime in South Africa has resulted in a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral approach focused on collaboration through our national security structure. This involves border and customs officials, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Police and institutions such as the Airports Company of South Africa which manages international airports.

Effectively dealing with the illegal trade in wildlife is particularly challenging as it involves multiple dimensions, including poverty and governance, and is often hidden within the legal trade.

One of the many measures introduced in South Africa to combat wildlife crime has been the development of critical skills aimed at increasing our capacity to detect and investigate these crimes.  This has been augmented by a number of donor funded projects.

For example, the Department is currently working with WWF-SA on a project to increase our ability to tackle wildlife trafficking in South Africa. This project, funded by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of International & Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), focuses on the development of further training materials to bolster our national compliance and enforcement programme, including an e-learning platform for officials, audio visual materials, specific curriculum and manuals. These include reference materials to assist our law enforcement agencies to more effectively detect the smuggling of wildlife.

Traveller awareness material has also been developed highlighting the threat that wildlife crime poses to our rich biodiversity and encouraging people not to support the illegal trade in wildlife.

As mentioned earlier, we witnessed the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs), also known as the Green Scorpions, inspect a consignment of birds for export from South Africa to ensure that the consignment has met all legal requirements. About 300 legal wildlife-related consignments are exported/imported on a monthly basis at this airport and our EMI’s inspected and endorsed approximately 4 200 CITES permits during 2017. 

Following this briefing we will also be witnessing an operation by the SARS K9 unit here at O R Tambo International Airport in which a specialist sniffer dog will be deployed to detect an attempt to smuggle wildlife into South Africa.  These are but two of the actions being taken daily at our points of entry and exit to ensure that smuggling of wildlife is halted, and that our natural world is protected.

The Green Scorpions of the Department of Environmental Affairs also assist the SARS and SAPS with cases where illegally traded rhino horn have been detected – including the 11 seizures of rhino horn at OR Tambo since August 2016. The first case at ORTIA of 2018 recently involved the arrest of a Chinese woman in early January hiding 3 rhino horn pieces of approximately 4kg in a wine box.

The increase in detections of rhino horn at ORTIA are a tribute to the hard work and collaborative approach involving airport security, SARS, the Green Scorpions, and the police. 

In 2017, two significant sentences were handed down to individuals smuggling rhino horn through ORTIA. 

These were:

  • Vua Sun and Bo Yong were arrested at ORTIA on 11 June 2017 while boarding a flight to Hong Kong.  A total of 10 rhino horn were confiscated.  The two traffickers pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to seven years imprisonment without the option of a fine.
  • Xue Shuangshuang, arrested at ORTIA in transit from Zambia to China on 25 July 2017 was sentenced to four years imprisonment without the option of a fine after being found in possession of 11 rhino horn pieces.

As we mark the most important day on the annual wildlife calendar, I would like to commend and thank all those working tirelessly to protect and conserve the country’s wildlife.  Without your dedication, and the excellent level of cooperation that exists between the entities working at our points of entry and exit, we would not be able to celebrate the successes we have had in recent years.

We will not allow our wildlife – ranging from plants such as cycads, fish, and reptiles to iconic species such as lion, rhino and elephant -- to be plundered. South Africa, through our bold conservation practices serves as an example worldwide of how species can be saved from extinction, and how sustainable utilisation of our wildlife can be successfully implemented alongside the conservation of species.

I thank you

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