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Minister Edna Molewa’s remarks on rhino poaching debate

02 September 2014


Honourable members, since perhaps the dawn of time, the rhino, ubejane, tsukudu, renoster has been emblematic of Africa. Of us as a continent, and of us as a people.

This animal, with its magnificent features - remind us of our ancestral past, and our prehistoric origins, from another place in time. In this month of September, we celebrate our great heritage as South Africans and as Africans…and our human connection with nature.

The fight to save the rhino goes way beyond the protection of a species. It is inextricably tied to our South African heritage. There are those who would ask why, with all the challenges we face as a country to build a better life for all: do we place the conservation of animals at the center of national debate.

The answer is a simple one. It is because protection of our natural resources lies at the heart of what makes us South Africans: our love for this beautiful land. Which is why we will not be complacent as our national security is breached, and criminals decimate our wildlife, among the most abundant in the world.

South Africa has always been, and remains, the home of the rhino. Despite the onslaught of human encroachment over the centuries, and man’s often-cruel pursuit of these animals, they have endured. And here, in the southernmost tip of Africa, they are home. Eighty-two percent of Africa’s rhino can be found in South Africa. Ninety three percent of white rhino and 39% of black rhino are here.

And yet barely a century ago they faced extinction. Not just in Africa, but globally. It is because of the conservation efforts of South Africa that the majority of Africa’s rhino may today be found in the Kruger National Park – a name so famous globally and associated with the legendary Big Five that it is simply called ‘Kruger’.

But our sterling track record is under threat. Rhino are being poached in ever increasing numbers.

It is no ordinary crime – but part of a greater, highly organized, well-funded illicit wildlife trade. Those behind rhino poaching are often linked to transnational crime syndicates operating not on the margins of society, but within it, counting within their ranks those who have the inside knowledge, the know-how and the financial means to bring the rhino once again to the brink of extinction.

As signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – also known as CITES; we have long placed sustainable utilization at the cornerstone of our conservation policies. South Africa remains committed to rooting out the illegal trade in specimens of wild animals and plants: which threatens their survival.

Honourable Members of the house, we are holding this debate today because we as the government believe that the solution to the illicit wildlife trade, and in particular, rhino poaching, cannot lie in one area alone.

Solving the problem also isn’t the government’s task alone: but will ultimately rest on the strength of collaborative partnerships between government, the private sector and the NGO sector: all the while mindful that the decision whether or not to engage in such practices heavily depend on the motives and consciences of individuals – be they socio-economic hardship, or sheer greed.

The South African government, under the stewardship of the Department of Environmental Affairs, has adopted the integrated strategic management of rhinoceros’ – a raft of measures that, working in tandem - will be brought to bear to fight this scourge.

To ensure the long-term survival of this great African animal necessitates that we long abandon a wait-and-see approach.

Time is not on our side…the rhino simply does not have the time.

Honourable members, a strategy, as adopted by Cabinet, is characterized by a balance between proactive anti-poaching measures, the implementation of innovative new measures to bolster rhino numbers, and the vigorous pursuit of interventions for long-term sustainability.

Compulsory interventions we as the government have been doing all along include existing and pro-active anti-poaching initiatives, bolstered by improved, actionable intelligence as well as the introduction of responsive legislation and policy amendments.

Another intervention the South African government has used in the past with immense success, and continues to employ – is strategic translocation. Moving rhino to low risk areas –leading to the creation of new rhino strongholds in areas where the animals are safe and protected, has been scientifically proven to result in increased populations. It is important to note that these translocations will take place to other parks, reserves as well as to private and community land.

But we know that meeting the challenge posed by a fluid and rapidly evolving criminal enterprise requires innovation: new approaches that can effectively disrupt the syndicates behind the illicit rhino horn trade. Which is why, as of the 1st of September, we have established a National Rhino Operations Center in the Kruger National Park to centralize and strengthen co-ordination of anti-poaching operations and activities, under the leadership of the South African Police Services. It should also be mentioned that this joint management strategy also rests heavily on collaboration with neighboring countries or so-called range states; as well as end-user countries.

To this end, MOUs have been concluded with:

a. the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,

b. The People’s Republic of China, and

c. The Government of Mozambique

Similar such cooperation are being finalized with the governments of Cambodia, Lao’s People Democratic Republic, further: and being discussed with Thailand, Tanzania and Botswana. These MoUs include various areas of cooperation with among other things, a focus on biodiversity management, and conservation.

Because we know, and we have learned, that increased militarization alone will not work. It has to be matched by proactive strategies targeted at end-user countries: including but not limited to demand reduction through awareness campaigns.

But so long as there is reason, be it greed or indigence – for someone to go out and shoot a rhino and saw off its horn: we will consider community relationships as the very foundation of our strategies.

It is, after all, from these communities that the poachers come. It is also from these communities – many of them under-developed and neglected, that the natural instinct to protect these animals may be superseded by concerns for money because they are simply too poor.

The ownership and management of our country’s wildlife was for centuries, in the hands of the few. Generations of South African children were born and grew up alongside many of the country’s wildlife reserves.. without ever being allowed past the gate.

It is under this government that the dream of many from these communities, to have a stake in the management and ownership of these animals - has been realized.

To ensure the long-term, sustainable utilization of wildlife of which we speak, it is key that we involve communities every step of the way. Not just by creating an enabling environment that facilitates rhino ownership and management for disadvantaged communities. But also through creating economic alternatives to poaching within these communities.

Honourable Members, the lure of the poacher is a strong one…especially if you believe your future to be bleak and your prospects to be non-existent.

But it is a road we are determined to dissuade them from taking. And it starts with the young. The seeds of national pride in our rhino and its protection are most fertile in the minds of the youth.  The values of pride, responsibility, and duty to protect – once successfully instilled in them, never leave. But we cannot promise them words alone. It is our responsibility to redirect the energies of the young towards useful, income generating projects that mean they remain far from the poacher’s snare.

Our very first impressions of the recently convened public hearings into rhino poaching tell us that if offered alternatives, communities are inclined towards upliftment and conservation – not crime.

We are a country committed to sustainable utilization of natural resources. Which is why Cabinet has also authorized my department to explore the feasibility of a legal trade in rhino horn products. The application of economic fundamentals to issues around a proposed legal trade, also known as rhinonomics: is among the terms of reference of a Panel of Experts appointed to look into this issue ahead of the CITES Conference of Parties in 2016.

The Cabinet Inter-Ministerial Committee and the Panel of Experts are considering all options: and have made no decision. Today, as we have repeatedly done, we are calling on stakeholders and interested parties to register to participate in the processes of the panel.

Honourable Members, South Africans, we have borne the brunt of this scourge, the bitter fruit of our successful conservation record. But we remain confident that our efforts in implementing the integrated strategic approach will build on the successes of the past, and not undermine them. 

The challenges will not remain static, which is why our approach is strategic, targeted, and innovative. The fight to save the rhino is inextricably linked to who we are as a country: a country with a proud heritage that we celebrate throughout the month of September. A country wherein each of us knows that what distinguishes us from the beasts is our compassion, our mercy, and our recognition that we are one with nature. We owe it to our rhino, and to ourselves, to succeed.

For queries, contact:

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871