No permits to hunt rhino... yet

2013-02-21 00:00

NO applications to hunt rhino in KwaZulu-Natal have been lodged or approved so far this year.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife CEO Dr Bandile Mkhize said the conservation authority would grant a permit only after careful consideration.

Mkhize led a charm offensive yesterday at a Durban hotel where he called a press conference to defend recent criticisms. One contentious issue has been the disposal of excess animals by hunting, auctions or donations.

Ezemvelo scientist Ian Rushworth explained how the province’s protected areas were individually managed to control the animal populations in each.

He said complex mathematical models were used to determine if any areas should have a certain number of species removed in order to balance the ecological system.

Rushworth said this could occur, for example, in an area where predators once roamed. “Where we can’t reintroduce those predators, we simulate that process and work out how many animals to take off.”

Census counts help inform such decisions: by last March Ezemvelo had at least 108 000 large mammals in 42 protected areas. Mkhize made the same point, stressing that six committees — seven in the case of rhinos — had first to approve game “off-takes”, the term used to describe animals removed from an area.

Controversially, some of those “off-takes” occur in the form of donations to King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Mkhize said the royal household performed centuries-old rituals during the year which required the use of specific animals.

“Because animals are no longer roaming freely, they approach us as a custodian [of wildlife] and we oblige because the royal household is significant … to us as a nation, especially me as a Zulu speaker.”

Mkhize was unable to say which animals were used or what the rituals entailed. Asked by The Witness if the authority would give the king an endangered animal, Mkhize said: “It does not mean you can’t give one species of animal. Whether we have given the king endangered animals is neither here nor there.”

Ezemvelo also announced renewed efforts in combating rhino poaching, saying it had recruited 300 more rhino ambassadors in rural communities adjacent to their parks to add to the 100 already employed.

The ambassadors, paid a stipend of R2 000 a month, help educate communities on the scourge of poaching.

Mkhize said to fight rhino poaching, they had budgeted amounts of R27 million this year and another R19 million for next year.

Ten rhino have already been poached in KwaZulu-Natal this year.

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