By Allen Tshautshau
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries have been faced with a challenge of the declining rhino population. Many individuals of this majestic species has been hunted, and butchered by ruthless poachers. Numerous initiatives that are aimed at saving the species from the brink of extinction has been put in place by Governments, NGO’s and concerned ordinary people in this region. Despite the tireless efforts of these concerned parties, numbers of death of rhinos continues to rise. In South Africa, more than 700 rhinos have been killed in 2013 so far, and by the looks of things this unscrupulous act is likely to continue until when the last rhino has been chopped down (that is if we don’t bolster and intensify our fight against poaching). However, both government and private entities are doing everything in their powers to fight against poaching, and a total of 228 arrests have been made thus far.
Various possibilities and ways of trying to solve this national crisis have been suggested by various stakeholders. Perhaps one of the breakthroughs is the signing of the memorandum of understanding for anti-poaching between SA and Vietnam (a country where the demand for the horn is high because the majority of Vietnamese believed that the horn cures cancer).
However, our Namibian counterparts have granted permission to the United States trophy hunters for shooting a black rhino in the Mangetti National Park for conservation fund raising. Understandably, Namibia is not in a deep crisis in terms of the rhino population decline. But let the truth be told here, killing one rhino for R 7.2 m for fun will not have a significant decrease in the rate of poaching in the SADC region. I agree one needs funding in order to conserve this species, which is what this exceptional hunting has been arranged (I guess). Thanks to the Dallas Safari Club for their R 7.2m “conservation initiative” in this part of Africa where rhino poaching is prevalent. Be that as it may, I doubt if these guys can give that of kind amount to the conservation agencies without killing a rhino. To me this sounds like that Louis Theroux documentary where the Americans were funding South Africans to convert their farms into game ranches in return “for trophy hunting for fun”. Well, I am not against this initiative, not at all. My greatest fear is on the impact it will have on poaching in the SADC region as well as the likelihood of doing more harm than good. This initiative literally assigns a monetary value to the black rhinos, something that in my opinion will exacerbate poaching in the SADC region, and encourage novice thugs to butcher this species.
Trophy hunting certainly generate income for wildlife management but in some extent the money end up not doing the conservation work it is intended to do, particularly in situation were the reserve is partly owned by the local communities. Take for an example the Mduku community in Kwazulu Natal where the money gained from trophy hunting of a single white rhino was perceived as a tool for community development, and calming members who were allegedly angry about not benefiting from the reserve that this community partly own. This is good for encouraging Community Based Natural Resources Management, but there has to be stringent measures in terms of balancing and the allocations of the trophy hunting money into conservation and community development, thus creating sustainability of the natural resources. However, authorities must intervene in cases that relate to equal access to equal benefit and sharing of revenue generated from the reserve to avoid anger by community members, and abuse of resources by elite community members. I understand that we need this funding as SADC, but it must be mentioned that without a strong political will and interventions, the poor rhinos will be legally hunted for the money that will be squandered by the few elite groups.
- Allen Tshautshau, Environmental Control Officer and South African National Antarctic Programme’s Deputy Team Leader at Marion Island.
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