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The great rhino hunting debate

25 February 2013, 14:01
The hunting debate has once again reared its ugly head with the news that Timbavati will be holding 2 White Rhino hunts in the very near future. As is common knowledge Timbavati is one of a few APNR’s (Association of Private Nature Reserves) that have removed their fences between themselves and the Kruger National Park which allows animals to move freely between Kruger and these hunting concessions and lodges.  Most of these APNR’s offer Rhino hunting safaris.

Recently an Avaaz petition was started by Paul Kruger Safaris to stop the hunting of White Rhino at Timbavati. 

Timbavati in response to released a statement that explained how Rhino hunting is part of South Africa’s “sustainable use” policy and conservation of the species.

I would venture to say that the statement may come back to bite Timbavati in the proverbial as their statement is rather condescending about photographic tourism and the negative effects they perceive that type of tourism has on the ecosystem. 

What Mr Hancock fails to see is the broader picture which is the crux of the matter when it comes to Rhino hunting.  The hunting industry in South Africa is undoubtedly a large income generator but it comes nowhere near competing with tourism and despite all their protestations the number of people employed in the industry is miniscule compared to tourism and very few of those employed in the industry benefit in a large scale from these hunting activities. 

In South Africa a professional hunter (aka PH) does not have to belong to any association and such there is little control over hunters who feel fit to ‘break the rules’ and PHASA have been very lax in the past to self regulate or take steps to ensure that registered hunters who do bend the rules are brought to book. 

Further, there is no annual limit to the number of permits that can be issued for White Rhino hunts and each province has the ability to issue as many permits as they deem fit despite there being a limit to the number of permits issued to an individual hunter.  As we all know there are many corrupt officials working in conservation and this was made evident in the Chumlong Lemtongthai case last year where video footage clearly shows that the PH’s were the hunters and not the permit holders.  Each of these hunts (and there were more than 40 rhinos killed/hunted in this instance) a conservation officer was present and to my knowledge not a single one of them has yet been charged for the part that they played in these pseudo hunts.  

In late 2012 the TOPS regulations were changed to place stricter guidelines on the issuing of permits to Vietnamese hunters but they were already 2 steps ahead of this and had already started recruiting pseudo hunters from other countries. 

We are a long way away from getting control of the rhino poaching crisis and it is clear from what has happened in the past that there are very few ‘genuine’ Rhino trophy hunters and that the majority of hunts are mere smoke screens for gaining access to ‘legal’ horn which is being used to feed the black market and the growing demand in Asia for rhino horn.

My proposal is this:  Should the hunting fraternity insist that the purpose of the hunts is purely for conservation purposes and that their hunters are all legitimate hunters who are also as concerned about the survival of the species as we are, let’s then come to a compromise. 

Let’s agree to a quota on White Rhino hunts.  At this moment in time we still do not have an up to date census on our population figures as the census that was promised in 2012 did not take place and the population census figures from 2010 have been scientifically projected to produce figures that some members of the conservation fraternity deem to be incorrect.  This aside a population growth rate of 4% (after hunting, poaching mortalities etc) is in my mind a very low growth rate that needs to be increased by reducing hunting and poaching as much as possible.

Secondly let’s all agree that the future existence of the Rhino is of common interest to all people (hunters, conservationists, scientists, citizens etc) and that this is the most important issue at hand. 

If the ‘genuine’ trophy hunters have the survival of the species close to their hearts then they will not be opposed to my next suggestion which is that all trophies exported from South Africa can only be exported with a replica horn.   The “original horn” remains the property of the hunter and is micro chipped and DNA sampled as per TOPS regulations but is kept and  stored in South Africa until such time as the poaching crisis has abated.  This will ensure the rhino horn does not end up on the black market outside of South Africa and Rhino hunting will only attract genuine Big 5 hunters who have the same conservation values as we do. 

I have spoken to many hunters and they have all agreed that this is a viable solution and would support this initiative.

Let us not forget that “Extinction is forever”

Allison Thomson

OSCAP (Outraged SA Citizens against Poaching)

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