Rhino poaching highest in SA
Port Elizabeth - Poaching of rhinos in SA is the highest because the country has the highest populations of the endangered animals, a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) expert has said.
"It's an easier payoff for poachers because of the large population that is difficult to protect," WWF Africa Rhino Programme manager Joseph Okori told News24.
He said that compared to other African countries, SA faced numerous challenges with regard to rhino poaching and urged the government to implement environmental policies.
"Poaching happens throughout Africa, with the exception of Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania. Those countries have small rhino populations in intensive protection zones, with more people on the ground."
Okori said that SA has not tapped into the donor support that assisted countries in Africa with rhino protection, and that the country lagged behind, in terms of implementing its environmental protection policies.
"In other African countries, people understand the rhino's role as a tourist attraction and because their economies are smaller they rely to a greater extent on the income generated by this tourism. In South Africa, however, we have a wider economy and not as dependent on tourism income.
"Also, we have stronger labour laws in this country, where you can't have a ranger working for 24 hours, but the poachers work for 24 hours with sophisticated equipment; this creates an imbalance," Okori said.
The black rhino is particularly vulnerable in SA and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) signed an agreement with the WWF to re-home the critically endangered species in an effort to boost population numbers.
It is also hoped that an increase in rhino populations will boost tourism in the Eastern Cape.
"It will echo for generations in the future and it illustrates how we can take natural resources and add value," said Sybert Liebenberg, CEO of the ECPTA, speaking at the signing event.
"This is one of the poorest provinces and we're planning innovative events around our parks. But the real heroes are the guys in green who sit in the sun and track poachers," he added.
Rangers in the Great Fish River nature reserve are well-armed, but don't have enough manpower to police the entire park effectively.
Okori said that lessons from other African countries were instructive in using the army to assist game rangers to fight poaching, but that it should be done with great care.
"Wildlife protection is delegated to the army. They're not always equipped to do that, but their presence helps deter those who want to poach. We need to ensure that the SANDF is well-trained and educated before they assist.
"They can become more of a problem if they are not effective. The SANDF is tasked with ensuring that our borders are not being violated, and assist regular rangers. The army takes an active role in Kenya, where they have a 'shoot to kill' policy. It's a clear deterrent," he said.
Okori said that the government should engage with countries like Vietnam in order to arrest the growth in demand for rhinos, which would destroy the profit motive of poaching.
"We are yet to see what the minister said being put into action, and while 2010 has been a year of understanding the problem, 2011, must be a pro-active year of action - we want to see delivery."
- Follow Duncan on Twitter