SA rhino horn stocks top 18 tons – state

2013-07-03 16:41

Rhino horn stockpiles in South Africa currently total more than 18 tons, environmental affairs has confirmed.

These included 16 347 kilograms in government stockpiles and 2091kg in private hands, the department’s deputy director-general for biodiversity, Fundisile Mketeni, told reporters in Pretoria today.

“This is where we stand as we speak,” he said, adding that an audit of private stockpiles was still ongoing.

Earlier, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said South Africa was hoping to obtain international approval for a “once-off sale” of the stockpiled horns.

“South Africa cannot continue to be held hostage by the syndicates slaughtering our rhino,” she said.

Her department believed a well-regulated international trade in rhino horn, together with other measures, could destroy the booming black market trade and help curb poaching.

Close to 450 rhino had been poached in South Africa since the beginning of the year, well over half of them in the Kruger National Park (KNP).

Molewa warned that if poaching continued to increase at the rate it was, then 2026 would be “the year we possibly see the beginning of extinction of rhino”.

Last week, Cabinet approved the development and submission of a proposal to Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to introduce regulated international trade in rhino horn.

The treaty, to which South Africa is a signatory, bans such trade. The country is home to 73% of the world’s rhino. The next Cites meeting is set to take place in South Africa in 2016.

Molewa said the ongoing illegal killing of rhino had “highlighted the need to take action in terms of addressing demand for rhino horn”.

South Africa had raised the matter of legal trade in rhino horn at the last Cites meeting in Thailand. It was hoped its proposal would be accepted at the next one.

Responding to a question, Mketeni said the notion of a once-off sale of the stockpiles “currently is the thinking”. But moving forward, “there might be other models”.

On what would happen to the money generated from such sales, he said: “Our view is the money should go to conservation.”

The black market price of rhino horn is an estimated $65 000/kg (about R655 000/kg). At this rate, South Africa’s 18 ton-plus stockpile was worth about R10 billion.

In May this year, the chairman of Parliament’s environmental affairs portfolio committee, Johnny de Lange, encapsulated government’s thinking on legal trade in rhino horn when he told MPs the 35-year Cites ban on such trade had not stopped poachers.

“The data suggests that banning of legal, open trade in rhino horn has not resulted in reduced demand for the horn, and has not helped save the rhino from imminent extinction. Escalation in the slaughter of rhino is proof of this,” he said in the National Assembly.

Asian consumers simply did not believe that rhino horn had no medicinal value, no matter how many times it was said.

“Using increasingly sophisticated means, poaching syndicates have capitalised on the Cites ban to supply what appears to be a resurgent market demand,” said De Lange.

Legalising the rhino horn trade for South Africa was “likely to shift the market out of the hands of organised crime into legal channels, which must be good for rhino and other wildlife currently moving through these illicit channels”.

A legal, large and steady supply of horns was also likely to lower and stabilise prices, which would play against the black market, he said.

On other measures to counter rhino poaching in the KNP, Molewa said today that Mozambique was busy relocating communities from seven villages close to the international border.

Responding to a question, she said this had prompted a rethink on re-erecting the fence – taken down over a decade ago when the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park was proclaimed – along its original line.

There was now discussion on putting it up within Mozambique, closer to these villages, she said.

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