Andreas Späth

Are SA rhino calves being exported to Thailand?

2016-08-25 07:18

Andreas Wilson-Späth

A permit appears to have been granted for eight South African rhino calves to be exported to a zoo in Thailand.

Earlier this month Allison Thompson of the organisation Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP)  posted online that she had received “credible information” of the “imminent export” of as many as thirty rhino calves to Thailand. Speculating that the country was not, in fact, the intended final destination of the animals, she warned that they may end up being re-routed to China.

The exporter was identified as Manus Pretorius of a company called Mafunyane, which describes itself as an “international trader in quality wildlife”.

All of which raises a number of questions. Has a permit, in fact been issues, and if so, for how many animals? How ethical is it to sell off rhino calves in the middle of a major poaching crisis? Is it even legal to trade in live rhinos? And what about the people doing the exporting – what are their motivations?

According to a statement by Albi Modise, the Chief Director of Communications for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), his department “does not issue export permits to private individuals as this is the mandate of Provincial Nature Conservation Authorities”, adding that “the applicant applied in the North West Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development (READ) and READ will be able to confirm if the permit was issued”.

Unfortunately I have not been able to get confirmation that the North West Province READ has actually issued a permit.

South Africa’s white rhino population (along with that of Swaziland) is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in the Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). According to CITES, international trade in species included in this appendix “may be authorised by the granting of an export permit”. Such a permit “should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild”.

Pointing out that the DEA’s role is to ensure that all applications to export rhinos from South Africa meet the criteria outlined both by CITES and in the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act of 2004, Modise notes that “this application met the criteria and the Department recommended the export of 8 rhinos to a Zoo in Thailand”.

He emphasises that “the purpose of the export (for release in a Zoo as indicated on the permit application was confirmed by the Thailand CITES Management Authority” and that “exports of live rhino is a legal activity in accordance with the CITES regulations and the Minister has, in addition to the CITES requirements, developed criteria for the export of rhino to ensure that the importing facilities are suitable and of appropriate destination”.

It would appear then that the export of these living rhino calves to Thailand is legal within the regulations of both CITES and the South African government.

The exporter, Manus Pretorius, who owns a private game reserve near Brits in the North West Province, is an established wildlife farmer, breeder and exporter. In 2003, he was in the news for planning to export five wild-caught elephants to zoos in Mexico in collaboration with the notorious late wildlife dealer Riccardo Ghizza who was convicted of physically abusing 30 baby elephants he had bought from the Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana and who had also been wanted for drug smuggling in Italy.

Ultimately, the question of whether the export of rhino calves is ethical remains. The answer, I would argue, depends on your perspective. The South African government is committed to a policy of so-called ‘sustainable utilisation’ when it comes to wildlife conservation. This implies that people have a right to exploit wild animals for profit. Supposedly some of this profit is intended to fund conservation measures.

Wildlife farmers, breeders and traders like Pretorius are obviously in agreement with this policy. They’ve built their businesses around it. When it comes to CITES, it’s worth remembering that it is not a conservation organisation, but, as its name indicates, a vehicle to facilitate trade in endangered species.

The key question for those of us who consider conservation to be a moral obligation we humans have with respect to our environment rather than as an opportunity for the market-driven extraction of financial profits from commodified wild animals, should be whether exporting rhino calves to Thailand will benefit the species in the wild.

Neither Pretorius nor the North West Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development could be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Read more on:    thailand  |  rhino

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