Cape Town - A decade after dropping a large section of the international border fence along the Kruger National Park's eastern boundary, government is now considering putting it back up to stop rhino poachers.
Briefing reporters in Cape Town on Thursday, following Cabinet's fortnightly meeting the day before, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said her department had held bilateral discussions with Mozambique on poaching and steps to stop it. More were planned.
"We are working on an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with my Mozambican counterpart, among other things to look at how we can co-operate on this issue [poaching].
"They are losing elephants in Mozambique; we are losing rhinos here. The trans-frontier park that was agreed to, how do we deal with that? Do we keep the fence lowered, or... do we put [it] back up?"
The fence was dropped with much fanfare in 2002, following a ceremony to establish an international reserve, the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park. It is understood that about 40km of the fence is currently down.
Poachers have reportedly established themselves in about a dozen small villages on the Mozambican side, and cross over into South Africa's flagship reserve to kill rhino for their valuable horns, which are illegally sold for up to US60,000 a kilogram.
This is despite increased border patrols by both SANParks rangers and SA National Defence Force soldiers.
A total of 128 rhino have been killed in South Africa so far this year, most - 92 of them - in the Kruger National Park. More than 600 rhino were killed the year before.
Molewa said that Cabinet, at its meeting, had discussed ways of combating rhino poaching.
It had also provided the South African delegation set to attend the 16th conference of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cities), to be held in Thailand next month, with a "mandate for negotiations".
Responding to questions on what her department aimed to get out of the conference, Molewa said part of this was "not to close our ears to potential and possible trade with rhino horn".
Noting that South Africa was home to about three-quarters of the world's rhino population, "we need to be a country that takes more initiative".
To combat rhino poaching, South Africa "may need more extraordinary measures than we have right now, including... trade. We think this is worthwhile considering".
While this was not on the agenda of next month's Cities conference, South Africa wanted to prepare the way for such discussion at the following Cities meeting.
South Africa is a signatory to the convention. There is a Cities ban on trade in rhino horn.
Molewa said "potential trade partners" for the sale of rhino horn had "been identified and discussions have been initiated". She later said one of these partners was Vietnam.
Speaking at the briefing, environmental affairs' deputy director-general for biodiversity and conservation, Fundisile Mketeni, said there was no one solution to the problem of rhino poaching.
"Trade in rhino horn is banned... but we are losing rhino. So we cannot turn a blind eye to trade."
Molewa said the matter of the ban on trade in rhino horn had to be put on the next Cities conference agenda.
There were more voices in South Africa -- among those "who matter" when it came to rhino conservation -- who were saying: "Let's consider moving in the direction of trade [in rhino horn]", than there were opposed to it, she said.
There are an estimated 18 700 white rhino, and about 1 900 black rhino. According to environmental affairs, they are breeding at a rate of seven percent and 5.6% respectively.
Molewa said 46 people had been arrested in connection with rhino poaching since 1 January this year. Twenty-four of these arrests had been in the Kruger National Park.
The illegal trade in rhino horn is mainly driven by huge demand from Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, where the horn, ground to a powder, is used in traditional medicines.
There are reportedly 20 tons of rhino horn stockpiled in South Africa, about a quarter of it in private hands. Government has declined to reveal the extent of its rhino horn stocks.