| 21 September 2011
MEDIA RELEASE BY THE SOUTH AFRICAN HUNTERS AND GAME CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION
DATE: 20 SEPTEMBER 2011
Legalising the trade in rhino horn can curb scourge of rhino poaching
The SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA) is calling on Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to seriously consider lifting the ban on the national trade of rhino horn as a first step in a process to curb the scourge of rhino poaching in a sustainable manner. The second step would be for the South African authorities to convince the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to lift its ban on the commercial trade of rhino horn in favour of a well-regulated, legal international trade.
SAHGCA says the selling of rhino horn must only take place on condition that every transaction is subject to the issuing of a DNA certificate for every horn sold. The detail of every seller and buyer can be logged on the rhino DNA database held by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at Onderstepoort. ’Such a bold step will immediately increase the value of the living animal versus the once-off economic value of the poached animal’s horn,’ says SA Hunters’ President, Mr Fred Camphor.
Thursday 22 September is World Rhino Day, a global initiative aimed at highlighting efforts to debunk medicinal myths about rhino horn and eliminate the demand for rhino horn. `Although we applaud all efforts to create awareness about the value of our rhinos and to raise funds to protect these animals, it is unlikely that we will change a 5000-year old Asian belief system that considers rhino horn an integral and valuable part of traditional medicinal practices.
`However, all activities to assist in saving our rhinos must be supported as part of a multi-pronged strategy to end the mindless slaughter of rhinos. Having said that, we agree with the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) that a ban on the hunting of rhinos will not curb rhino poaching. As a matter of fact, should rhino hunting be banned completely in RSA, the risk is that poaching may increase as a result,’ Camphor said.
SAHGCA’s position on legalising the commercial trade in rhino horn was echoed by world-renowned conservationist, Dr Ian Player, who addressed the KZN branch of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) last Friday.
Dr Herman Els, SA Hunters’ Manager for Hunting and Conservation emphasises that the only viable option South Africa has to keep rhinos alive is to allow the harvesting and trade of rhino horn in a controlled manner initially in the RSA and thereafter internationally. A rhino’s horn grows back within two to three years, which means that the same animal can reproduce its horn several times in its lifetime, without any harm to the animal itself.
`However, the key to the success of this approach lies in our ability to trace the origin of rhino horn to establish whether it is legally acquired horn or not. The VGL at Onderstepoort can help us to do exactly that. Dr Player is quite correct in his statement that there is enough rhino horn in various government vaults to service a large section of the market for a considerable time. We estimate that SANParks has rhino horns in safekeeping to the value of at least R1.5billion, which cannot be used for conservation at all at this stage. Dr Player’s challenge to use the horn of rhinos that died naturally is realistic especially as no-one really knows the extent of the market and the opening thereof will certainly bring the trade from under the cloak of secrecy, while quashing the activities of international crime syndicates trading in rhino horn,’ says Els.
SAHGCA in collaboration with the Onderstepoort VGL at the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria launched its Rhinos Alive! Campaign at the Huntex show at the Gallagher Convention Centre in April. This campaign promotes the logging of all rhino and rhino horn DNA owned in the public and private sectors in South Africa on the Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS), a database of DNA profiles of African white and black rhinoceros.
Members of the public were asked to make donations to help fund the VGL. SA Hunters currently have a drive on among their 67 branches nationwide to collect R100,000 by the end of this year. The money will be handed over to the VGL to buy rhino DNA kits for collecting the DNA of every rhino and that of every rhino horn kept in vaults to be added to the RhODIS database.
This RhODIS rhino DNA database can assist in positively identifying each animal and its horn, thereby providing a tool to ensure traceability in the rhino and rhino horn trade. The DNA database will play a key role in providing irrefutable evidence to trace poached products, and convict poachers and curb illegal hunting. The database also serves as a genetic reference for rhino breeding programmes to prevent inbreeding.
`For more than a year, concerned South Africans have been talking about a number of ways of stopping rhino poaching, but have not reached consensus on how to manage the problem collectively. How will we be able to trade internationally if we cannot prove that a system based on traceability (DNA) works in this country? After all, 93% of all white rhino in the world are protected in this country as a result of Dr Player’s hard work in protecting these animals during the mid-1900s in Zululand,’ Els said.
SAHGCA fully understands the added responsibilities that comes with the national trade in rhino horn and acknowledges the need to implement regulatory measures such as:
- Setting-up a think tank of stakeholders and authorities to determine the way forward as well as the different processes that will have to be put into place;
- Negotiating the principle with relevant government departments and all other stakeholders;
- Ascertaining that we understand the market and its demands (real volume and product needed);
- Investigating the possibility of establishing a similar type of controlling mechanism for the international trade in rhino horn than what De Beers initiated for the international diamond trade.
EDITORIAL ENQUERIES: Dr Herman Els on 012 808 9300 / 083 294 7503 or