The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa has expressed grave concern about the high rate of rhinos poached in 2012 and would like to reiterate government's unwavering commitment in the continued fight against rhino poaching.
The rhino poaching statistics indicate that a total of 668 rhinos were lost to poaching in South Africa in 2012 and a total of 267 arrests were made in relation to rhino poaching. Five rhinos have been poached since the beginning of this year, three of them in the Kruger National Park, one in the North West Province and one in Mpumalanga.
In 2012, the Kruger National Park was the hardest hit by poaching, losing 425 rhino. The North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces suffered the greatest losses, collectively accounting for the loss of 202 rhino in 2012.
Minister Molewa would like to assure South Africans that Government will continue to implement its various interventions and work jointly with other key stakeholders to address the problem of rhino poaching.
The number of arrests has seen a steady increase from 165 and 232 in 2010 and 2011 respectively to 267 in 2012. In 2011, the SAPS took a bold step in declaring the illegal killing and trade of rhinos and rhino horn a priority crime. After the matter of rhino killings was elevated to the National Joints Security Committee (NATJOINTS) resulting in the "Operation Rhino" project, there has been constant monitoring and evaluation of the project and where gaps were identified, interventions were made. It is initiatives such as the Operation Rhino project that the Department hopes will further strengthen the fight against rhino poaching in 2013.
Among several interventions since the start of the rhino poaching crisis has been the process of consultation with stakeholders by the Rhino Issue Manager, Mr Mavuso Msimang. Draft recommendations emanating from the RIM process were presented to the Minister in October 2012 and Minister Molewa requested further clarification and details relating to the recommendations. The final report was submitted to the Department and the recommendations contained in the report will be presented to the Minister in due course.
The Rhino Issue Management (RIM) team, which had based its report on the input and contributions made by a comprehensive range of stakeholders through extensive consultations across the country, looked at the key categories of rhino conservation; rhino safety and security and rhino commerce and trade.
Integral to the RIM team's findings is that there is no single solution to the rhino poaching scourge. From this, it is quite clear that our efforts will pragmatically require the employment of a range of strategies along several fronts.
As part of our efforts in the war against rhino poaching, the Department of Environmental Affairs also used legislation as a tool to curb rhino poaching and in 2012 published and implemented revised norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros horn and for the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes. These norms and standards have put in place stricter controls for the issuing of rhino hunting permits, hunting of rhino and the transportation of the horn, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of hunting applications received; from 222 applications in 2011 to 90 in 2012.
In addition, the National Environmental Management Laws First Amendment Bill [B13B-2012] aimed at strengthening the regulatory and enforcement provisions to prevent abuse of the hunting permitting system is at an advanced stage in the Parliamentary process.
The National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill, 2011 was published for public comment in August 2011. Due to the scope of comments received, a decision was taken by the Portfolio Committee for Water and Environmental Affairs in September 2012 to split the Bill into two Bills: the National Environmental Management Laws First Amendment Bill [Biodiversity amendments] and the National Environmental Management Laws Second Amendment Bill [NEMA amendments]. The Bill referred to in this release is the National Environmental Management Laws First Amendment Bill [B13B-2012].
Once promulgated, the Bill will make provision that a person who is involved in an illegal restricted activity, but who does not physically carry out the restricted activity can also be found guilty of an offence. Presently, professional hunters, hunting outfitters and trainers only register in individual provinces and if they are non-compliant in one province, they can apply to operate or continue to operate in another province. To address this loophole, the Bill compels the national registration of professional hunters, hunting outfitters and trainers involved in the hunting industry. In this way, action can be taken against those who facilitate the carrying out of illegal restricted activities by their clients.
The Bill further prescribes that all specimens in transit through the country must be accompanied by the necessary documentation. This important provision will assist in addressing the movement of illegal specimens.
In addition to strengthening the regulatory and enforcement provisions in the hunting industry, the Bill also allows the Minister to limit the number of permits that can be issued in order to protect a species. The Bill also makes provision for an issuing authority to suspend, defer or refuse a permit in the following circumstances:
- Suspension if the permit holder is under investigation for the contravention of a provision of the NEMBA
- Defer a decision to issue a permit if the applicant is being investigated, until the investigation has been concluded
- Refuse a permit if there is a detrimental impact on the species
- Refuse a permit if a person is found guilty of an offence in terms of the NEMBA
Together with the courts, the provinces, the Department of Defence, South African Police Service, South African Revenue of Services and Customs and Excise, the Department of Environmental Affairs continues to fight against organised environmental crimes such as rhino poaching.
While it is acknowledged that the Bill alone will not stop rhino poaching, it is expected to assist in addressing activities associated with poaching and closing the loopholes in terms of the abuse of the permitting system.
International efforts in the fight against rhino poaching were intensified in December 2012 when the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection with the Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Dr Cao Duc Phat. The MoU was signed in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The objective of the MOU is to promote cooperation between the two countries in the field of biodiversity management, conservation and protection. Particularly aimed at curbing the scourge in rhino poaching, the MOU seeks to promote cooperation in law enforcement, compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other relevant legislation and Conventions on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. Officials from both countries are currently working on a draft Plan of Action with short and long term activities which include activities to curb the illegal trade in rhino horn.
"We believe that this latest development at an international level is crucial for South Africa to effectively deal with the current scourge of poaching, and with illegal hunting largely driven by the international demand for the rhino horn," Ms Molewa had said.
The Minister emphasised that all citizens have a critical role to play in the fight against rhino poaching. She went on to urge South Africans to report any information or tip offs that they may have in relation to rhino poaching to 0800 205 005.
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