The latest issue of Africa Geographic carries an update on the rhino poaching crisis. When going to print, approximately 160 animals had been killed. That figure is now over 190, which means at the current rate, somewhere between 400 and 450 animals will be illegally killed by the end of this year.
And the slaughter continues despite an increase in general awareness and the widespread calls to action from both private sector and government bodies. Which then begs the obvious question – at what point does South Africa’s white rhino population again become endangered? To their credit, it would seem that SANParks have begun considering this. In another development since the update was submitted, sources claim the heavy losses have forced the authorities to reconsider the idea of selling rhino to China – all deals are apparently off for the moment.
In the meantime, ecologists and conservationists will surely be doing the maths, but while the tipping point remains uncertain, we can be certain that debate around the possible solutions will become ever more urgent.
And so it should. I have made my anti-trade views clear, and given the current rate of poaching, along with the attitude of the regulatory bodies and the state of the country’s provincial authorities, I want to reiterate a point I brought up in the magazine – I don’t understand why the legal killing of rhino is still allowed? If the current rate of decline from poaching constitutes a crisis that has elicited concerns for the survival of the species, why then for every two killed illegally do we allow another one to be killed legally? The thinking is nonsensical and defies all logic. And what chances the hunting fraternity will come forward with offers of a moratorium?
But then, so much of what takes place within the wildlife sector of this country seems absurd. Take the case of Dawie Groenewald, the notorious hunter arrested and charged late last year for crimes relating to rhino poaching and dealing in horn. Not only does the man still carry his hunting licences, but the provincial authorities continue to issue him with permits to hunt and move rhino around the country. Bear in mind that magistrates deemed the charges serious enough to set bail at a whopping R1 million. Despite this, he **or** his company has seemingly been issued with at least 12 rhino hunting permits in the last few months, and they have been granted permits on at least 8 occasions to “convey” rhino, not to mention a host of other species.
What does this say about the regulatory attitude of local hunting bodies and the government authorities? Allowing rhino to be reintroduced onto the trophy hunting lists should never have happened in the first place. But they were, and it’s become one of the primary contributors to this crisis. They should be removed with immediate effect.
Part of the concern is the global paradigm that places economics at the centre of conventional wisdom. It would seem that as long as a supply and demand equation exists, that’s fair justification for most decision-makers. I understand markets as well as the next man – I spent 8 years working on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange – and while they can be efficient at moving goods and services and generating profits **or** losses, they have little **or** no concern for circumstances **or** ramifications.
This is the same paradigm that has decided, rather than modify our behaviour, trading in carbon credits is the answer to the Developed World’s massive carbon footprint. And when the global financial systems neared collapse a few years back putting the savings and livelihoods of billions of people in jeopardy, forging ahead with widespread reforms was deemed unnecessary. Instead, the vested interests won out and the self-same perpetrators continue to run the markets – they have simply repackaged their trading instruments.
But, does this mean an intransigent stance no matter the circumstances? If the survival of the species is the only concern – and yes, not everyone involved in this issue cares whether the rhino makes it **or** not – then we should always remain open to every possible solution.
And now, let’s remember and congratulate all those who continue to work tirelessly on this crisis – officials from SANParks, the many conservation agencies and other NGO’s and private sector bodies as well as the dedicated individuals within the police and defence forces. To date, there have been over 120 arrests in 2011.
To stay updated with the poaching crisis and the debate on solutions, the following websites are extremely helpful: www.stoprhinopoaching.com, www.ifaw.org, www.rhinoconservation.org, www.rhinos-irf.org and www.wwf.org.za