Another 150 rangers will be deployed in the Kruger National Park (KNP) to strengthen the first level of defense against ruthless poachers gunning for the country's biggest rhino population.
Last year, minister of water and environmental affairs, Edna Molewa, increased the rangers corps to 500 when the poaching escalated from 50 rhino killed in Kruger (122 countrywide) in 2009 to 146 (333 in South Africa) in 2010.
With more than 430 rhino poached in South Africa (244 in Kruger) in 2011, and 30 rhino killed in the first 15 days of January 2012, the people of South Africa are asking for more than a few extra rangers in Kruger.
Public opinion, especially on forums like facebook and twitter, is snowballing into petitions and pressure groups, while more 'rhino' social networking groups are battling vocal and viral anti-poaching wars.
The minister addressed the press on Sunday, January 15, where she announced several counter (or not) measures.
She will not put a moratorium on rhino hunting. She will reserve the right to implement a moratorium in a province, or area, where and if necessary.
"My department will pursue a halt to the issuance of hunting permits to hunters coming from countries that do not have appropriate legislation to monitor whether the trophy is used for the purpose as reflected on the permits."
As for the investigation of rhino poaching, the recently established interim National Wildlife Reaction Unit (NWCRU), which is also part of the National Biodiversity Investigators Forum, may become a permanent unit, according to Molewa.
On a political level, Molewa has officially discussed wildlife trafficking and enforcement with her counterparts in the Peoples Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This has led to a draft Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)s that has been prepared, which "we hope to sign during the first half of this year - 2012." According to Molewa, both these countries have committed to "fight with us in addressing this scourge."
"With regards to the Bilateral on Safety and Security between South Africa and Mozambique, at officials’ level a discussion on cross-border law enforcement took place. We will escalate this to the level of Ministers."
The Department has also played an active role and contributed to international meetings and forums, including INTERPOL Wildlife Crime meetings, the Rhinoceros Task Force of CITES, the regional Rhino and Elephant Security Group and the Rhino Management Group.
Dehorning of rhino
The Dehorning impact study, which was completed, assisted in determining whether dehorning is a viable intervention to address the risks relating to poaching. The study indentified the need for further research, with the cooperation of private rhino owners, to understand how effective dehorning is to reduce poaching, and what would the potential impacts be on social behaviour and reproduction of the rhino. Research is also required to understand poacher behaviour and the drivers thereof to identify the extent to which dehorning is likely to act as a meaningful deterrent.
Some of the key findings of the study include the following:
- The decision of whether to dehorn a rhino population or not depends on a number of factors, including the level of the poaching threat, the level of security in place, the availability of funds and the size, location and distribution of the rhino population in question.
- Due to the invasive nature of, and expense associated with dehorning, the intervention should only be considered under conditions of relatively severe poaching threat.
- Dehorning should only be considered where a baseline level of security is in place, otherwise rhinos are highly likely to be poached, regardless of their horn status.
- Where there is no realistic expectation of implementing adequate security in a reasonable time frame to protect vulnerable populations, translocating rhinos to more secure locations is preferable to dehorning.
- If dehorning is to be undertaken, an attempt should be made to dehorn the entire adult population in small populations, although the practicality of total dehorning will depend on various factors including terrain, habitat and rhino density.
- All dehorning should be done in as short a time as possible to minimize potential behavioural impacts associated with having some individual rhinos horned and others without horns, although such impacts are not necessarily significant.
- In larger reserves/populations, dehorning can be practiced strategically to reduce the vulnerability of highly visible individual rhinos along boundaries, fence lines and roads.
- The ideal frequency of re-dehorning will depend on the level of threat: under conditions of severe threat, rhinos should be re-dehorned every 12-24 months, under conditions of intermediate threat 24-36 months should suffice.
- Dehorning is likely to be most effective if practiced by all, or a significant proportion of the rhino owners / reserves in a given area.
- All dehorning should be accompanied by publicity drives to ensure that poachers are well aware that the reserve in question is ‘horn-free’, to prevent a lag effect whereby poachers continue to target the area in the belief that the rhinos there are horned.
- Where sufficient funds are available for top quality security, dehorning may not be necessary.
The dehorning impact study reveals that dehorning cannot be considered as the only security intervention. The decisions to dehorn a rhino population or not will therefore depend on a number of factors, including:
- the level of the poaching threat,
- the level of security in place,
- the availability of funds and
- the size, location and distribution of the rhino population in question.
Trade in rhino horn
The feasibility study to determine the viability of legalising trade in rhino horn within South Africa, that relates to the national moratorium currently in place, has been initiated and it is anticipated that the study will be concluded by August 2012.
The following issues will be addressed in that study:
- Trends in local (national) trade in rhino horn prior to the February 2009 moratorium.
- Trends in the incidences of poaching and trophy hunting of rhinos prior to- and subsequent to the national moratorium, and relative to changes in laws pertaining to trophy hunting.
- The scale and scope of the potential market for rhino horn in South Arica.
- The implications of lifting the national moratorium on rhino trade in South Africa, including risks.
South Africans are also urged to report any illegal rhino activities that they are aware of to 0800 205 005.