Send rhinos to China for their safety!
Wildlife manager’s out-of-the-box proposal stirs debate
● A senior wildlife manager who has been at the sharp end of the rhino war has proposed a radical solution to curb the butchery of SA’s wild rhinos: send at least 200 of them to China and Vietnam so they can be farmed for their horns.
In return, the Chinese and Vietnamese governments would be asked to guarantee stiff punishment — possibly including the death penalty — for any of its nationals implicated in illegal horn-poaching syndicates in SA.
Likening the current rhino poaching crisis to a burning house, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manager Jabulani Ngubane said he believed “out-of-the-box” solutions were needed to defuse polarised debates on horn trading that have divided conservation and environmental groups for decades.
Speaking at The Conservation Symposium near Pietermaritzburg this week, Ngubane outlined his proposal for a tripartite agreement between SA, China and Vietnam. Under the agreement, white rhinos would be sold or donated under custodianship agreements and in return China and Vietnam would have to clamp down hard on any of their nationals implicated in poaching in SA.
Ngubane, a former anti-poaching ranger and park manager at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, stressed that his radical proposal was preliminary and it had not been considered or endorsed by his conservation agency.
He is currently the conservation manager for the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
“We have lost more than 7,000 rhinos to poaching in the past decade. Are we going to wait for them to be decimated further, or partner China and Vietnam?” he asked.
He noted that China’s giant panda population was specially protected under law, with offenders facing minimum sentences of 10 years in jail — and the death penalty in some cases.
While rhino horns can be traded legally under permit within SA, all sales at international level have been outlawed for more than 40 years.
Hundreds of rhinos have also been exported to zoos and safari parks since the 1970s, but regulations restrict the export of live rhino to what are classified as “appropriate and acceptable destinations”.
In theory, however, Ngubane’s proposal could circumvent the ban on trading horns across international borders by allowing China and Vietnam to establish a domestic rhino ranching industry in which horns are harvested regularly without the need to kill the animals.
In the past decade, several hundred rhinos have been dehorned every year in smaller local reserves in an effort to reduce the risks of poaching. Because horns regrow naturally, the removal of horns for security reasons has to be repeated at intervals of 18-24 months.
Mike Toft, a wildlife vet who has removed at least 1,800 horns from 900 rhino over the past three years, said that while dehorning was not an ideal solution and can cause trauma to the animals during capture, it was entirely bloodless and no more painful than “clipping your toenails” if done by experts.
Nevertheless, Ngubane’s proposal has already come under fire from local wildlife
It sounds very much like an old colonial scheme where Africa’s resources end up in a foreign country
managers who have questioned the viability of ranching the species in a foreign climate and the desirability of handing over African heritage and commercial rhino horn opportunities to foreign nations.
Senior SA National Parks scientist Sam Ferreira, said: “I just don’t get it … It sounds very much like an old colonial scheme where Africa’s resources end up in a foreign country.”
Roger Porter, an independent environmental consultant and former Ezemvelo conservation planning chief, questioned whether exporting 200 white rhino to China could make a significant dent in poaching levels. More than 1,000 rhino have been poached every year in SA for the past five years.
Former Ezemvelo CE George Hughes — who strongly supports lifting the 41-year-old ban on horn trading — said he believed SA should derive financial benefits through the sustainable use of the country’s wildlife resources.
“Africa has lost 100,000 rhino to poaching since the ban. You have to be out of your mind to think that this ban has been a success,” he told the symposium.
Marius Kruger helps capture a white rhino in the Kruger National Park to be relocated to a zone protected against poachers in 2014.