Send rhi­nos to China for their safety!

Wildlife man­ager’s out-of-the-box pro­posal stirs de­bate

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By TONY CARNIE

● 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.

Out­lawed

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.

Colo­nial scheme

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.

Pic­ture: James Oat­way

Mar­ius Kruger helps cap­ture a white rhino in the Kruger Na­tional Park to be re­lo­cated to a zone pro­tected against poach­ers in 2014.

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