Media Release: Response from SANParks to misleading reports and claims about rhino sales and hunting in national parks

On Tuesday, 14 July 2009, South African National Parks (SANParks) Chief Executive Dr David Mabunda addressed a media briefing at its Head Office, Groenkloof National Park, in response to tackle the issues of rhino sales and hunting in National Parks.

He opened the discussion by saying “we need to dispel the confusion created in recent media reports, between the sale of rhino and hunting in and outside national parks.” South African National Parks is guided in it decision to sell or distribute white rhino and other wildlife by Clause 55(2) (b) of the Protected Areas Act, 57 of 2003 (as amended) which states that: “South African National Parks may, in managing national parks sell, exchange or donate any animal, plant, or other organism occurring in a park, or purchase, exchange or otherwise acquire any indigenous species which it may consider desirable to reintroduce into a specific park.”

The decisions by SANParks to sell white rhino are scientifically determined. Dr Mabunda said that the decisions on off-take quotas of wildlife are scientifically determined, based on population growth, sex and age structure, spatial use, natural dispersal, resource distribution and population dynamics. He added that the present removal rate has no detectable consequences on population growth, with the start of only 4 donated white rhinos in 1961 to the current population estimated at between 9 000 and 12 000 white rhinos in the Kruger National Park.

South Africa has the most viable and healthy rhino population in the world. According to 2007 statistics there were approximately 17 000 rhino in the world, with approximately 15 000 of those in South Africa. About 9 000 of them at the time were under the management of SANParks, and the second largest population in the country, estimated at 4 000, was managed by private hands, while the rest was found in Provincial parks. At present SANParks has between 9 000 and 12 000 rhinos.

According to CITES, rhinos are an endangered species, pegged at Appendix 1, except for the populations of South Africa and Swaziland which are on Appendix 2. CITES regulates that animals on Appendix 2 are for the exclusive purpose of allowing international trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations and hunting trophies, while those on Appendix 1 shall be deemed to be specimens of species and trade in them shall be regulated accordingly. “What this means is that South African rhino populations are not endangered and can be sold or exchanged, however South Africa has made a conscious decision not to allow trophy hunting in national parks”, said Dr Mabunda.

He said: “SANParks, by selling or donating rhinos is assisting in the process of re-colonisation of the range in the country and outside. It should be noted that it would be fool-hardy if South Africa were to have its only rhino population residing in the Kruger, because we run the danger of losing them should there be a major outbreak of disease or rampant poaching. We would be sitting ducks.”

The accident that occurred on the N4 with the one rhino was not as a result of animals being unsuitably transported, but a tire burst which we have no control over. The 10 rhinos that died of the 72 rhinos sent to Mr John Hume is something we are investigating in order to understand what happened. There is nothing wrong with selling a number of rhinos to a single operator as long as the conditions of the operation and the land size are permitting.

South Africa has about 43,9 million ha of land under biodiversity protection, of the country’s overall 121 million ha. Of this amount, only about 6,9 million ha are protected under the State, while about 37 million ha is privately owned land which has been brought under conservation at various levels of protection. “The enormous amount of protected land under private hands gives South Africa an undeniable opportunity to broaden the ranges of wildlife, thereby improving resilience in the system” said Dr Mabunda.

Dr Mabunda also said: “Much has been said about Kruger National Park animals being sold to entities that may put them up for hunting. I want to state up front that we do not have anything against hunting or hunters as long as they do not hunt within a national park, however, we will not allow SANParks to be abused by the anti-hunting lobby. We deal only with ethical operators and if we should learn otherwise, SANParks makes the decision not to continue doing business with them.”

SANParks does not have a regulatory mandate for hunting in the country as it does not issue hunting permits. In South Africa, nature conservation is a concurrent mandate which can be read in Schedule 4 of the South African Constitution of 1996. In terms of this, provincial conservation agencies are responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to permits and handling of wildlife outside national parks.

SANParks sells and donates rhinos and other large mammals for both the management of its own populations and also for meta-population management. The SANParks strategy is informed by the following objectives: population control; broadening of the range for populations; spreading the risk of managing wildlife; making the populations more resilient and viable and fundraising for specific conservation and land-expansion programmes.

We are not going to suspend the sale of excess rhino as long as national legislation and policies permit. SANParks will continue to sell and distribute these animals in accordance with our management strategies.

When the Honourable MP, Bantu Holomisa legitimately raised a concern that KNP animals were being hunted in Timbavati (a member of the APNR contractual parks to the KNP), the Limpopo Environment and Tourism Authority decided to withhold hunting permits to the reserve. Timbavati took the Provincial Authority to court and the Provincial authority lost with costs. Decisions by the court supersede organisational policies and assist in the correct interpretation of applicable legislation.

In response to the ARA statement which was released on the 14 July 2009, Dr Mabunda said that the assertions made in that statement were “a cacophony of baseless emotional outbursts.”

To claim that “actions (taken by SANParks) speak of failed management policies” lacks rational thinking or knowledge of our mandate and business, as SANParks rhino populations have been growing since 1961 and since the 80’s when we started with the selling of excess animals in the park. Objectives of ecosystem integrity and economic sustainability have been reconciled.

South African National Parks is the only successful conservation institution in the world which has been able to generate 80% of its annual operational budget of R1.2 billion from sustainable commercial interventions, while other conservation institutions have, to a greater extent depended on government funding and other large corporations; funding which has in recent times been critically reduced. We will soon be receiving a delegation of officials from the largest and richest national parks authority in the world, the US Parks Authority, to come and learn from us how to revive the viability and sustainability of the parks system in the US.

The claims that SANParks has given concessions for hunting to contractual parks come as news to us, because we do not know of any such decision. We invite anyone who has such documented decisions to bring them to our attention. It should be understood that communities around national parks who intend to bring their land for contractual agreements may have a shopping list of things they want to do, but it is our duty and our responsibility to guide them in that which is permissible in a national park. So far, that is what we have been doing.

For ARA to equate SANParks to a museum is to expose a grand level of ignorance of the business of national parks as we are not in the business of dead artefacts (albeit priceless) but in the business of living and transforming organisms. ARA needs to understand that animal rights should be seen in the context of the eco-system and its importance to the survival of natural life as we know it. We welcome and look forward to the ARA-promised “explosive investige (sic) report” and want to say that in actual fact, they can take us to court on these matters so that we may settle this once and for all, because we are confident that we have correctly interpreted national and international legislation and have stayed true to our principles and ethics.

Whoever has concrete evidence (rather than wild statements and insult) to support their allegations may take these to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs so that she may deal with her organisation accordingly should we be found lacking in the implementation of our mandate.

“It is obvious that ARA is targeting what they consider to be the soft target in order to gain maximum exposure on matters that have nothing to do with SANParks but we will not allow ourselves to be used in the name of other entities which may be less visible than ourselves,” stated Dr Mabunda.

In closing, Dr Mabunda said: “Let ARA and their associates play the politics of conservation and leave us to manage the national parks.”

Issued by:
SANParks Corporate Communications on behalf of Dr David Mabunda, Chief Executive of South African National Parks

Media Enquiries:
wanda mkutshulwa, Head of Communications, South African National Parks, Tel: (012) 426 5201, Cell: 082 908 2692 email: wandam@sanparks.org