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Speech by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs at Portfolio Committee

02 December 2013

Chairperson of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs, Advocate Johnny de Lange, 
Members of the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs, 
Members of the Executive Council
General Mawela and other colleagues from the South African Police Services
Mr Dlamini, Chairperson of the board of South African National Parks
Mr Mavuso Msimang, chairman of the Rhino Issue Management process, 
DEA Senior Management, 
SANParks Senior Management, 
Members of the scientific and economic communities, 
Distinguished Guests, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is fitting that we, as Members of Parliament, gather in the beautiful surrounds of the Kruger National Park this week to discuss the rhino poaching challenge in South Africa.   

As Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs and stakeholders in the rhino sector, you are all very aware of the fact that South Africa’s rhino population has been at the centre of national and international attention for the past five years. 

The Kruger National Park continues to bear the brunt of rhino poaching having lost more than 550 of these iconic animals to unscrupulous poachers during the past 11 months.   In the past five years, more than 1 457 rhino have been killed for their horns in South Africa’s most well-known state-owned conservation region and wildlife tourist attraction.  This is more than half the total number of rhino poached in South Africa since 2008.   

I am deeply concerned and affected by the magnitude of rhino poaching in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, especially since this iconic  species, known as one  of the Big Five, has become the focus of international poaching syndicates.   

This workshop by senior representatives of the electorate is an indication of the importance attached to the scourge of rhino poaching at the highest levels of government and sends a strong message that the South African government is acutely aware of the seriousness and intensity of wildlife crime, specifically rhino poaching.  

Our country is not immune to the challenges posed by emerging forms of crime that have a significant impact on the environment and ultimately the economy through the effect these crimes have on tourism and job creation. The crime of rhino poaching, and related illicit acts, is real and we, as the elected leaders of South Africa, need to find solutions within our country, and in partnership with stakeholders and the international community, to deal with these crimes effectively.

The most recent example of successful international relations was the return last week of a consignment of 33 rhino horns and a large number of elephant ivory products worth an estimated R24 million that was seized by customs officials in Hong Kong in November 2011. 

The return of the items took place in terms of an agreement between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for mutual legal assistance, which was signed on 20 February 2009.   It followed two years of discussion and negotiation following a request for mutual legal assistance from South Africa, which included that evidentiary material be produced by Hong Kong. 

The mutual commitment by both countries to fight the illegal exploitation of wildlife was evident during the execution of the mutual investigation into the source of the rhino horn and strengthened the ties between the two countries. 

The return of the poached rhino horns will now enable the Hawks to further their investigations and determine the origin of the items by means of inter alia DNA analysis, which could contribute to arrests and possible prosecution. 

We recognise that the poaching scourge originates from the increase in demand, particularly among the citizens of certain nations.  We have, therefore, among others, embarked upon engagements with the authorities in those States so that those authorities can help us, and join hands, in fighting this menace. 

We have thus engaged in a holistic programme of action with these countries in a coherent set of measures that includes the conclusion of Memoranda of Understanding in fields of Biodiversity Conservation and Management. 

The successful return of the rhino horn and ivory products last week in terms of a mutual legal assistance agreement augers well for the future development of constructive relations with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and may result in a future Memorandum of Understanding in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Management between the two States.  

Although negotiations are in the early stages, a draft MOU has been tabled with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for consideration.  

An Implementation Plan is to be signed within the coming months that will put into action the terms of the MoU signed with China in the field of Wetland and Desert Ecosystems and Wildlife Conservation earlier this year. 

A similar Implementation Plan was signed with Vietnam in May.  Among the initiatives planned for 2014 in terms of this action plan is an international Youth Summit on Rhino in which young people from South Africa and Vietnam will exchange ideas and develop initiatives to further contribute to eliminating the scourge of rhino poaching and related use of rhino horn products, particularly by the traditional medicine and ornamental sectors. 

South Africa and the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) are scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Management early in 2014. 

The signing of the MoU will be accompanied by the endorsement of an Implementation Plan putting into immediate action concrete steps to, among others, eradicate wildlife crimes through government-to-government and security initiatives, educate the public and raise awareness. 

Within the continent, the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security, under the leadership of the South African National Defence Force adopted a decision in September 2013 that enables collaboration by South Africa and Mozambique in developing and implementing a common strategy to deal with the poaching menace.  In addition, the recent SADC meeting of Environmental Ministers agreed to continue tackling the rhino poaching problem within the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as we meet here so close to our neighbour, Mozambique, it is important to note that the MoU with Mozambique is on track and scheduled to be signed by the end of January 2014. This is a deadline set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for Mozambique and Vietnam to report on concrete legislative and other security measures taken to curb rhino poaching.   

As you are aware, I led a delegation to Mozambique in June to deliberate on concrete actions to be taken by both countries to combat the scourge of rhino poaching. Since then officials from our two countries have been engaging to find concrete measures to stamp out the scourge. 

Among the first successes to emerge is the training of an elite anti-poaching corps that will work within the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique as part of efforts to eradicate the influx of poachers to the Kruger National Park via the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The rangers graduate on 9 December (next Tuesday). 

Other initiatives taking shape are the relocation of villagers living within the Transfrontier Park to villages outside the conservation area, and the erection of the outer boundary fence to enclose the Park on the Mozambican side. 

Within South Africa, portions of the boundary fence between South Africa and Mozambique have been repaired, and in some instances had to be re-erected, following damage caused during serious flooding in this region earlier this year. Maintenance work is being done on those parts of the fence that have fallen into a state of neglect, while a portion of the fence in the south -- between the Kruger National Park and the conservancies on the Mozambican side of the border – is also to be restored following an increase in the number of poaching incursions from that area. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, rhino poaching poses a threat to South Africa’s national security, threatens the country’s national heritage and the future of the country’s tourism industry. 

Despite limited funds, the government has made R75 million available to SANParks to combat rhino poaching for the 2013/14 to 2015/16 financial years for the employment and training of additional rangers.  

Over the coming days, you will hear more about the initiatives undertaken by government to deal decisively with the rhino poaching problem.  

It is, however, important to remind you that the government declared the illegal killing and trade of rhino’s and rhino horn a national security threat in 2011.  Rhino poaching was elevated to the National Joints Security Committee (NATJOINTS) the same year and this has assisted in advancing the implementation of the Cabinet-approved National Strategy on the Safety and Security of Rhino in South Africa, adopted in 2010, which calls for an integrated effort to put into action interventions to combat rhino poaching. 

This year a review of the National Strategy on the Safety and Security of Rhino in South Africa, adopted in 2010, and the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Rhino Anti-Poaching Action Plan, was launched. 

Most of the country’s anti-poaching interventions are reflected in the Department’s Rhino Anti-Poaching Action Plan which provides details on the specific enforcement and coordination objectives of the National Strategy on the Safety and Security of the Rhino population. 

As a result of the legislative and policy changes made by the government, there has been an improvement in prosecution and conviction rates in wildlife-related criminal cases.    

It would be very naïve of all of South Africa to assume that the increase in poaching is not the result of a syndicated crime. 

To deal with this, the NATJOINTS, through the National Wildlife Information Management Unit within the Department of Environmental Affairs, has introduced a number of proactive measures to end poaching.   Further detail on these actions will be provided during the workshop. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, in 2012 the Department published and implemented revised norms and standards for the marking of rhino horn and for the hunting of rhinoceros for trophies. These norms and standards have put in place stricter controls for the issuing of rhino hunting permits, hunting of rhino and the transportation of the horn, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of hunting applications received. 

As a result of this step, the phenomenon of pseudo-hunting disappeared.  This year only 113 hunting permits have been issued. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, uppermost in the minds of all present here this week will be finding possible solutions to the rhino poaching problem.  

Any solution considered must meet South Africa’s sustainable management and adaptive management practices that will ensure the country can continue to maintain its proud conservation record and that communities contributing to the conservation of species benefit financially from the restoration and protection of species. 

During the CITES COP 16 in Thailand in March we initiated d an international discussion on the future of South Africa’s rhino population, particularly the issue of whether to legally trade in rhino horn, or not. 

South Africa believes that the establishment of a well-regulated international trade could assist in this regard, if implemented in conjunction with all the other interventions to curb rhino poaching. 

It is for this reason that Cabinet approved the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Task Team to assist in preparation for the COP17 CITES in 2016, since the development of a trade proposal should take into account numerous aspects, including the appropriate model for trade; the anticipated changes in the markets and the demand for rhino horn; the additional control measures and requirements to be introduced; as well as potential trade partners and the like.

International trade for commercial purposes is only allowed if approved by the Conference of Parties to CITES.  At present,  international trade in rhino horn for commercial purposes is prohibited.  The moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn and derivatives also remains in place. 

The decision to table a proposal at the next CITES CoP was not taken lightly.  It followed an extensive public consultation process, nationally and internationally.   It is only one of a series of steps already being taken by government and NGOs to halt the poaching menace.

In 2012 a national consultation process, known as the Rhino Issue Management process relating to rhino conservation, safety and security, funding and commerce was initiated with stakeholders. This resulted in the Rhino Issue Management Report released in July. 

The final report has greatly assisted the Department in reviewing and updating its rhino management strategy outlined in the National Strategy for the Safety and Security of the Rhinoceros Population of South Africa (NSSSRPSA).   

The decision to approach CITES for the once-off sale of legal rhino horn stockpiles to secure additional revenue to fight the war on poaching was based on a RIM recommendation. 

It is important to remember that integral to the RIM team’s findings is that there is no single solution to the rhino poaching scourge and that there are a number of recommendations contained in the report – including the suggested commercial farming of rhino and listing of rhino products on the JSE – that require additional investigation and debate

The Rhino Issue Manager, who chaired the stakeholder process, Dr Mavuso Msimang, will further enlighten you on the RIM discussion, its findings and key recommendations in his presentation in a few minutes. 

While a number of the initiatives being undertaken by the government and SANParks are contained in the RIM report, implementation of some of these had started before the end of the stakeholder consultation process.  Examples include the review of the National Rhino Security Strategy to ensure it meets changing needs in the field, and the increase in the number of rangers in, particularly, the Kruger National Park.  The enhancement of the rangers’ skills is ongoing. 

The utilisation of new technologies to fight rhino poaching has increased with these being evaluated and piloted by, among others, Denel and the CSIR. 

From the number of recommendations that will require further investigation and negotiation, it is clear that all efforts undertaken by you, as members of government, and NGOs will require the employment of a range of strategies along several fronts.  

All efforts to deal with the poaching crisis are not only aimed at protecting the threatened species from extinction, but at securing the country’s national security – threatened by incursions by armed poachers – as well as part of our natural heritage and the future of the country’s tourism industry. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, last month the Kruger National Park was host to a delegation from Kenya on a study tour to South Africa to learn how we are dealing with the poaching plague.  In November, law enforcement officers from the 11 African rhino  range states, as well as from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and SANParks had also attended the first international rhinoceros DNA sampling training workshop at the South African Wildlife College near Hoedspruit to enhance their skills and thus contribute to bringing more perpetrators to book and, hopefully, some major rhino poaching syndicates to their knees. 

As you will be doing this week, the law enforcement officers had been taken to a rhino carcass and witnessed forensic tests being conducted to determine who may have been responsible for the animal’s brutal death. 

Steps to combat rhino poaching gained momentum this year with the enactment of the National Environmental Management Laws First Amendment Act (NEMLA) in July.  This measure strengthens regulatory and enforcement provisions to prevent abuse of the hunting permitting system.   

Stakeholder consultations and support has been garnered for the National Rhino Fund and a rhino database through a series of stakeholder consultations.  Modalities around the establishment of the National Rhino Fund are currently being negotiated by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the National Treasury and will be in place soon.  All inputs from NGOs and other stakeholders will be taken into consideration in setting up the Fund. 

The compilation of a database of all rhino-related fund raising initiatives and anti-poaching ventures, will also assist the various role-players to improve collaboration through the identification of gaps where additional support is required; to replicate projects that yield positive results and to get a better understanding of fundraising initiatives in South Africa.   

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am confident that by the end of this workshop you will all have a better understanding of the rhino crisis being faced by our country. 

I hope this initiative to gain first-hand knowledge and seek possible solutions will result in increased appreciation for the challenges being faced and the need for us all, no matter our political or social backgrounds, to stand together in this war on rhino poaching.