Government is considering placing a moratorium on rhino hunting, Environment Minister Edna Molewa says.

Briefing the media in Pretoria on what she called “the ongoing scourge in rhino poaching”, she said her department was also examining the possibility of de-horning rhino.

“Currently, the provincial conservation authorities issue permits for the sport hunting of rhino, and an unfortunate challenge we are facing, in terms of the permitting of rhino hunting, is the abuse of the system by unscrupulous individuals.

“Illegal hunting and the abuse of the permit system may be the main threats that could impact on the survival of rhino in the wild in the near future,” Molewa said.

The latest figures show that since January 1 this year, poachers have killed 279 rhino in South Africa. Of this total, 169 were poached in the Kruger National Park (KNP).

Responding to a question, Molewa said her department had this year issued about 143 permits to trophy hunters to shoot and kill rhino.

“In 2010, [the figures was] round about 129; for 2011, there are about 143 [permits issued],” she said.

A total of 170 such permit applications had been received for this year.

She said a moratorium on rhino hunting was one of the additional measures her department was considering to conserve rhino populations.

There are about 18,800 white rhino and 2200 black rhino in South Africa.

Molewa said discussions on the moratorium would take place with provincial MECs at the next Mini-MEC meeting in October.

There would also have to be consultation with game farmers and other stakeholders; an examination of the number of hunting permits, both pending and in the system; and, an investigation into the effect of such a moratorium on hunting tourism.

“It is important to look at to rhino hunting that is legal… from a perspective our country uses to attract hunting tourists.”

Any such moratorium “definitely will not be within a year”, she said.

On de-horning rhino, Molewa said veterinarians and other experts would have to be consulted to determine whether removing the horn would cause behavioural changes in rhino populations.

“[If there is] potential for negative behavioural change, we will obviously have to look at that very, very seriously. Because we believe that the rhino’s horn exists for a reason… and if we de-horn there might be some changes,” Molewa said.

On the cost of poaching, SANParks CEO David Mabunda said this was costing his organisation “quite dearly” in the KNP alone.

“If you look at our conservation budget in the KNP, it has increased in terms of anti-poaching activities from R160 million three years ago, to R450 million.

“That is money we would have been spending in developing other protected areas that would have been coming into the system. We are now spending that… in the KNP only, on curbing rhino poaching,” he said.

Molewa said there were further costs, including that of an additional 57 rangers to the park’s staff over the past year.

Rhino poaching in South Africa and other parts of the continent has surged over the past three years, driven by an increasing demand for the horn from South-East Asian countries, where the powdered horn is used in traditional medicines.

Sapa | 29 August, 2011 13:06
Image by: Aquila Private Game Reserve