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Durban - As poachers continue their onslaught against South Africa’s embattled rhino population, animal rights activists are calling for a full-scale investigation into the actions of Department of Environmental Affairs, who they say have failed to protect the endangered species.
On Wednesday, the National Working Group against the trade in rhino horn called for a commission of inquiry into how scores of bogus Eastern “trophy hunters” were given permission to shoot rhinos using Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) permits – issued to them by the provincial governments.
Miranda Jordan-Friedman, director of the working group, said that despite an increase in rhino poaching since 2007, hundreds of permits had been given to hunters to legally kill rhino. While these were meant for trophy hunters, hundreds of rhino horns disappeared on to the black market, she said.
“The big question that needs to be answered is who signed those permits? That is what needs to be investigated.
“Although the minister did start clamping down on the pseudo hunters in 2012, many permits had already been issued, and this is what we need to get to the bottom of,” she said.
After disappearing on to the black market, rhino horns – which sell for up to R500 000 a kilogram – end up in Asian medicinal shops where it is marketed as a cure-all remedy for various illnesses.
Earlier this year, DA environment spokesman Gareth Morgan asked colleagues in all nine provincial legislatures to ask official questions as to how many permits were issued by the various provincial governments.
Only KZN and North West released data, which showed that 21 rhino hunting permits were issued in KwaZulu-Natal in 2009, while the North West issued more than 100 hunting permits during the 2010-11 financial year.
“What they were doing was signing our rhino away to be hunted by people who had no hunting experience. This only spurred on the trade in horns. Had the department made it clear to these pseudo hunters that they were not going to award permits, it would have sent them a direct message,” Jordan-Friedman said.
This week a group calling themselves the Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching rejected proposed measures that would legalise the sale of rhino horn, arguing it would lead to the creation of a black market.
The idea for a legal rhino horn market is supported by KZN conservation boss, Dr Bandile Mkhize, who last month proposed the creation of a global central selling organisation to stop poachers decimating the animal.
He plans to lobby the government to support the legalisation and control of the rhino horn market, and taking the campaign to Cites.
Ezemvelo is the only provincial conservation body in the country not monitored by SANParks.
He was backed up Environment Minister Edna Molewa, who said the department was in an extensive preparatory process ahead of the 16th Congress of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, expected to take place in March next year.
Allison Thomson, director of Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching, said by opening up trade, the number of consumers would exceed the supply of rhino horn. An increase in demand would not necessarily reduce the price of rhino horn. She said: “The models put forward for trade are based on economically flawed assumptions.”
The Department of Environmental Affairs had not responded to questions by the Daily News by the deadline for publication. - Daily News