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SA has entered into bilateral agreements with several countries to tackle wildlife poaching, offering new hope in the war against this scourge, writes Edna Molewa.
Partnerships are key to addressing wildlife crimes. Due to their international nature, it has become important for the South African government to enter into cooperation agreements with key states so that one of the most lucrative crimes of the modern age can be tackled.
Wildlife crime, ranked with drug and human trafficking and arms smuggling as one of the top four global illegal trades, threatens some of the world, Africa and South Africa’s most popular and loved species.
This includes the rhino, which has borne the brunt of poaching by unscrupulous and greedy criminal syndicates for the past few years.
Part of the South African government’s effort to address the threat being faced by rhino is to negotiate and enter into bilateral agreements with range, transit and consumer states.
It is for this reason that South Africa and Mozambique took the significant step last month of cementing relations through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Management.
The agreement is the third Biodiversity Management MoU to be entered into by South Africa in the past 16 months.
While all three agreements are broadly directed at land and marine conservation, the emphasis in implementation has been rhino poaching, as part of the bid to halt the killing of these iconic animals.
Last year, a MoU with the People’s Republic of China on co-operation in the fields of Wetland and Desert Ecosystems and Wildlife Conservation was signed in Pretoria.
The MoU is to be supplemented with an Implementation Plan to be signed soon.
The MoU with Vietnam on co-operation in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection was signed in December 2012.
This was followed by the signing of an Implementation Plan putting into action the terms set out in the MoU in May last year.
Good progress has been made with the implementation of the South Africa-Vietnam MoU.
A high-level delegation from Vietnam undertook a working visit to South Africa in March to emphasise the commitment by Vietnam to improving cooperation on biodiversity conservation, especially controlling the illicit trade and poaching of wildlife, including rhino.
Work at policy, regulatory and awareness raising levels is progressing with a second workshop being planned for later this year.
On April 17, a government-to-government MoU was concluded with Mozambique, less than a year since a meeting between the Mozambican Minister of Tourism Carvalho Muária and I in Maputo.
The signing of the MoU with Mozambique took place within the context of the strengthening of relations between the two countries to enhance the protection of endangered species, such as the rhino, while working towards a common and co-ordinated management approach for the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
The main areas of co-operation contained in the MoU include biodiversity management, conservation and protection; the promotion of biodiversity and sustainable use as an integral part of conservation of species and ecosystems; compliance with Cites and other relevant internationally, regional and sub- regional binding conventions and protocols; biodiversity law enforcement; joint technology innovation, development and enhancement, as well as wildlife trade, protected areas management, community development through biodiversity economy, and sustainable livelihoods.
But co-operation between the two countries to deal with the scourge of rhino poaching has not been limited to the signing of a MoU.
South Africa and Mozambique have enjoyed excellent relations since 1994.
Our two countries had a unique relationship of solidarity in the struggle for liberation prior to the advent of democracy 20 years ago.
As a strategic partner within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the government had recognised the importance of engaging on wildlife management, particularly with respect to addressing the scourge of rhino poaching within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP).
The signing of the treaty on the establishment, development and management of the GLTP by the heads of state of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe signified the maturity of the relationship between the three countries.
It culminated in a number of successes that included, among others, the creation of Giriyondo tourist access facility, the translocation of more than 5 000 animals to the Limpopo National Park and facilitating the natural migration of about 1 000 elephants and 300 rhino, and many other species into the Limpopo National Park, as well as an overall enhancement of the relationship between the three countries.
Since the bilateral meeting last June where an implementation strategy to combat wildlife crime was endorsed, good progress has been made with the operationalisation of a Draft Co-operation Agreement on the Joint Protection and Management of the Rhino and Elephant Population in the Great Limpopo Park and Conservation Area.
This agreement has resulted in increased joint collaboration efforts on rhino anti-poaching interventions on park management level.
The development of a Joint Operations Cross-Border Protocol by both of the park management agencies will, once approved by the safety and security clusters of the two countries, provide for joint cross-border operations.
Well-trained and armed anti-poaching unit members are being deployed in Mozambique for joint operations with the Kruger Park team, as operational plans between the Limpopo and Kruger parks are being synchronised to ensure greater effectiveness and success.
In Mozambique, the Limpopo National Park is continuing with its community resettlement programme, which aims to move communities residing within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park to designated areas on the buffer zone.
Within SADC, the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security, under the leadership of the South African National Defence Force, last September adopted a decision that has enabled South Africa to collaborate with Mozambique to develop and implement a common strategy to deal with poaching.
Much progress has been made in this regard and it is hoped that the results will soon become evident.
Further afield, South Africa, as a member of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), last year joined member states in recognising that wildlife trafficking is a significant conservation, safety and security, and social issue that has a far-reaching impact on species, ecosystems, livelihoods, sustainable development, economies and national and regional security.
Questions are often raised about the effectiveness of MoUs and bilateral agreements, with many arguing that these deflect attention from the real issues.
In the case of rhino poaching, it has been argued on social media that the agreement has come too late and that not enough is being done by South Africa and Mozambique to rein in those responsible for the high levels of poaching in, particularly, the Kruger Park.
It must again be emphasised that rhino poaching is a complex crime.
Due to its cross-border nature, it requires commitment by not only South Africa, but also transit and consumer states, to combat this crime.
Besides the MoUs signed with Vietnam, China and Mozambique, agreements are also being explored with Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
Entering international or bilateral co-operation agreements is only as effective as the levels of willingness, political commitment and co-operation that exist either within, or between, the countries involved.
An MoU is an enabling vehicle for the implementation of actionable plans – the areas which define the real work and terms of which real success can be measured.
Because the agreements with China, Vietnam and Mozambique are still in their infancy, the successes of each will be measured through the successful implementation of awareness raising, the alignment of policy and legislation, and joint law enforcement that will result in the ultimate drop in, and possible end of, rhino poaching.
What makes this MoU significant is that it is a government-to-government agreement.
That means it is not limited to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, but to all areas being managed for conservation in both countries.
Entering into a MoU with Mozambique is not aimed at dictating to our neighbours what to do in dealing with wildlife matters, including rhino poaching.
It is rather a way for our two countries to work together to harmonise our laws and policies to ensure that crimes, such as rhino poaching, are halted.
The Mozambican government has already shown its commitment to addressing wildlife crimes, particularly rhino and elephant poaching, through the enactment of the Conservation Areas Act on April 9, 2014.
The new act is a commendable step forward for conservation in the region and provides a legislative framework for Mozambique to support its international biodiversity conservation obligations.
The Conservation Areas Act has strengthened the enforcement and punitive measures providing for significant sentences for wildlife crime-related activities, including rhino poaching, for those convicted by Mozambican courts.
The co-operation between our two countries, the strength of our political will and commitment, alongside the implementation of workable joint programmes – including cross-border collaboration and joint operations – will be the true measure of the success of the MoU.
It is a success I am confidently looking forward to.
* Molewa is the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs.
*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.