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Why SA needs rhino tourism

Pretoria - The popularity of rhinos as a tourist attraction is on the increase making their value in the tourism industry even greater, says Professor Melville Saayman.

A director of Trees (Tourism Research, Economics, Environment and Society) at North-West University, Saayman expressed his opinion after a study he and his team completed at Kruger National Park to determine whether tourists’ desire to see rhinos, in relation to other animals that make the Big Five had changed over the past three years.

The non-consumptive value of rhino for Kruger National Park has increased from R39.5 million to R112.4m.

“In a similar study in 2011, 26.6 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay to see rhinos. This increased to 36.9 percent in 2013. The non-consumptive value of rhino for Kruger National Park has increased from R39.5-million to R112.4m.

“Rhinos are the only species of the Big Five to become more popular,” he said.

Last year, more than a thousand rhinos were killed by poachers and this year 277 have been killed for their horns.

Saayman thinks the growing endangered status of rhinos is contributing to the surge in interest.

It also emphasises the value of the nearly 18 000 rhinos remaining.

Saayman’s study shows that the viewing value of the Big Five accounts for approximately R500 000 of the Kruger National Park’s R2-billion revenue. Rhinos represent nearly R112 500 00 of this.

Although the Department of Environmental Affairs will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with its Mozambican counterpart this week to curb rhino poaching by authorising local rangers to pursue poachers across the border, Saayman feels the efforts are not enough.

“I do not think Mozambique has the capacity to curb poaching.”

Saayman says the government must strengthen its stance against poachers to preserve the species.

“Our penalties for poachers are far too light. It does not serve as a deterrent. We have to follow the Kenyan example, where persons caught with ivory or rhino horn are fined $230 000 (R24-million) or sentenced to life in prison; and in some cases both. Maybe it's time to re-erect the fence between South Africa and its neighbours. Many poachers are foot soldiers from neighbouring countries who come here to hunt rhinos.” - Pretoria News

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