A rhino that was dehorned by a veterinary surgeon and rangers to prevent poaching. Picture: Reuters/Ilya Kachaev

Environmental groups have threatened to boycott the agricultural and tourism industries if the government fails to protect rhinos from becoming extinct.

A Global Rhino Ultimatum, organised by the International Animal Rescue Foundation, has been making its way online and through social networks, and has drawn more than 11 500 signatures in the past few weeks.

The ultimatum is leading up to a public parliamentary hearing set to take place on January 26. The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs has said this hearing will aim to find solutions to the poaching crisis.

The ultimatum requires 250 000 signatures in 60 days, stating: “Everyday of this 60 day global petition action, three rhino will be butchered in South Africa for their horns.”

At $60 000 (R478 000) a kilogram, a single rhino horn is worth around $300 000, making it more valuable than cocaine and gold on the black market.

The foundation is demanding that the government stop issuing rhino trophy hunting permits, stop the sale of state owned rhino, commission a census of the rhino population in South Africa, and destroy all stock-piled rhino horn.

The ultimatum will be delivered on February 22 to government ministers, including President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa.

The government will then have until April 22 to meet the foundation’s requirements, or face a boycott of agricultural and service exports.

According to the foundation, two rhino sub-species – the Western African black rhino and the Northern white rhino – were declared extinct in November by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The Javan rhino of Southeast Asia may also be extinct.

However, banning rhino hunting altogether could actually increase the poaching rate. According to Siegfried Kuhm, CEO of the KZN Hunting and Conservation Association, as long as hunting is done on a sustainable, ethical, and legal basis, it has a rightful place in society. “Stop hunting and you stop wildlife. Very few people will travel large distances to view a single or a few animals. Hunters will travel thousands of kilometres to hunt a single animal.”

People wanting to sign the ultimatum can go to www.international-animalrescue-foundation.org