Durban - The government is hoping recent changes to environmental laws will reduce the number of sham rhino hunts, by closing loopholes exploited by professional hunters and hunting outfitters.
The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs said the amendments, gazetted by President Jacob Zuma late last month, would not put an end to illegal rhino poaching.
However, the changes would help limit the potential abuse of the permit system which is used to regulate the legal hunting of rhinos in South Africa.
Although the department did not refer to specific examples, there have been cases of several rhinos being shot by foreign “hunters” in different provinces, under the pretext of legal trophy hunting. The horns were then exported to Vietnam and other Far East nations for use in traditional medicine.
In terms of the new amendments to the National Environmental Management Act, the government can now suspend, defer or cancel hunting permits if the hunting outfitter or professional hunter is already facing a criminal investigation for alleged contraventions of environmental laws.
The minister of environmental affairs and permit authorities could also refuse to issue permits for rhino hunts, if they believed these hunts were “likely to have a negative impact on the survival” of rhinos or other protected/ threatened species.
The department said yesterday that all professional hunters and outfitters would be compelled to register on a national database, rather than just provincial databases.
Their registration could then be revoked immediately if they helped to facilitate the killing of a rhino, or exported rhino horns “in a manner deviating from what is stipulated on the permit”.
If their permits were revoked, these hunters or outfitters would be banned from working in any province as the new system introduced a national registration system.
The department said that under the new laws, people involved in rhino poaching or horn smuggling could also be convicted of offences, even if they did not necessarily kill a rhino themselves.
The amendments to the law also include new measures to control “bioprospecting” of plants and animals, as well as further controls on invasive alien plants.
The minister of environmental affairs has been granted new emergency powers to deal with certain invasive alien plants and to prohibit the cultivation of such plants in areas of the country deemed to be at high risk. - The Mercury
l A copy of the amendments is available at http:// www.environment.gov.za.