With SA having lost 618 rhinos so far this year, it is hoped that the signing of a memorandum with Vietnam will stunt poaching.

Hanoi - With South Africa having lost 618 rhinos so far this year, it is hoped that the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam could stem the poaching.

The Department of Environmental Affairs announced on Monday that minister Edna Molewa and Vietnamese farms minister Dr Cao Duc Phat had signed the memorandum in Hanoi.

The agreement aims to promote co-operation in law enforcement and compliance with legislation and conventions on trade in endangered species.

Molewa said: “We believe this latest development… is crucial for South Africa to effectively deal with… poaching, and with illegal hunting largely driven by the international demand for rhino horn.”

A Vietnamese spokesman said the farms minister had proposed a ban on the import of all rhino specimens.

According to the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, demand in Vietnam is believed to be driving “the rapacious illegal trade in rhino horn”.

The organisation said in a recent report: “Over the past decade, unprecedented levels of disposable income and lax government policy have awakened the trade in rhino horn.”

At the same time, it said, rapidly changing attitudes in modern Vietnam, where 65 percent of people are under 30, were fuelling a booming market for luxury products and giving rise to conspicuous consumption.

Tom Milliken of Traffic, who took five South African government representatives to Vietnam in 2010 and brought five Vietnamese representatives to South Africa last year, welcomed yesterday’s deal.

“If both sides, but especially Vietnam, move forward to forcefully take action, we can strike a blow against the criminal syndicates behind the rhino horn trade in South Africa,” he said.

“We now have an opportunity to link law enforcement officers from the principal source country with the end-use market to take collective action to stop the slaughter and end the trade.”

He said the white rhino was South Africa’s gift to the world, but the slaughter was tarnishing a conservation record that had spanned nearly 100 years.

“It’s an unmitigated tragedy that nearly two rhinos are being killed every day for a rhino horn trade in faraway Asia,” he said.

“Vietnam holds the key for helping to unmask the crime syndicates benefiting from this nefarious trade.”

KwaZulu-Natal has lost 60 rhinos this year and has been responsible for 20 of the 257 arrests.

The memorandum identifies several areas as priority areas of co-operation, including:

l Biodiversity management, conservation and protection.

l Compliance with internationally binding conventions.

l Forestry and biodiversity law enforcement and compliance with domestic frameworks and applicable conventions.

l Strengthening of co-operation through the exchange of information, best practice and research.

l Technology use, transfer and development.

l Natural resource management, wildlife trade, protected areas management, community development and sustainable livelihoods.

Environmental group WWF

heralded the move as a “pivotal moment”.

Allison Thomson of Outraged Citizens Against Rhino Poaching said she hoped Vietnam would co-operate more fully with South Africa in bringing a halt to the illegal wildlife trade. - Daily News