**WARNING EDITORS - GRAPHIC CONTENT** SOUTH AFRICA: RHINO POACHING: BLOOD drips down the muzzle of one of two white rhino bulls shot and de-horned last week, allegedly by two Gauteng brothers who entered the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park posing as tourists. Picture: Supplied by Ezemvelo KZn Wildlife

A string of strategies to tackle rhino poaching was put to Parliament’s environmental affairs committee on Thursday.

Committee chairman Johnny de Lange praised the size of the crowd as well as the number of submissions, 14, by individuals and organisations.

He said it was clear that rhinos were being let down in at least three ways: a lack of funding, weaknesses in law enforcement and loopholes in the system.

Wilderness Foundation chief executive Andrew Muir said it would cost roughly R500 million a year to protect SA’s rhinos from poaching.

“Where is that money going to come from?” he asked.

“Look at the amount of non-governmental organisations that are raising money for rhinos, and yet there is no accountability for where the money is going. One has to ask, the villains in this case, are they just the poachers?”

He added that the foundation’s suggestion was to research the trade in horn from rhinos that had died of natural causes.

World Wildlife Fund African rhino manager Joseph Okori said many people saw the legalisation of the rhino-horn trade as a “silver bullet”. “This has been based on many economic assumptions, postulations and correlation to other non-sustainable forms of resource utilisation, such as the diamond industry,” he said.

The Southern African Development Community rhino management group suggested the re-establishment of environmental courts.

The group’s head, Mike Knight, said an increase in the successful prosecution and sentencing of couriers, buyers and exporters would act as a deterrent.

The Eastern Cape Tourism Agency said loopholes in the system should be identified and closed, including the acquisition of horn through legal hunting.

“There may be many changes… such as by requiring that conservation officials are present at all hunting events and that they sign off on the hunt,” said chief executive Sybert Liebenberg.

One concerned individual, Terry Bengis, said that the solution was to place a moratorium on all aspects of rhino trading for at least six months to count “every single rhino in South Africa” and account for “whatever rhino parts are stockpiled”.

A group of four conservationists argued that one solution was to address the cause of poaching rather than the symptoms of poaching.

A “Rhino Reality” awareness and education campaign aimed at Asian countries would help reduce the demand for rhino horn for medicinal purposes, said Galeo Saintz, Zama Ncube and Simon and Jon Morgan.

The campaign would deliver the message through national televised advertisements using an authoritative Asian celebrity.

A total of 448 rhinos were poached in 2011, with 28 more rhinos poached so far in January. The Environmental Affairs Department estimated that 398 rhino would be killed by the end of the year.

It said that illegal trade in rhino horn was worth an estimated $20 billion (R160bn) annually, and ranked the third most lucrative criminal trade in the world, behind drugs and human trafficking. – Sapa