It's believed that hunting older black rhino is good for the population, as decimated as it is. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Cape Times - New laws are in the pipeline to help crack down on rhino poaching which hit an all-time high in South Africa last year, with 668 rhino killed.

Statistics released by the Department of Environment Affairs on Thursday show rhino deaths jumped from 448 in 2011 and 333 in 2010. Five have been killed this year.

Kruger Park lost the most, 425, last year, up from 252 in 2011 and 146 in 2010.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in a statement yesterday she was “gravely concerned” about the high rate of rhino poaching and that the government was committed to fighting it.

The National Environmental Management Laws First Amendment Bill is intended close some loopholes in the legislation. Once it becomes law, those involved in illegal activity, such as rhino poaching, but who do not physically carry it out, may also be found guilty of an offence.

The bill would also close loopholes in the hunting industry. At the moment a professional hunter or hunting outfitters need only register in one of the nine provinces. If they break the law in the province in which they are registered, they may simply apply to operate in another province.

The new law would compel all professional hunters and hunting outfitters to be registered nationally. It would also allow legal action to be taken “against those who facilitate the carrying out of illegal restricted activities by their clients”, the department said.

The laws would limit the number of hunting permits that could be issued if a species needed to be protected, and would allow the authorities to refuse, defer or suspend hunting permits.

All rhino horn moving through the country would need to have documentation.

A recent report, Fighting Illicit Wildlfe Trafficking, by WWF-International, said rhino poaching in South Africa had rocketed 3 000 percent since 2007, when about 20 were lost. The report said demand among wealthy Asians, who used ground rhino horn as a status symbol “hangover cure”, was among the factors pushing up the price of rhino horn.

The fashion in China for ivory trinkets had contributed to the deaths of at least 2 500 African elephants in 2011.

The report says trafficking in wildlife is the fourth largest illicit trade after drugs, humans and counterfeit products, but is not getting the attention it needs.

It said while the illicit wildlife trade was not a priority for governments, it was now high on the agenda of criminal syndicates because the risk was low and the profits high. A South African rhino poacher “may get away with a $14 000 (about R120 500) fine”, while someone convicted of smuggling five grams of cocaine would be sentenced to not less than five years in jail.

Even if jail sentences were handed down, the profits were so high there were “plenty of new candidates ready to fill the shoes” of those prosecuted. The report quoted Interpol as saying penalties must be severe enough to serve as a deterrent. - Cape Times