Cape Town - SA National Parks has sold 354 rhinos for a total price of just over R81-million – an average of under R230 000 each – since January 2010, while another six have been given free to unnamed recipients.
This was revealed by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa this week in response to parliamentary questions by DA spokeswoman on environmental affairs Terri Stander.
According to various reports, rhino horns have been sold by poachers on the black market for as much as R1.5m; for $300 000 (R3.18m at the current exchange rate); and about $65 000/kg (R690 000/kg).
Earlier this week, Roderick Potter, a member of the Rhino and Elephant Security Group that has had oversight responsibility for the animal in South Africa and east Africa, gave a police statement filed in a Durban court case against two alleged poachers. He said the cost of replacing a white rhino was about R249 000 – the average cost of the species at the KZN wildlife auction last year.
Black rhinos fetched higher prices, up to double this amount, he was quoted as saying in the Daily News, sister newspaper to the Cape Argus.
“Undercover operations, in my experience, have revealed that a low expected price of rhino horn on the black market is R45 000/kg and there is no open market for rhino horn. High expected prices could be double this amount to a poacher.”
According to conservation group Ifaw (International Fund for Animal Welfare), reliable data is scarce, but credible sources suggest rhino horn prices in the early 1990s ranged between $250/kg and $800/kg but have now rocketed, with prices of $60 000/kg to $70 000/kg being widely reported.
In her reply, Molewa said no rhinos had been culled by SANParks and she was not aware of any government officials linked to those who had successfully tendered to buy the animals. The buyers’ names could not be revealed “due to exposure and security risks”.
Before 2012, tenders for the sale of rhinos had been advertised in various newspapers, but this practice had been stopped for security reasons. “Therefore, the recent sale of rhino was not publicised.”
SANParks accumulated all income from the sale of animals into a dedicated Park Development Fund, Molewa said.
“This fund is used by SANParks for numerous conservation-related projects including the acquisition of land for inclusion into national parks; research projects relevant to national parks; scientific reports; and community beneficiation projects.”
Stander has announced that she also intends submitting questions to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko about “hot pursuit” operations against rhino poachers fleeing into neighbouring Mozambique.
Such operations were confirmed by national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega during Molewa’s major press conference on poaching last week, with Phiyega saying these raids happened regularly.
Stander said it was “strange” that Phiyega had declined to give details of how many operations had taken place, and the commissioner had not given any indication of whether the operations had been effective.
“According to reports received by the DA from sources within the police services and the Kruger National Park, to date no hot pursuit operations have taken place because the necessary agreement between South Africa and Mozambique is yet to be finalised.
“There is also concern that in the absence of an extradition treaty, any apprehended suspects will not be able to be brought back to South Africa for prosecution.”
She said she intended to ask Nhleko about the nature of any “hot pursuit” agreement with Mozambique and how many there had been since April.
How much do rhino horns weigh?
According to the website www.rhino-economics.com, the average weight of a pair of black rhino horns is 2.88kg, and 4kg for a white rhino.
A different source says the average weight for white rhinos’ horns is 6kg.
According to a speech at the 2012 annual conference of the International Association of Prosecutors, rhino horn was selling for about R65 000/kg on the South African black market.
“The average front rhino horn weighs approximately 3 to 4kg and the back horn approximately a third of this. This is just an average weight and we have seized front horns weighing up to 10kg.
“Taking into account that one rhino has two horns, we are looking at an average weight of between 4 to 5kg per set of rhino horn, which translates to a price of between R260 000 and R325 000 for a set of rhino horn.
“The price of the horn increases up to five times this amount outside South Africa.”
According to www.rhinos.org, the bigger front horn on white rhinos can be as long as 94 to 102cm for the northern subspecies and a huge 94 to 201cm for the southern subspecies, and 50 to 130cm on the black rhino.
But this white rhino figure is contradicted in a 2006 study by Dr Nico van Strien, South-East Asian programme officer for the International Rhino Foundation and co-chairman of the IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group from 1998 to 2008.
He found the longest rhino horn recorded was a 150cm white rhino horn. (http://intlrhinofoundation.wordpress.com).