A black rhino thunders across KwaZulu-Natal grasslands.

Cape Town - China and Vietnam have confirmed their commitment to helping prevent the illegal wildlife trade – and specifically the poaching of rhino.

Their commitments were affirmed during informal talks with Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa before a major international conference that environmentalists say is being held at a crucial time because the illegal trade is pushing many species to the brink of extinction.

This is the two-week-long 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) that started in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday. Species under discussion here include elephant, rhino, sharks, rays, great apes, snakes, tortoises, turtles, crocodiles, antelope and large cats.

“This year’s conference comes at a critical moment,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director-general of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) that is a major player at the conference.

“Rhino poaching is at a record high, illegal trade in ivory and python skins is causing increasing concern, and other species are closer to extinction due to unsustainable trade. Countries must enforce existing laws to ensure wildlife is used sustainably, securing healthy biodiversity and livelihoods.”

On COP16’s agenda are 70 proposals that include the “up-listing” – increasing the stringency of restrictions – of rhino because of poaching.

Molewa’s department says this proposal, by Kenya, will have widespread conservation implications for South Africa’s white rhino population – some negative, such as creating disincentives for the private sector which owns some 25 percent of our rhino.

Molewa said she had met officials from the delegations of China and Vietnam informally to discuss “issues of mutual co-operation in the field of biodiversity, particularly the continued illegal trade in rhino horn”.

“The discussions confirmed the two countries’ willingness to continue to co-operate with South Africa.”

All three countries had also recommitted to getting talks about allowing a restricted and tightly controlled commercial trade in rhino horn placed on the agenda of forthcoming Cites meetings.

The conference marks the 40th anniversary of Cites

. - Cape Argus