Rhino Horn demand management & CITES preparations: DEA briefing

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

24 October 2018
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) briefed the Portfolio Committee on the preparations for CITES COP 18, which would be held in Sir Lanka in June 2019, and on the key outcomes from CITES COP 17 which were important to South Africa. In preparation for the upcoming conference, the DEA had engaged in public consultation. It explained the process by which the public’s proposals for consideration at the conference were reviewed by the Scientific Authority before the Department and Cabinet agreed on recommendations.

Members asked who the Scientific Authority reported to, and whether the Portfolio Committee was just an observer in the process. They also wanted to know how the DEA felt about the recommendations made by the Scientific Authority, and on decisions relating to domestic trade which had been taken by CITES.

The DEA described its demand management approach to the rhino horn issue. A peak in poaching had been seen in 2014, but the incidence had been on a decline since then. The Department had focused on advocacy, education and awareness as an underpinning pillar to combat poaching activities. Challenges faced by the Department included research which was not commissioned by the Department itself, so its credibility was unknown. Furthermore, the conducting of its own research was an expensive process. Another challenge faced was the lack of common diplomatic solutions, as each state was sovereign.

Members asked whether the decline in the poaching numbers was a result of the conservation measures put in place, or a decrease in demand. Who was commissioning the research which the Department used as a basis? They also expressed concern over the challenges faced in coming up with diplomatic solutions, communication with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, and the capacity for wildlife conservation in those countries.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

The Chairperson commented on the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement to be delivered by the Finance Minister later that afternoon. In the light of the dire state of the economy, with predictions of less than 1% growth, an increasing petrol price, the high cost of living and a VAT increase to 15%, he wondered whether additional allocations would be made to the Department generally, as well as for the take-over of the national zoological garden.

Preparations for CITES COP 18: DEA briefing

Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, Deputy Director General (DDG): Biodiversity and Conservation, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), said that CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) of wild fauna and flora was one of the conventions that the Department dealt with amongst other conventions. CITES had a system of operation which ensured that trade was sustainable and not detrimental to the survival of the species. Species were put into different appendices, where different rules applied.

The meetings were held every three years. South Africa (SA) had hosted COP 16 in September 2016, the next COP 18 would be held in June 2019 in Sir Lanka. At every meeting, the listings were reviewed by the proposals brought forward by the different countries. In 2016, the Pangolin was put in Appendix One, as it was highly threatened at the time. The Cape Mountain Zebra was down-listed to Appendix Two, meaning that commercial trade would be allowed.

Mr Mpho Tjiane, Deputy Director (DD): CITES Policy Development and Implementation, DEA, said that before COP 16, in preparation for COP 17, the DEA had done a trade analysis for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to highlight the importance of trade to the Southern African countries. The total financial value of CITES-listed exports from SADC was estimated to be US$340 million per year. South Africa dominated the SADC market purely because SA had the infrastructure. Processing and routes go through SA then to the SADC countries. It was expected that the majority of trading would have been plants and hunting trophies, but what dominated the market financially in SA was live birds. The African grey parrot dominated the market, used as a pet in Asian countries and Middle East countries, estimated at US$278 million. The Aloe ferox, used for many plant-based products, and Nile crocodile skin used for belts in European and Asian markets, were exported in large quantities. The hunting industry had increased gradually over the years, reaching over R1 billion in 2013. The market appeared to be stabilising over the years.
During the last CITES COP 17, there were three proposals which were approved. The Cape mountain zebra was transferred to App II, wild ginger was listed in App II and the Temminck’s pangolin transferred to App I. The illegal international trade in wildlife decision was adopted, as there was high illegal trade at the time. The trade in hunting trophies attempted to adopt a decision to ease the trading restrictions by the European Union (EU) and other parties. There was a proposal to close the domestic ivory markets, but it was opposed, allowing that only markets which contributed to poaching and illegal trade be closed. Swaziland wanted to trade in White rhino horn, but this proposal was unsuccessful, rejected by 100 parties. The proposal to list African elephant populations and the African lion in App I was unsuccessful. The listing of the African grey parrot in App I was successful. Stockpile management discussion that related to the treatment of ivory and rhino horns on hand, was still under way.

Ms Olga Kumalo, Director: Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) and CITES, DEA, explained the process in preparation for COP 18. The DEA requested the public to provide proposals which they would like SA to take to COP 18. The Scientific Authority reviewed the proposals and made recommendations to the DEA. The Department was still waiting for official feedback from the Scientific Authority. DEA would then assess the proposals and make recommendations to the Minister for approval and submission to the Cabinet for the final position of the country.

For the listing of a species on CITES, CITES Resolution Conf 9.24, revised at COP 17, was applicable. It was stated that to qualify for inclusion in App I, a species must meet biological and trade criteria and species may be listed in App II to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival.

Mr Tjiane explained a few of the proposals brought forward by the public. Game rangers felt that the current listing in CITES that stated that an animal was either wild or captive bred was not sufficient, and an additional listing of animals which fall in between was required. The Scientific Authority recommended that this decision be placed on hold, as SA was currently in a similar discussion relating to plants, and therefore it would be appropriate to wait on the outcome.

It was proposed that all TOPS species be listed in CITES. This proposal was not taken forward as it did not meet the CITES criteria, nor did all species participate in international trade. It was proposed that elephants to be transferred from App II to App I, but there were no major threats facing the wild elephant population.

The Scientific Authority recommended that the following be taken forward:

  • Amend the listing of Aloe ferox in App II and exclude their finished products. Tourists were faced with challenges when they buy aloe-based finished products in the country, and were unable to take them home immediately.
  • The Black Rhino offtake quota to be increased to 0.5%, about nine Black Rhinos a year. Currently the hunting quota was at 0.2%.
  • A full transfer of the White Rhino to the App II.
  • Extension of the decision on trade in African greys to allow South Africa to register captive breeding facilities.
  • Black Rhino could be hunted only under strict requirements.

COP 18 would be held in Sir Lanka, at the Bandaranike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, from 23 May to 3 June 2019.


The Chairperson commented that he was of the opinion that CITES was a mechanism that regulated trade among countries, but there was a decision taken that affected domestic trade -- the ivory trade resolution. This encroached on domestic affairs and was outside of the mandate of the convention.

Mr R Purdon (DA) questioned the timing of the presentations that were given to the Members. He required clarity on the Scientific Authority recommendation relating to the White Rhino. Did the deletion of the annotation mean that the trade in rhino horn would become international? Who did the Scientific Authority report to? On the legalities, having been told that decisions were taken by the Scientific Authority and forwarded to the DEA to submit to Cabinet, was the Committee therefore just an observer? Did the Scientific Authority make the final decisions?

Mr T Hadebe (DA) asked the Department what their take would be on the recommendations of the Scientific Authority. Secondly, what was their view on Resolution 10.10 to trade in elephant tusks, having seen a rise in elephant poaching in the recent years?

DEA response

Mr Munzhedzi commented that CITES was about international trade and not domestic matters. However, there had been a push in 2016 to get involved in domestic matters. South Africa had made it clear that CITES could not deal with what was outside its mandate. Domestic aspects were to be dealt domestically by the countries themselves, but this sometimes became a challenge for CITES.

The Scientific Authority was given criteria to work with. It would put forth recommendations based only on scientific considerations. Not everything recommended by the Scientific Authority would be taken forward. The management and political processes needed to follow. The final position of the DEA would be based on what the political process would inform them on. The DEA therefore could not take a stand on matters.

The Chairperson commented that it was correct that the recommendations needed to go through the country’s own government decision-making process, and that the DEA could not take a stand as yet.

Demand management: DEA briefing

Ms Rose Masela, Chief Director: National Wildlife Information Management Unit (NWIMU), DEA, said that the Department had begun to take note of rhino poaching trends since 2008. Poaching reached a peak in 2014 but there had been a decline since. The Committee of Inquiry (COI) came up with five recommended intervention areas -- biological management, demand management, enforcement, responsive legislation and community empowerment.

Within demand management, there was a focus on advocacy, education and awareness as an underpinning pillar towards the legal and illegal trade dimension. Demand and consumption could not be separated -- both legal and illegal consumption. There was a further focus on information gathering, research, continued interactions, monitoring systems and changing consumer behaviour to deal with poaching. CITES also looked into specific demand management, and resolved that it was a trade-related issue. It concluded that there needed to be parties to assist in dealing with issues.

The DEA faced challenges where studies were not commissioned by the government, so the credibility of these studies were unknown. It also faced a limitation of access to information, due to the protection of information, especially by consumers. There was no government study or research relating to the consumption of the rhino horn. There was an urgent need to undertake research focused on consumer markets, stockpile destruction, campaign success and buying power.

The DEA used target messaging to change the perceptions on rhino horn in the various audiences. This was done to inform the general South African population and maintain communication with partners and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to raise awareness and change the mind-set of poachers and community groups.

The challenges faced by the DEA with regard to demand management included the research process requiring funding, which was expensive and needed to be credible. The methodology established needed to be professional and structured. Information needed to be legitimate and the sharing of information was proving to be difficult. There was also a lack of common diplomatic solutions.

The DEA, having understood the challenges, had gone into a process and come up with interventions. Legal routes were used as a basis to determine illegal routes. There were four key destination groups -- North America, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. From a law establishment point of view, if there was a route, anything could be trafficked. The trends in rhino horn had pointed to the four specific groupings of routes, which were Europe, Africa, the Middle East and other. The DEA had undertaken national, regional and international partnerships as part of its interventions. It had also engaged in law enforcement awareness, port operator awareness and road traffic officer awareness.


The Chairperson asked how people who worked in the airports detect the rhino horn. Also, how other countries go about detecting the rhino horn.

Ms Masela explained that there were special scanners at the airports, especially at OR Tambo. The scanners had been built to be sensitive to the density of wild life products. Some countries used similar scanners, but not all countries.

The Chairperson said that he had expected more information relating to the future, after having understood the consumer market, the supply chain and poaching trends, such as how the issue of the stockpiles in our country were dealt with. He mentioned that the standard of living of societies where poaching had a market, had increased. He questioned whether the decrease in poaching numbers was due to the conservation measures put into place, or a decrease in demand.

Mr Hadebe wanted clarity on how far the Department was in implementing the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry. How far was it in ensuring that there was a dedicated prosecutor in each province to deal with wildlife crime and hotspots?

Mr Purdon asked who was doing the research, as the DEA had mentioned that they were not commissioning their own research.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) wanted to understand what the challenges with coming up with common diplomatic solutions were. Was it a result of the countries where there was a market or consumption, being unwilling to come to a common understanding when it came to the demand for rhino horn?

Mr Purdon asked if there was any communication with the other SADC countries relating to demand reduction, in order to establish the trends in the other countries as well.

The Chairperson mentioned a study by the Born-Free Foundation on the lion bone trade, which had indicated that the illicit market was feeding into the legal market. Criminal syndicates had piggy-backed on the legal trade. The Chairperson asked the DEA to comment on this.

Ms Masela said that in terms of future plans, the DEA had structured their interventions in the Rhino Conservation Lab. The Department already had a rhino communication strategy in place and initiatives in community development and ownership, which should have an influence on demand. The Department had realised that their approach may not be direct demand management.

The research was undertaken by the different partners with which the Department engaged. The government was looking into commissioning studies of its own, for which a framework had already been developed.

The rhino issue management process was an economic law of demand and supply. Buying power did not necessarily control whether there was demand. However, as long as there was an increase in buying power, demand could be expected to increase.

There had been communication in SADC, mostly with Mozambique. A large number of problems came from here and they had agreed on a number of engagements, besides the destruction of stockpiles.

The Department had spoken to consumer countries, but had not received any cooperation from them thus far. It would like to run awareness programmes and the countries would decide on their own how to deal with the transgressions. It had identified where the market is, and therefore would like to send across a uniform message.

Mr Munzhedzi commented that stockpiles were a big issue, and there was no policy currently. There were two types of stockpiles in South Africa -- government and private sector. It was stressed that stockpiles in the private sector needed to be registered. The managing of stockpiles had proven to be costly.

He commented on the Born-Free study, saying that with or without legal trade, demand would still be there. The impact of what happens on demand, irrespective of legal or illegal trade, was unknown. Other studies concluded that they could not detect any link between illegal trade and the lion bone trade.

The Department had undertaken to commission its own research. About US$5 billion had been invested over the next five years, working together with other countries. The memorandum of understanding signed with other countries deals with a number of areas that they diplomatically need to work towards, and also to work with SADC countries on planning and strategising.

Mr Tjiane added that there was a rhino and elephant security group under SADC, who meet twice a year and update the poaching numbers and population sizes. This was submitted to CITES and in this way, the Department was able to keep track of what was happening in neighbouring countries. Currently, a lot of elephants were being moved to Namibia, as it was seen to be a safer country.

Ms Masela said that the Department used soft approaches when dealing with issues of demand. It had identified about 11 to 14 hotspot areas in accordance to their criteria. The community programmes and ambassadorships were then focused on these hotspots. The Department continued to work with the dedicated prosecutors and had seen great improvements in Sekhukhuze and the Kruger National Park.

Mr Makhubele asked whether the SADC countries had the necessary capacity in this regard.

Mr Munzhedzi replied that the capacities of the countries differed, depending on the specific issues. Mozambique had its own areas of focus, but also engaged in joint ventures with SA. Zimbabwe had its own capacity, but SA had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with them. Namibia had highly prioritised this. Botswana had the army involved. Swaziland had firm laws. South Africa had a slightly different approach and mandate.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson proposed another engagement for further discussion, particularly on the end point. Members supported South Africa’s position on the sustainable use of natural resources and did not subscribe to non-consumptive use. There was a need to find a resolution because the existence of an illegal market and a spike in rhino poaching meant there was a demand somewhere. He was not entirely convinced by some of the responses from the Department.

He congratulated the Department on the decline in poaching numbers.

The meeting was adjourned.


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