ATC140313: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs on Rhino Poaching Stakeholder Workshop, Held at the Kruger National Park (Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre, Skukuza), from 2nd — 4th December 2013, dated 5 March 2014.

Water and Sanitation

REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON WATER AND ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS ON RHINO POACHING STAKEHOLDER WORKSHOP, held at the Kruger National Park (Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre, Skukuza), from 2 nd — 4 TH DECEMBER 2013, DATED 5 march 2014.


Africa’s rhinos have faced two catastrophic crises over the past 50 years. The first crisis extended from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s and saw most rhino populations decimated through relentless waves of poaching to support traditional rhino horn trades for traditional medicine in Asia and the production of dagger handles in Yemen. Many rhino range States saw their Black Rhinoceros populations completely disappear or plummet to levels that were a mere shadow of the tens of thousands of rhino’s roaming our continent. From an estimated 100 000 animals throughout Africa, in 1960, Black Rhino numbers collapsed to an historic low of only some 2 410 animals by 1995, [1] including the near extinction of the western subspecies of Black Rhino. The northern subspecies of the White Rhinoceros fared even worse and was completely obliterated throughout its range, save for a small remnant population, numbering about 30 animals, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park, on the border with Sudan. Comparatively speaking, the southern subspecies of the White Rhinoceros suffered far less attrition during this period, as most populations were found in either South Africa or Namibia. These two nations stood as the exception to the rule and averted most of the negative impacts of the first rhino crisis due to an unwavering government commitment to rhino conservation, diligent investment in protection and biological monitoring, and a strong alliance between non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local communities, and private and public sector stakeholders, to promote common objectives.

South Africa unquestionably has the world’s most successful conservation record for rhinos. In 2011, this country alone conserved 83 per cent of Africa’s rhinos and 73 per cent of all wild rhino worldwide. [2] As one of the most biologically diverse nations globally, South Africa has long promoted biodiversity conservation through the sustainable use of natural resources. In fact, the country’s Constitution enshrines the principle of sustainable management of natural resources that explicitly calls for, among others, “a prosperous, environmentally-conscious nation, whose people are in harmonious coexistence with the natural environment, and which derives lasting benefits from the conservation and sustainable use of its rich biological diversity” . Within such an enabling environment, it is not surprising that, since the 1960s, there has been a marked shift to wildlife-based land-use amongst private landowners, and today game ranches in South Africa cover an area nearly three times the collective size of all national and provincial protected areas on State land. Wildlife in general, but rhinos in particular, have benefitted tremendously from these visionary natural resource policies. However, the country’s superlative conservation record of more than a century is under threat, the fate of South Africa’s rhinos is now inextricably linked with market forces in South East Asia, in countries like Viet Nam, Laos and China. (Vietnam recently saw its own rhino population slip into ignominious extinction).

Thus, South Africa’s enterprising conservation success also brought with it a huge challenge, as it makes the country a prime hunting ground for those seeking rhino horns illegally. It is obvious that the burgeoning black-market demand for rhino horn in the past few years is largely attributed to the economic boom in east and south-east Asia, where the horn is used primarily for medicinal and recreational purposes. [3] The statistics of rhino poaching, since 2007 to date, attest to this reality. In 2007, South Africa lost 13 rhino to poaching, by 2009 the number had reached 124, in 2010 it rocketed to 335 and numbers of poached animals continue to rise in subsequent years. [4] Poaching in 2013 remains at historically high levels, despite the successful clamp down on pseudo-hunting by South Africa, which has constricted the illicit rhino horn supply. [5] Poaching trends and the levels of sophistication in the killing of rhino, backed by enormous resources, are very alarming and require urgent intervention. [6] Rhino poaching appears to behave like a runaway train. It is the worst environmental crime that the country has witnessed, with serious cultural and socio-economic implications for the nation. Government and relevant stakeholders understand the difficulty in stopping rhino poaching, and it is in this context that concerned institutions and individuals proposed various strategies to stop or even derail the poaching activities. Strategies proposed include actions and programmes to either burn the horns, poison the horns, legalise trade in horns and, finally, increase security measures and step up anti-poaching operations. However, the biggest stumbling block to all kinds of anti-poaching strategies are the immense and ever increasing rates at which the animals are poached; and the vastness of rhino distribution, which combined with the guerrilla tactics of the poachers, make counter-insurgent measures very difficult to establish. [7]


Parliament, through the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs (hereinafter the Committee), had been engaging officials of the Department of Environmental Affairs (Department) since the upsurge in rhino poaching that started in 2008, with the aim of stemming these illicit practices from South Africa’s protected areas network, mainly by organised crime syndicates. The Committee became increasingly concerned as poachers appeared to be more organised and sophisticated, outwitting the conventional anti-poaching measures, considering the growing number of poached animals. The growing and relentless killing of rhinos by poachers threatened to reverse the hard-won population increases achieved by conservation authorities during the 20 th century. The illegal killing of rhino and the smuggling of their horns in recent years clearly indicates the increasing involvement of highly organised and well-structured crime syndicates that are operating in a lucrative international enterprise. In addition to the loss of horns through increased poaching, concerns have also been raised regarding ‘leakage’ of South African horns onto the illegal international markets from rhino horn stockpiles in the public and private sector. The concern for the Committee is that should poaching continue to escalate at the current rates, unabated, we could reach the situation where rhino numbers start declining, to a point when more animals are being poached than are born into the rhino population, as has been experienced in other rhino range States in the recent past. To stem this tide requires a properly structured and concerted effort by Government and other relevant role-players, as ongoing poaching of animals poses a significant threat to the rhino population and also to the reputation, eco-tourism industry and the public image of South Africa.

It was against this background that the Committee called for a Anti-Rhino Poaching stakeholder engagement workshop, (workshop) in the Kruger National Park, building on two significant parliamentary processes ( public hearings on rhino poaching in 2012, and a closed-door meeting, thereafter with all law enforcement agencies relevant to the protection of South Africa’s wild rhino populations) and regular Committee engagements with the Department, aimed at finding optimal solutions to the ongoing challenge of rhino poaching. In addition to the local stakeholders, the Committee invited members of Parliament from rhino range States on the Continent with the aim of sharing experiences on the challenges of rhino conservation and also learning from the many discussions at the workshop. Unfortunately, it was only the Zimbabwean Parliament that was represented at the workshop by the Chairperson of the Committee on Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry. The attendance by local stakeholders was impressive, with about 80 delegates, including members of the Portfolio Committee, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (Minister) and officials from the Department, provincial Government departments, SANParks, iSiMangaliso , private game reserve owners, other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), researchers and academics. The workshop was organised at the Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre, in Skukuza , within the Kruger National Park and ran over a two-day period, from 2 nd to 4 th December 2013.


The following Committee members and staff attended the Rhino Poaching Workshop , as follows:

1. Hon Adv. JH de Lange, MP, from the African National Congress (ANC) and Committee Chairperson;

2. Hon JJ Skosana MP ,( ANC);

3. Dr SB Huang, MP (ANC);

4. Hon N Tsotetsi MP, (ANC);

5. Hon J Manganye , MP (ANC);

6. Hon B Dlomo , MP (ANC);

7. Hon AZ Ndlazi , MP (ANC);

8. Hon P Bhengu, MP (ANC);

9. Hon M Wenger, MP (DA);

10. Hon F Rodgers, MP (DA)

11. Hon B Ferguson, MP (COPE);

12. Hon CN Zikalala, MP (IFP);

13. Ms Tyhileka Madubela, Committee Secretary;

14. Mr D Arendse , Committee Assistant;

15 .Mr Thomani Manungufala , Researcher; and

16. Dr Scotney Watts, Researcher;

WORKSHOP proceedings

The Chairperson of the Committee, Hon Adv. JH de Lange, MP, chaired the Workshop. He opened the workshop, by welcoming the delegates and thanked them for their interest in rhino conservation. He also outlined the purpose of the workshop, which was to get a better understanding of the current situation relating to the illegal killing and conservation of rhinoceros in South Africa and to debate and seek possible solutions to the rhino poaching challenges that the country faces in a participatory and inclusive manner. The Minister, Hon Edna Molewa , MP, delivered the keynote speech, which emphasised the need for cooperation by various stakeholders and also highlighted the Government’s plans for moving forward in tackling the ruthless poaching of South African rhinos. The Minister reiterated that continuing to do more of the same is no longer working, as the poaching crisis requires complex and innovative solutions to match the challenge posed by sophisticated poachers.

This was followed by a series of presentations, covering rhino conservation issues; management of rhino populations; rhino safety and security; trends in poaching; structure and nature of black markets in wildlife products; consumer behaviour; and rhino economics. Discussions also focused on possible solutions to destroy or at least seriously debilitate the existing, underground “black market” in rhino horn. Some of the proposed solutions included, amongst others:

· Increased involvement of communities, including community ownership of rhino and benefit-sharing by communities;

· Emphasis on cross-border collaboration, including cross-border law enforcement operations to disrupt local criminal networks;

· Enhancing actionable intelligence to enable South Africa to disrupt transnational criminal networks involved in the illegal trade in rhino horn;

· Implementing mechanisms to increase the conviction rate in rhino-related cases;

· Converting the present ranger corps into the best anti-poaching force in Africa;

· Implementing mechanisms to improve communication and cooperation between private landowners, security forces and the officials of the Department;

· Support the building and continued use of a central DNA profile database for rhinos (known as RhODIS or rhino DNA index system), at the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Veterinary Science's, Onderstepoort facility, to enhance law enforcement, and prosecution of rhino poachers;

· Incentivise the continued conservation of rhinos by private game reserves and local communities by allowing a strictly, limited, regulated trade of live rhinos and specific rhino horns; and

· Implementing innovative, strategic, targeted culturally-sensitive demand reduction initiatives.

The discussions relating to a strictly limited and regulated trade in rhino horn included the need to:

· Ensure that all opportunities, implications and risks are assessed;

· Urgently finalise the verification of all rhino horn stockpiles, especially privately-owned stockpiles;

· Engage rhino range States and the region on these trade matters, including range expansion;

· Ensure sharing of best practices and information; and

· Ensure that all other measures and initiatives continue to be implemented and strengthened.

Finally, the Committee expressed concerned with the sudden RENAMO resurgence in neighbouring Mozambique, particularly the uncertainty created by this on rhino conservation efforts in South Africa.

In conclusion, the Committee reaffirmed that all interventions should support protection, conservation and sustainable use, which are the cornerstones of the environmental rights afforded to the people of South Africa, as contained in the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution. Section 24 of the Constitution provides everyone with the right to an environment that secures ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development. T he Committee also noted that all parties present at the workshop shared a common concern and interest, and recommended that similar engagements need to be held as the Government prepares to table its proposal regarding the limited and regulated trade in rhino horn at COP17 to the CITES in 2016.


The Committee expressed its commitment to continue working closely with all Government and civil society stakeholders in ensuring that decisions regarding the management and conservation of South Africa’s rhino populations are not detrimental to their future. In this regard, the Committee recommends that:

Towards limited, regulated trade in rhino horn

· While well-intentioned, the current CITES trade ban on legally selling rhino horn seems not to have saved any species or sub species of rhino, whilst succeeding to drive the illegal selling of rhino horn underground, creating a lucrative, well-functioning, illegal, underground “black market”, which is a haven for organised crime, diverting vast sums of possible conservation funds into the hands of criminals. In fact, during these three decades of the CITES ban being in place, many species of rhinos have become extinct or are close to extinction. The current CITES ban on rhino horn trade constrains rhino conservation efforts and hence impinges on the long-term sustainability of the species. The increasing cost to keep rhinos safe and the decreasing prospect of earning income from animals by legal means are providing powerful disincentives for owners of game reserves to expand the number of rhinos on their land. The poachers therefore face a favourable economic climate of a ready supply of illegal horn at increasingly inflated prices due to the ban on legal trade of rhino horn, while the conservation agencies and rhino farmers experience tough economic times. The Committee is of the view that priority number one for the international wildlife conservation community must be to destroy, or at the very least, to seriously debilitate the existence of a lucrative, rapidly-growing, well-functioning underground “black market”, illegally trading in rhino horn; and to replace this “black market” with a strictly, regulated, legal market mechanism, possibly amongst States. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that a limited, regulated trade in specific rhino horns be supported as our country’s position at COP17 of CITES;

· The Committee, through the Chairperson, should approach the Minister and the Director-General of the Department to have the Deputy Director-General of Biodiversity and Conservation, Mr Fundisile Mketeni and other relevant staff, solely focus on the rhino issue with regard to the COP17 of CITES, to ensure effective lobbying of strong blocks, like the European Union (EU) and other African rhino range States;

· The status and audit of all rhino horn stockpiles in the country, whether privately or state owned, should be finalised before the tenure of the current Minister expires and the Fourth Parliament rises;

· The Department should consider granting a limited amnesty to the owners of private game reserves to enable them to declare rhino horn stockpiles in private hands to facilitate accurate estimation of rhino horn stockpiles nationally;

· The Department should develop and report on the status of a “Plan B”, in a manner consistent with, the sensitivity of this matter, in case the Parties to the COP17 of CITES do not support South Africa’s proposal for a limited regulated trade in specific rhino horns that derive from natural mortality, current stockpiles of rhino horn or legal hunting;

· The Department should liaise with provincial conservation agencies to determine the accurate number of South African rhinos in the wild in the face of mounting poaching pressures on the species. There is a need for credible statistics on the species for setting conservation targets and also for promoting the species for various purposes, including trade; and

· The White Rhino Management Plan should urgently be completed and made available to brief the incoming Committee after the elections in May 2014.

Protection of rhinos

· The Chairperson of the Committee, should engage the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to determine the feasibility of legislation prescribing minimum sentences for rhino poaching;

· The Department should continue to make available to the Committee copies of all Memoranda of Understanding between South Africa and rhino range States, as well as consumer States, notably China and Viet Nam, and to regularly engage the Committee on these matters;

· The Committee recommends that Major General (retired) Johan Jooste should interact with his counterparts from other African rhino range States to benefit from each other’s strategic wildlife law enforcement and rhino protection plans; and

· The NatJoints should meet with rhino stakeholders, including provincial nature reserve authorities and private game reserve owners, to facilitate interaction in order to report rhino poaching activities timeously to effect rapid response measures and support effective law enforcement to enhance rhino protection.


· The Department should urgently start the process of setting up a national fund for rhino conservation to augment, broaden and innovate current rhino protection initiatives;

· The Committee recommends that revenues generated from the disposal of stockpiles and any future revenues generated because of the future lifting of the CITES trade ban, be used exclusively to further rhino conservation efforts; and

· The Committee strongly supports the use of these sources of money or money from the fiscus to equip law enforcement officers with appropriate technology and capacity to respond appropriately to rhino poaching threats that South Africa faces.


· The Department should determine, in consultation with relevant law enforcement agencies, the kind of technology that should be used to constrain or stifle poaching activities in national parks, such as deployment of drones and advanced eavesdropping technology, to neutralise poaching activities in protected areas.

Community engagement

· The Department should facilitate meaningful community involvement in rhino conservation around protected areas to serve as firewalls against poaching. Such proactive community involvement should be linked to the ongoing land reform programme and hence requires the Department to interact with relevant partners in Government. This should fit well with the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy for South Africa that the Department has been implementing since its inception in 2008.


· The Department should brief the incoming Portfolio Committee as soon as possible, after May 2014, on the progress made in respect of issues raised at the Rhino Poaching Stakeholder Engagement Workshop and recommendations made in this report.

Report to beconsidered .

[1] Emslie , R. H., Milledge , S., Brooks, M., Van Strien , N. and Dublin , H. (2007) African and Asian Rhinoceroses – Status, Conservation and Trade. Annex 1 to CoP14 Document 54, p. 26.

[2] Emslie , R.H. (2013) African Rhinoceroses – Latest trends in rhino numbers and poaching. Sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties Bangkok, Thailand, 3-14 March 2013.

[3] Wilderness Foundation (2011) The History of Rhinos in South Africa [Internet]. Available from (Accessed on 25 th December 2013).

[4] Schack , W. (2012) Towards a strategic plan to halt rhino poaching. Presented to Parliament of the Republic of South Africa , Cape Town , January 2012.

[5] Emslie , R.H. (2013) African Rhinoceroses – Latest trends in rhino numbers and poaching. Sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties Bangkok, Thailand, 3-14 March 2013.

[6] Ibid

[7] Schack , W. (2012) Towards a strategic plan to halt rhino poaching. Presented to Parliament of the Republic of South Africa , Cape Town , January 2012.


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