20 Mar 2017
We are calling on all individuals and conservation organisations to read the proposed amendments to be made by the DEA, to be found here and for people to please take note that it is with great concern that our objection is written, especially with regard to the clause allowing the export of rhino horn purchased in South Africa by a foreigner to their home country for ‘personal use’, essentially opening up an international trade in rhino horn which was decided against at the CITES CoP17, which we hosted and signed on to.
Comments need to be made by 10 March 2017 and sent to the following:
Department of Environmental Affairs
Attention: Ms Madel Boshoff
Written Objection to Notice 74 of 2017: “Draft regulations for the domestic trade in rhinoceros horn or a part, product or derivative of rhinoceros horn” with regards to the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity ACT, 2004 (Act no. 10 of 2004).
It is with great concern that this objection is written, especially with regard to the clause allowing the export of rhino horn purchased in South Africa by a foreigner to their home country for ‘personal use’. The only compliance from the country where the horn is destined is a letter from their relevant management authority stating that they will issue a permit for possession at some point and that they have the means to ensure that the horn is not traded further. Neither of these conditions can be effectively monitored or policed for non-compliance by South Africa.
By trading in rhino horn we are giving the thumbs up to the non-effective consumptive use of a wildlife product. This is not a product that actually has any real value, it does not sustain a human in any way or keep us warm or sheltered. Much like pangolin scales, shark fins, tiger bones and vulture heads do not…
At the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) for the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016, hosted here in our very own country, a decision not to open the international trade in rhino horn was made, which was supported by South Africa. Yet, here you are proposing to develop a work-around to this decision by allowing citizens from end-user countries to come and buy rhino horn in South Africa and then travel with it back to their country of residence. How is this any different from just opening up the international trade?
We are back to square one when we had Vietnamese nationals buying hunting trophy permits to access and export rhino horn ‘legally’ from South Africa, to only go home and trade with the horn illegally. The DEA took a firm stance on this and closed down this loophole, so as to not allow rhino horn into Asia to feed the growing demand there. Now you are proposing to reestablish this? How does that make any sense? In fact this makes South Africa appear indecisive and fickle when it comes to our environmental policy.
Further to this, Minister Molewa made a bold step to close down the domestic trade of rhino horn to assist with policing and law-enforcement related to the flourishing illegal trade and poaching of rhino horn from SA. Yet, here we see a turn-around and the support of the domestic trade, along with an option for international trade. What has changed? The poaching hasn’t abated, our ability to control the illegal movement of horn hasn’t improved, the prosecution of poachers and illegal smugglers of rhino horn is still very weak and now we propose to open up a legal channel which can be further exploited by the criminal elements outside and within our enforcement and control channels?
Enforcement in the country where the rhino horn is destined and control over what will happen with it: All that is needed is a letter from the Management Authority of the applicant’s country home country stating that an import permit will be issued – so no actual need for a permit, just a letter that they will issue one will suffice. Do we even have the capacity and means of verifying who sent this letter, its authenticity or what the permitting structure is like in all of these countries for the possession and ‘personal use’ of rhino horn?
Following that all that is needed is another letter from the same authority stating that domestic legislative provisions are in place to ensure that the imported rhinoceros horn will not be used in a manner that is in contravention with the provisions of CITES. We cannot control our own flourishing illegal trade and poaching of rhino horn, yet we expect another country to control theirs? Surely we need to get our house in order first, before pushing this type of compliance and expectations on others. We as concerned citizens and parties invested in the conservation of endangered species are not happy with the current control and policing of the illegal trade of rhino horn in countries like Vietnam, China and Hong Kong to date.
A key study on disrupting illegal trafficking of rhino horn and elephant ivory identified these three countries again and again as nodes whereby disruption should be focused (Patela et al., 2015. Quantitative methods of identifying the key nodes in the illegal wildlife trade network. PNAS). How does allowing their citizens to come to South Africa to buy rhino horn and travel home with it disrupt the illegal trade in their home country – all this will do is promote it. Are these studies to be snubbed and ignored?
These countries are currently not controlling the illegal trade effectively, so how can we expect them to honestly write letters (verified by whom?) that the ‘personal use’ owners of these rhino horns will not simply pass them into the illegal trade network?
Damage to demand reduction strategies – at CoP16 of CITES member countries implicated in the rhino horn trade agreed to “develop and implement long-term demand reduction strategies or programmes and immediate actions aimed at reducing the illegal movement and consumption of rhino horn products” (COP 16; Decision 16.85), this was reinforced at CoP17 along with Decision 16.86 on rhino which urges Viet Nam to “conduct consumer behaviour research to develop and implement demand reduction strategies or programmes aimed at reducing the consumption of rhino horn products”. CoP17 further urged us to “develop and implement well–targeted, species-specific, evidence-based campaigns by engaging key consumer groups and targeting the motivations for the demand, including the speculative nature of the demand, and develop specific messaging approaches and methods for target audiences”.
Given the stance South Africa took at CoP17 to not support the international trade in rhino horn, surely we as South Africans should be promoting and perhaps even funding demand reduction campaigns aimed at these users instead of willingly sending rhino horn into these states and placing a value to the product at home and abroad?
The following key points are copied out of the Department of Environmental Affairs very own report on “The viability of legalising trade in rhino horn in South Africa” completed in 2014:
“… it is alleged that Asian nationals bought rhino horn through the legal internal permitting system, either directly from private rhino owners or indirectly through intermediaries, and then exported the horn illegally out of the country. When this fraudulent activity was suspected, the South African government placed a national moratorium on trade in rhino horn (Government Gazette No. 31899, Notice No. 148, 13 February 2009) in an attempt to stop it. ”
Now we would like to open up another loop-hole for illegal trade again? Further from the same report:
” Taking into account the facts that the mechanisms for controlling a legal trade in South Africa are not yet in place, that the number of rhino horns in private stockpiles are uncertain, and that some private rhino owners are not yet compliant with permitting regulations, it is likely that lifting the moratorium at the present time will lead to laundering of illegal horn into legal stockpiles as well as smuggling of horn out of the country. These acts would tarnish South Africa’s reputation with CITES Parties…”
Have we honestly sorted all the aforementioned concerns out? And are we not worried about our reputation with the CITES Parties anymore?
Given the above concerns, we call for the continued ban of domestic trade in rhino horn and the continued ban on export of rhino horn from South Africa for personal use. Anything short of these continued bans will shed our country in a most embarrassing light, and work against our position taken at the CITES COP17, and for that matter, the majority of the CITES members at the COP17, and most definitely work against all and any future efforts to reduce the demand for rhino horn.
Yours in Conservation,
Simon Morgan, PhD
Trustee, Wildlife ACT Fund