Deputy Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi, right, and Vietnamese Rural Development Deputy Ha Cong Tuan during a media briefing in Pretoria on Monday. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Deputy Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi, right, and Vietnamese Rural Development Deputy Ha Cong Tuan during a media briefing in Pretoria on Monday. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

DEPUTY Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi and Vietnam’s Deputy Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Ha Cong Tuan, on Monday signed an "action plan" aimed primarily at addressing rhino poaching in South Africa.

Conservationists see Vietnam as integral to curbing the poaching that feeds the illegal horn trade. The country, a known destination for much of the illegal rhino horn poached in South Africa, posted the highest wildlife crime score in the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature’s 2012 Wildlife Crime Scorecard report.

The action plan is rooted in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries in December last year. The action plan outlines actions up to 2017, and provides for continual review.

Rhino horn, prized in Vietnam as a "pick-me-up", cancer cure, and even an aphrodisiac, has been reported to fetch about $60,000/kg in the southeast Asia country. But Mr Tuan said at the Pretoria signing ceremony that the Vietnamese government’s latest information showed the price had dropped from $500/100g at the start of the year to $100/100g. He attributed this to the government’s efforts to educate Vietnamese citizens about the negative effects of rhino poaching.

It is agreed South Africa is not winning the war on rhino poaching. So far this year the country has lost at least 273 rhinos to poachers. The country lost a record 633 rhinos between January 1 and December 19 last year. The previous record, for 2011, was 448.

Poaching began to escalate in 2008, which some have linked to changes in hunting regulations.

Mr Tuan said the action plan covered 26 "detailed actions", but neither the South African nor the Vietnamese delegations gave further details or deadlines to reporters in response to their questions.

They did, however, say a review of South African and Vietnamese legislation was the first port of call, and it was hoped this would be finalised within a year.

The MoU signed in Hanoi, Vietnam, last December did not focus solely on rhino poaching. It also covered biodiversity management; conservation and protection; compliance with international conventions, particularly the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites); information exchange; technology transfer; and development and natural resource management.

Rose Masela, acting head of the Department of Environmental Affairs’ national wildlife information management unit, said the action plan was a technical document, which would be changed throughout the agreed co-operation period. Workshops would be held yearly to review action taken and to determine what action needed to be taken. There would also be annual bilateral meetings.

Mr Tuan said Vietnam viewed rhino poaching as a serious matter, and had confiscated illegal rhino horn and dealt with perpetrators "in terms of Vietnamese law".

Ho Chi Minh City customs officials had seized two horns, weighing 7.28kg, wrapped in silver paper and hidden in the luggage of a passenger identified only as 34-year-old NDD, who arrived in the city on a flight from Doha late on Saturday, ThanNienNews.com reported on Monday.

The horns were presumably sourced from Africa, the officials said.

NDD had been detained pending further investigations, the police said without elaborating.

Conservationists attending an international Cites conference in March called on Vietnam in particular to redouble its efforts, along with Mozambique, which was urged to prioritise legislation to prevent rhino poaching and illegal trade.