Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO

THE Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) allegation that Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa is not doing enough to save the rhino from extinction is unfair, said two rhino conservation experts on Friday.

South Africa is home to more than 80% of the global rhino population, and scientists have warned that if poaching increases at the same rate as it did in recent years, the species will be extinct in the wild by mid-century. Between 2009 and 2011 the loss to poaching jumped from 122 to 448, just more than a threefold increase. The rhino could go into decline by 2016.

"Rhino poaching continues to escalate unabated and the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, does not appear to be taking any concrete action to stem the tide. Until 2007 rhino deaths averaged 12 per annum and jumped to 83 in 2008, 668 in 2012 and 635 have already been killed in 2013," said DA water and environmental affairs spokeswoman Marti Wenger.

"Other than a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Mozambique, which has not been signed, Minister Molewa is not doing enough to protect our rhinos," Ms Wenger charged.

International Union for Conservation of Nature’s African Rhino Specialist Group chairman Mike Knight said the DA’s claims were "politicking" and South Africa had done "an immense amount" to combat rhino poaching. It was, however, worrying that the Presidency was so often silent on rhino poaching, he said.

"The DA does not have to worry about international politics (when it makes statements), and I don’t know the political reason why (the signing of the MoU with Mozambique ) is not taking place ," he said.

President Jacob Zuma was at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last week in New York, yet according to UN officials he did not attend a UN high-level segment on wildlife trafficking last Thursday. Mr Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said the president left New York last Wednesday. He could not confirm the attendance of anyone from South Africa’s delegation.

Despite numerous appeals from citizens, tourists and game park rangers, Mr Zuma has said very little about rhino poaching.

Conservationist George Hughes said there was "so much going on at the moment" and combating poaching "isn’t easy". He would "like to hear more" on the plans by the Department of Environmental Affairs to apply to the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species to trade in rhino horn. He believed this would reduce the price — reportedly up to $65,000/kg on the Asian black market.

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Albi Modise said the government had acknowledged poaching was "the biggest threat" to South Africa’s rhino, and had established a national joint security committee in 2011 to combat rhino poaching. That year the government declared the practice a security threat to South Africa.

"The government has adopted a multidimensional response to the scourge of rhino poaching, and other wildlife crimes. This includes working with the departments of police, justice and constitutional development and defence, as well as the National Prosecuting Authority, customs and excise, and other stakeholders within the private sector.

"It also includes steps such as the review of the Cabinet-approved National Strategy on the Safety and Security of Rhino in South Africa, adopted in 2010; the implementation of interventions at policy and law-enforcement levels, (and) the launch by … Ms Molewa of a national dialogue on rhino conservation, safety and security and economics," he said.

Memorandums of understanding had been signed with Vietnam and China, and were being negotiated with Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Mozambique, he said.

Wildlife trade tracking organisation Traffic’s Tom Milliken said linking the Kruger National Park with Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park had created "a war zone for rhinos", with daily incursions from Mozambique into South Africa.

"Kruger reportedly has more boots on the ground than ever before, so the increasing losses seem all the more staggering. They clearly need to get smarter and more proactive," he said.

Dr Knight said there was a lag effect in countercrime action, and engagement between the police and Mozambican authorities to boost the ability of South African antipoaching officials to pursue poachers into Mozambique, was "moving quite rapidly".