Written by: Allison Thomson, founder and a director of OSCAP
On the 20th July 2014 an announcement was made about the relocation of 500 rhinos out of Kruger National Park. SANParks vehemently denied this, but on the 12th August Minister Edna Molewa confirmed that cabinet had given its approval on the 6th August 2014 for the evacuation of 500 rhinos for their continued safety.
On the 13th August 2014, Oxpeckers.org released further earth shattering information that 260 of these rhinos had been sold to three hunting safari companies in the Northern Cape namely Winterhoek Safaris, Chapunga Safaris and Steyn Safaris. Apparently the contracts with the abovementioned were signed in October/November 2013, 10 months prior to cabinet approval being given for the relocation of these rhinos.
A Johannesburg attorney (Christopher Bean), The Democratic Alliance (Terri Stander – Shadow Deputy Minister Environmental Affairs) and OSCAP (Allison Thomson) have all lodged complaints at the Public Protector’s office in the last week requesting urgent investigations into these contracts amongst a myriad of other issues. The Public Protector has been requested to put a halt to the movement of the 260 rhinos until such time as a full investigation has been completed.
Some investigative work was done on these safari outfitters and a few worrying connections were made. One particularly concerning piece of information is that Mr Alexander Steyn, of Steyn Safaris, is mentioned in Julian Rademeyer’s book “Killing for Profit” as the individual that allegedly connected Dawie Groenewald with a Vietnamese rhino horn buyer.
Dawie Groenewald is awaiting trial on more than 1 500 charges relating to his involvement in pseudo hunting and racketeering. It is alleged that Steyn participated in rhino hunts on Groenewald’s farm as well. Whether these hunts formed part of the pseudo hunting saga remains unknown.
Equally alarming is an allegation by a very reliable source that SANParks officials visited some of these safari outfitters and included in this team were members of their scientific team, their veterinary department and also officials from Northern Cape Conservation – whose acting director appears to be none other than Dr David Mabunda’s brother, Mr Albert Mabunda.
These representatives did numerous in situ inspections and were apparently advised by a member of a scientific authority that certain ranches were unsuitable for the rhinos but despite these recommendations, SANParks went ahead with the sales.
We are also led to believe (from the same reliable source) that on one particular ranch there is insufficient security, that they are already at maximum carrying capacity and that grazing is limited. Apparently, their own in-house vet had previously expressed his concerns about the health of the rhinos which resulted in supplementary feeding being implemented.
Further probing also revealed that one of the co-owners of Wintershoek happens to be the Deputy President of Wildlife Ranching SA (WRSA) which raises questions about the involvement of a certain SANParks board member who up until very recently was the President of WRSA and is still very closely associated with them.
How much of a role did this play? Did this play any role in the selection of the purchasers?
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs the purpose of the “evacuation” of rhinos is to move them to safer areas due to the escalating poaching crisis in the Kruger National Park (KNP) and the inability to contain this onslaught. However, when the above information is taken into account, many questions arise when one looks at the destinations they are allegedly being moved to. Is SANParks able to guarantee the safety of these animals after they have been sold and what benefit will they have to conservation if they are going to be shot and killed by hunters? Are there any guarantees supplied by the purchasers that these animals will not be hunted and will they maintain sufficient security on the premises to protect these animals from poachers? Will any offspring be returned to supplement KNP’s meta- population?
If these rhinos are being moved to so-called “safer” locations surely there must be some sort of guarantee in place that they will indeed be kept safe and alive? If so then this would exclude the hunting of these animals, or else they may as well remain where they are under the protection of SANParks and other government security forces in the park. It is alleged that on one of these reserves, a 54 000 hectare farm there are only six “game scouts” none of which are trained or equipped to do anti-poaching.
In the past when SANParks disposed of rhinos they were either sold on auction or went out on tender. According the Public Finance Management Act 1 of 1999 “movable state assets may be disposed of at market related value or by tender or auction, whichever is most advantageous to the state, unless determined otherwise by the relevant treasury.”
What needs to be ascertained is whether these rhinos were, in fact, sold at current market values or not, because it appears that there was no tender process or auction. In order to do this it would have to be ascertained what proportion of these 260 are male/female and white/black rhino.
It is believed that the 260 rhinos were sold for a mere R60m (Sunday Times) which equates to an average price of R230 700 per rhino.
In May 2014 at an auction held by Vleissentraal the following price were recorded for rhino sales:
Based on this information it could be argued that a much higher price could have been realised by SANParks had the 260 rhinos gone out on tender or auction. At least one private rhino owner has indicated that it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy rhinos at auctions. Prices are climbing steadily and more often than not, multiple (if not all) animals available are purchased by one or two individual buyers. So, when an opportunity like the sale of hundreds of SANParks rhinos presents itself, it is disappointing that deals are apparently concluded behind the scenes and no transparent processes are in place to ensure fairness.
The complaints that have been lodged with the Public Protector also call for investigations into the allocation and spending of the enormous amount of funding that has gone to SANParks in the recent past, reportedly towards improving anti-poaching. The Public Protector has been asked to halt all movement of these rhinos out of the KNP until such time as a full investigation has been done into the contracts and the suitability of the destinations that these rhinos are supposedly being moved to.
During a recent radio interview with Nigel Morgan, who was involved with a contractor that recently had its contract suspended suddenly by SANParks, Morgan alleged that a certain employee within SANParks gets paid R95 000 a month and reportedly also received a R1m commission on funding that was sourced for the KNP. This is hard to fathom when it appears that the rangers on the ground who put their lives on the line daily to protect the wildlife don’t even get paid one tenth of this amount in salaries and apparently aren’t supplied with things as basic as batteries for their night vision equipment.
It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the Public Protector’s investigation reveals. One must remember that the SANParks has a mandate to conserve our wildlife for future generations and by all accounts it appears that they are failing to do this. Hopefully the Public Protector will be able to flush out those who are responsible for this failure.