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After the rhino summit

© Ian Michler

Within days of the Lead SA Rhino summit, a joint resolution was released. Amongst various undertakings, the following points were listed as priorities:

Agree on a national anti-rhino poaching reporting number to allow the public to blow the whistle on poachers.
Coordinate the provision of intelligence from all groups to the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit.
Coordinate a national fund-raising campaign for specific anti-poaching initiatives.
Run an information campaign about rhino poaching and the use of rhino horn.

While government representation was limited to SANParks, The Hawks and the South African Police Service, there was a wide range of private sector and NGO agencies and operators present, mostly from the ranching, hunting and conservation sectors.

All these bodies were no doubt signatories to the press release, so one only hopes they stick to their commitments. And these are strong commitments that will require a high degree of coordination and cooperation when it comes to implementation. It is imperative that this happens otherwise individual agendas will merely splinter and dilute the anti-poaching effort.

Hotlines and fund raising for example should be the responsibility of as few agencies as possible, while more importantly, the police work should be highly focused and left to the recognised law-enforcement authorities. I trust that the committee elected will ensure this approach takes place. But if this proves a step too far for all those involved, there will be a second chance as government is due to host another rhino summit towards the end of September: watch the press for details.
With regards to the poaching statistics, the last officially released batch came out towards the end of August, and these show 50 rhino have been killed on private game farms during 2010. As a percentage of rhino held, this is a greater number than the percentage lost on state *or* provincial land. It’s no wonder then that one of the most strident voices for action is that of the private owners.

But, to date, their most noteworthy response has been a call for the legalisation of trade in rhino horn. The clamour is easy to understand: the R60-million-plus in proceeds that I mentioned in my previous blog now goes into their pockets instead of the criminals. This position begs two questions, is it sufficient to define the present plight of rhino as nothing other than a case of agricultural economics? And, are the private owners doing enough to protect their animals in the first place?
It’s one thing to justify rhino breeding programmes on conservation grounds, but it’s quite another to accept the responsibility of this and then actively carry out the mandate. Allowing your herd to roam without adequate fencing *or* security guards smacks of negligence. This is happening on a number of private farms across the country and has been a reason for the easy pickings the syndicates have enjoyed. In such instances, blaming government protection agencies is totally unacceptable.

And believing that the solution lies merely in a call to farm horns smacks of opportunism at the expense of biological and conservation integrity – and it does absolutely nothing to address what is in fact criminal activity. Besides, is it not this same type of thinking, so pervasive in our wildlife management and private ranching sector, that is partly to blame for us being in this situation in the first place?

In the meantime, according to Stop Rhino Poaching Now (, since the Rhino Summit, another 21 animals have been killed.

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Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.