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Written by: Georgina Lockwood

“The fight to protect rhinos goes way beyond the protection of a species – it’s intrinsically tied to our heritage… it’s what makes us South Africans.” – Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa

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The world can’t seem to get enough of rhinos. In a nutshell (or in this case a ‘cartridge shell’), Asia wants the horns, Africa wants the money, America wants the trophies, Europe wants to see the ‘Big 5’ in three days… and it just so happens that South Africa is home to 90% of these majestic creatures. Which is why I am off to parliament armed with a pen; making my way through an urban savannah of police vans, businessmen, gangsters and car-guards.

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With September being Heritage Month in South Africa, the National Assembly has gathered to debate our wildlife heritage. Rhinos have a good deal of support from NGOs and charities who generate awareness, inspire much debate and direct funds towards education programs, care for orphaned rhinos and anti-poaching operations.

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But where are the fast-acting, hard hitting results? We need arrests higher up in the poaching pyramids, increases in rhino populations, the tightening of our border posts, bilateral agreements and international cooperation, a united plan and a concrete way forward. After all, everyone in parliament seems to have a valid point (Even the EFF), if you wipe away the politics and the playground probing. These are the topics under debate today:

– To legalise rhino horn or not? This will take five years to be approved – but if statistics are correct, the Kruger National Park’s wild rhinos will only exist for seven more. As Terri Stander says, this might not be such a good idea: “If the price is too low, it would be too cheap and lead to a high demand. If it is too high, poaching would still be a problem.”

– Stander, with a list of 72 poachers that have not yet been brought to justice, says it is not enough to just arrest the lowly foot soldiers when we should be targeting poaching kingpins.

– EFF’s Andile Mngxitama states that if we want to save the rhinos, we need to put people first. Communities on the periphery of the reserves need to benefit directly from rhino conservation. He has a valid argument: National Parks attract millions of rands through the foreign tourist industry, yet many children spend their lives on the park borders, never setting foot past the front gate. According to Mngxitama, the war on rhino poaching is fuelled by the “available army of the poor.”

– South Africa’s borders are porous, and therefore ripe for illegal trading of drugs, animals and vehicles. One positive action against this: the implementation of the Rhino Poaching Special Investigation Unit, as discussed by the Deputy Minister of Police. Whether it is effective remains to be seen.

It is easy to stand up there on the podium and say the right things: spilling out fact after well-researched fact, statistics after surveys and talking about everything the government is doing to combat rhino poaching. The problem is, there is just nothing to show for it. Frilly statements can be convincing, but the absence of results is more convincing. According to Terri Stander, the only thing lacking is “genuine, collective, political will.”

All in all, the long-winded debate, with its inconclusive conclusion, was a lot of hot air being blown around a well air-conned room.

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