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Addressing a crowd at a ceremony to sign an anti-poaching agreement between South Africa and Mozambique in the Kruger National Park earlier this month, Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, mentioned in a speech signifying her departments move toward a possible trade in rhino horn, that “we do think that it could (win the war on rhino poaching)… just taking it from the lessons we have learnt from ivory. We did an ivory once-off sale and elephant poaching has not been a problem since.”


Widespread international investigations indicate that the once-off sale of a large stockpile of ivory by Southern African states to China and Japan in 2008 did fuel the demand for ivory and increased elephant poaching levels. It appears the numerous reports, articles, videos and papers investigating the failures of the 2008 ivory sale, which are published widely and across the internet, have not have reached the desk of  South Africa’s Environmental Affairs minister.

Evidence of escalating elephant poaching numbers in Africa since the 2008 sale are available in a CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) report titled Elephants in The Dust, The African Elephant Crisis.

Contrary to Minister Molewa’s beliefs, large-scale seizures of ivory (consignments of over 800 kg) destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009. It is estimated that upwards of 30 000 elephants were illegally killed last year alone. This is a significant increase from the estimated 22 000 elephants that were killed in 2012, according to MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants).

The bureaucratic failings of that once off sale, which was intended to flood the market with inexpensive ivory and abate the tide of poaching in Africa have been ignored by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs but are well documented in Blood Ivory, Exposing the Risk of A Regulated Market, a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency whose findings expose that ivory, which was bought for an average of US$157 per kilo from the Southern African states in 2008, was sold on by the Chinese government to traders for as much as US$1 500 per kilo, nullifying any attempt by South Africa to flood the Asian market.


Minister Molewa’s statement implies that there is a fracture between the information that is widely available to the general public and that made available to her department. As the CITES Conference of the Parties 2016 meeting approaches, there is a concern as to whether South Africa’s Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, who will represent the interests of South Africa and our environment, will really be making balanced and well informed decisions about the future of rhinos and elephants, considering what the history books indicate.

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Africa Geographic Travel
Colin Bell

Instead of going into the expected world of finance after completing his economics degree at Wits University in 1977, Colin landed his first job as a safari guide in Botswana. In those days a cold beer came out of a wet long sock, tied to the side mirror of his Land Rover and cooled while hanging in the breeze. That was as good as it got. In 1983 Colin co-founded Wilderness Safaris with one of the best guides in Southern Africa, Chris McIntyre. The two of them ploughed all their enthusiasm, energies and limited savings (and one second-hand Land Rover) into creating what became one of the most successful specialist safari companies in Africa. Many of these lodges gained their “bush cred” through partnerships with local communities: it was through those negotiations and relationships that Colin started to learn – by trial and error – what worked sustainably and what did not. He went on to co-found Great Plains a year later. Colin is now completely independent and this freedom has allowed him to immerse himself in the Africa’s Finest book project without any vested interests. The book profiles the good, the bad and the ugly of the tourism and wildlife industries. Colin’s operations have successfully re-introduced rhino into the wilds of Botswana and pioneered sustainable partnerships with rural communities in Namibia that ensure that rhino thrive outside of protected areas.