The rhinos have been in quarantine awaiting export for three months. The application seeks copies of all documents submitted in support of the planned export and asks Molewa to suspend it until the paperwork is inspected.
The applicants want copies of letters from Vietnam’s CITES management authority confirming the rhinos’ horns will not be used for commercial purposes. The application follows last week’s CITES secretariat announcement that Vietnam, with Mozambique, risked trade sanctions for lack of transparency on rhino horn trafficking. It said it would send observers to those countries to assess what law enforcement, prosecutions and seizures they were doing.
CITES lets countries export live rhino only to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”. If the CITES observer mission finds against Vietnam and Mozambique it could leave South Africa unable to conduct certain trade with those countries.
Molewa said that for now she saw nothing wrong with the export plan. “We are still awaiting further information on the destination. The animals are young and can adapt to conditions in zoos. We take our CITES responsibilities seriously and work within the confines of international laws.”
Molewa said the department would engage NGOs, but they, “must realise that wildlife trade cannot be done with emotions. We make our decisions based on scientific facts”.
Suzanne Boswell Rudham of animal rights group Boots on the Ground said: “Emotional reaction is powerful and can change the world. Scientific ‘rationale’ can change the world. But the department is incapable of either. Its world is neither emotional nor rational. It’s purely financial.”
Allison Thompson, Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP) director, said: “In the past decade South Africa has allowed nearly 70 rhinos to be exported to Vietnamese zoos. This is despite Vietnam having only two known and approved zoos.”
Minister Molewa has refuted these claims, stating: “OSCAP is wrong on all the material facts in this matter. Firstly, the Department of Environmental Affairs did not recommend the export of rhino calves to ‘a zoo in Vietnam’ as OSCAP falsely claims. Secondly, the last export of live rhino to Vietnam recommended by the Department was in June this year, and none of the parties cited in OSCAP’s PAIA request were involved in that export. Thirdly the permit application received from the Issuing Authority in the matter OSCAP cites in its PAIA request was reviewed and found to be incomplete. Therefore the department neither supported nor recommended the application.
“Fourthly, OSCAP’s claims that South Africa is exporting rhino to Vietnam in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are false. To export live rhinoceros from South Africa, export permits are required in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004). Furthermore, there has to be engagement between the CITES Management Authorities of the exporting country and importing countries.
“The Department of Environmental Affairs has held engagements with the CITES Management Authority of Vietnam before any rhino were exported to that country. OSCAP’s attempts to give the impression that rhino export permits are issued without due diligence being followed should be rejected. Rhino related export permits submitted by the private sector are managed by the relevant provincial conservation authority. The Department provides recommendations on such applications to the relevant provincial conservation authority.
“The evaluation and approval process is based on the criteria approved by the Ministers and Members of Executive Council (MINMEC) responsible for Biodiversity Management.
“The Annotation to the CITES Appendix II listing of South Africa’s population of white rhinoceros states that live rhinoceros can be exported to ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ which CITES further defines as destinations where the Scientific Authority of the State of import is satisfied that the proposed recipient of a living specimen is suitably equipped to house and care for it.
“The Department of Environmental Affairs views its obligation to ensure our rhino are exported to appropriate and acceptable destinations extremely seriously.”