SANParks hunting far and wide for a poaching ‘solution’

“At least South Africa’s conservation authorities can boast a unique anti-poaching strategy; to save the rhino by killing it.”

 

It’s incredible how quickly climates change. Actively enjoying the inertia of a late Thursday afternoon; clouded by floating wisps of steam from my coffee and lingering fumes from my cigarette, the news reached me. There really is no smoke without fire, as I felt an inferno erupt within me upon learning that 260 of the 500 rhinos (approximately an 80/20% split between white and black rhinos, respectively) to be relocated in the interests of providing “an alternative breeding population…in a safer environment than the besieged Kruger” (Oxpeckers Online) were, in fact, surreptitiously sold to three different hunting outfits for an arousing sum of R60 million (Sunday Times). As a schedule 3A Public entity, SANParks, at the very least, had an obligation to consult the public on this move, but that would, of course, defeat the indicative purpose of this deal. This bodes the question, therefore; are SANParks in favour of legalised trade – holding out for profits not seen in years?

At least South Africa’s conservation authorities can boast a unique anti-poaching strategy; to save the rhino by killing it. After all, hunting is one of the largest sponsors of conservation, is it not? It’s reassuring to know that for Kruger National Park (KNP) officials, out of sight means out of mind… At the risk of sounding sane, this out-of-mind decision was, however, clearly made in sight of the blinding pot of gold resting on the end of the rhino’s horn. Consulting SANParks’ most recent Statement of Financial Performance in their internal Annual Report for 2013 indicates how and why such an incentive was reached.

At the end of the 2013 financial year, SANParks achieved a deficit of R41, 310,000 ($5, 085,930 US). In fact, they have been running at a loss for quite a few years… Their Financial Performance statement for 2012 stated a shortfall of R822, 000; R52, 600,000 the year before that in 2011, and a loss of R64, 200,000 in 2010. That is a combined debt of R158, 932,000 accumulated in the last four years; very interesting information given the discussions between an anonymous source (referred to as ‘Project X’ for legal reasons), and a scientist, veterinarian and a department head at the Kruger National Park.

Over two separate meetings, first in June and then in July 2013, Project X were in negotiations with KNP regarding the conduction of anti-poaching treatments on their rhinos, as they are the hardest hit by poaching in this country; accounting for 606 of the 1,004 rhinos killed in 2013 and 400 of the 618 murdered so far this year (WESSA). Between 2010 and 2013, there has been a 201.5% increase in the rhino fatality rate; an average annual increase of just over 50% in the last four years. According to Project X, these talks allegedly fell through because the three KNP officials in question declined; saying that “poisoning” rhino horns in the KNP could “tarnish” the reputation of South African horns in the Asian buying market. Coincidentally, the KNP is also sitting on millions of rands worth of stockpiled horns, which they reportedly explained, they would struggle to sell, or get the same inflated price of up to $100,000 for every kilogram (R1, 059,000) of rhino horn if trade was legalised. This suggests that SANParks are expecting exactly that, and implies that they are gearing up to capitalise on the horns in their possession. Alarm bells are raised, therefore, when rangers “just doing their job” hack off horns from dead rhinos to add to the stockpile; as reported by Oxpeckers.

The rhino horn trade in South Africa generated approximately R2.1 billion in 2013. With a total rhino death toll of 1,004 for last year (WESSA), the average weight of each horn being roughly 2kg at a price tag of up to $100,000 per kg, equates to 2,008kg of horn with a combined value on the black market of an estimated $2.8 million (R2, 126, 472, 000); R462.52 million more than SANParks’ total revenue for 2013. In fact, their sale of 260 rhinos for R60 million makes up for the losses sustained in 2013, 2012 and covers about one fifth of the deficit achieved in 2011. Are our wildlife authorities planning to pay off their debt with our wildlife and without our authority? Are the horns of these rhinos going to be added to existing government stockpiles?

SANParks is in serious debt; our Department of Environmental Affairs can’t bail them out due to limited funds of their own, and the rhino seems to be the collateral needed to ironically move South African conservation out from the red and into the black. Human greed and neglect may have made the rhino critically endangered, but it is also fast driving human integrity to extinction; forging our species into dodos of our own design and sailors unaware of our encroaching demise…

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