‘No surprise’ over huge rhino horn theft in South Africa

PRETORIA: Speakers at the recent Pretoria conference on rhino horn trade, where experts from around the world warned that South Africa would fail to control a legalised trade in rhino horn, have reacted with dismay, but no surprise, at the news that 40-70 rhino horns have been stolen from the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.

“South Africa is in the process of conducting an audit of rhino horn stocks, in order to bolster its submission to CITES for legalised trade,” said Susie Watts of Humane Society International. “It seems that the plan has backfired in a pretty spectacular way, revealing yet again how far the country is from being able to control the illegal trade in rhino horn. The fact that these horns were taken from a Government institution tells the world pretty much all it needs to know”.

Allison Thomson, Director of Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP), the organisers of the rhino conference, commented that: “Since 2007, South Africa’s private rhino owners have been reluctant to cooperate with the authorities in carrying out audits, citing fears of attacks and thefts following an audit. This suggests that even those who are supposed to be working for conservation and security are thought to be involved in the criminal syndicates themselves.”

At the 2016 CITES conference, to be held in Cape Town, South Africa will have to provide very strong justification of its proposal to allow legalised trade in rhino horn. This will require, among other things, accurate figures on both Government and privately held rhino stocks, evidence that the country can control the movement of these stocks, proof that legally sourced rhino horn can be differentiated from poached horn and that the legal trade will reduce illegal trade.

Mary Rice, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: “It is clear that South Africa is not in control of the movement of either legal or illegal rhino horn. They should concentrate on tackling the smuggling of their resources instead of pursuing a proposal to legalise rhino horn, which is unlikely to receive support from the international community and which could result in humiliation at CITES.”