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News from Symposium on Contemporary Conservation Practice.

South Africa conserves ninety-six percent of Africa's rhino population but is at a tipping point where the number of rhinos being poached exceeds the number being born.

Delegates at the Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice have been looking at the latest statistics and rhino conservation methods. A grim picture has been painted for several rhino species worldwide, with South Africa alone projected to lose close to a thousand rhinos by the end of this year. Minoshni Pillay reports from Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands...

 

The figures are enough to make one sick to one's stomach. The International Union for Conservation of Nature- the IUCN- says in 2012 at least 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa. Six hundred and eighty-eight rhinos were poached in South Africa by September 21st this year, and that figure looks set to rise to close to a thousand if current trends continue. But, in spite of the consistent upsurge in rhino losses locally and in countries like Namibia and Malawi, KwaZulu-natal authorities say they are currently facing only a one percent conviction rate of rhino poachers. Private rhino owners have also lent their voice to the tale of woes...Out of 136 private rhino owners surveyed, ten percent had already sold off all their rhinos due to the increased threats to their properties and the species.

All these concerns are being explored by conservationists, rangers and rhino specialists at this week long meeting.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature- the IUCN's  Dr. Richard Emslie...

"Since 2008 and this is equivalent to an average annual escalation of 37.5%.  Roughly, with that kind of escalation, we are rapidly approaching  tipping point where deaths may exceed births."

Emslie also looked at the rhino situation on the Asian continent. Three thousand three hundred greater white horned rhino are found in India and Nepal. But the poaching numbers differ greatly between Asia and Africa. Emslie says for every one rhino lost to poachers in Asia, nineteen are lost in the same manner in Africa. He also provided an update on the Vietnam situation, with that country being the world’s leading rhino horn consumer since 2005...

Its not exactly clear how much of the horn going into Vietnam ends up staying in vVetnam because there are increasing reports of Chinese buyers coming into Vietnam. buying horns and taking them across the border. In some cases they’ve been very crafty in terms of getting the rhino horn carved into balls which are then made into bracelets, so people walk across the border with these bracelets and nobody knows what it is. It could be anything.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife's Tony Conway provided an update on South Africa's poaching efforts with a special focus on KwaZulu-Natal. The province has lost 75 rhinos so far this year, eight black and fifty-seven white rhinos. Conway says while arrests of syndicate members and poachers have been increasing, the conviction rates are not a pretty picture...

"We tend to get excited with arrests. If it is an arrest before a rhino's been poached we’re excited. But if a rhino's been poached, we don’t care anymore because they never ever land up in court.  All 58 of these people arrested in 2013 - not a single one in court yet, no convictions!  The good convictions you’ve read about in the paper this year so far are poachers that were arrested last year or the year before.  We’ve even got cases of 2008 going to court, its crazy!  Its like a 1/2 percent conviction rate, and those are the figures we should start presenting."

As of this week, five hundred arrests had been made in the Kruger National Park for poaching, 87 in Limpopo, 76 in the North West and 68 in Mpumalanga.

Simon Naylor from Phinda Private Game Reserve commended the Rhino Expansion Project- an agreement between communal and private land owners- for delivering over fifty new rhino births since 2003. Naylor says while growth is slow, rhinos are still seen as big business on private land... "Well the current situation is obviously tourism, live sales, trophy hunting, for private land owners that have rhino and it adds  up to the additional 20 million hectares that is available to wildlife in this country. A big one is tourism - you know, rhino are a big 5 iconic species for any game reserve of value or worth their salt that is attracting people from overseas or locally."

All delegates agree that a multi-disciplinary approach to curbing the increase in rhino poaching is a must. Key drivers like advocacy, tactical approaches, intelligence, security assessments and the rhino horn infusion project are all said to be making some kind of an impact. But the message was perhaps most forthrightly put by the South African National Parks Authority- saying that rangers are now becoming soldiers, fighting on a battlefield to keep the rhino alive. SOQ.

 

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