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SOS Rhino : In the News : Sadc trio to hunt black rhino

Sadc trio to hunt black rhino

  The Herald Online, Zimbabwe
Friday, October 15, 2004

From Wisdom Mdzungairi in BANGKOK, Thailand

THE parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) have granted Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa permission to hunt five of the once highly endangered black rhino population annually for sustainable utilisation of the wildlife resource.

Representatives of over 166 countries here agreed by consensus to allow the export of five black rhinoceros hunting trophies each from Swaziland, Namibia and South Africa, marking the first time in many decades that hunting of this species has been approved by the UN body.

Cites also agreed to almost triple Namibia*s leopard hunting export quota from 100 to 250 animals a year and double South Africa*s leopard quota from 75 to 150 animals a year, again acknowledging that conservation efforts have been so successful in the region that hunting could sustainably increase.

Even a suggestion by Kenya and its allies in the donor fraternity that if the three Sadc countries would raise US$1 million from hunts — Western donor countries and non-governmental organisations were prepared to raise that amount and buy the rhinos to stop hunting — could not sustain the argument to ban hunting of the flourishing species.

This would boost tourism receipts, not only in the respective countries, but in the whole region as this means that it is only in the Sadc region where hunting enthusiasts can now hunt the big five — lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard/cheetah and rhino.

Safari Club International and other wildlife conservation bodies were instrumental in helping make hunting an important part of the management of two important African wildlife species — the elephant and the black rhino — resulting in permits for black rhinos and added permits for leopards being granted.

Although the black rhino was on Cites Appendix I (which bans trade), Cites parties noted that the black rhino populations were increasing in Southern Africa, hence, the permission to manage the growing population through one of the most scientifically favoured conservation methods — sport hunting.

Environment and Tourism Minister Francis Nhema said the region was rewarded for good wildlife management practices through sustainable utilisation of the resource.

"If the wildlife resource can look after itself, the better. We will commit limited resources to them and still let the few hunted animals benefit both the communities and the people living alongside them," Cde Nhema said

Although the decisions have disappointed some animal protectionist groups, Cde Nhema insisted the money raised from the sales would pay for improved conservation efforts as Zimbabwe has always done.

He added that the belief was based on the understanding that the Sadc countries were working together to establish wildlife conservation programmes.

Zimbabwe was working with Mozambique and South Africa on the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the Four Corners programme which includes Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia, Luangwa Conservation Programme (Zambia-Zimbabwe-Mozambique) and Okavango Transfrontier Conservation Park (Angola-Namibia-Zimbabwe-Botswana-Zambia).

The black rhino had been on the decline since the 1970s due to hunting, war and increasing demand for land. It suffered a near-catastrophic decline from about 65 000 animals in the 1970s to only 2 400 in the mid-1990s.

Poachers sought rhino horn because of the high prices it fetched in the traditional medicine markets of the Far East. In the Middle East, the horn has also traditionally been carved and polished to make dagger handles.

But according to a major study released earlier this year, numbers of the species in Southern Africa have risen by around 40 percent over the last decade. As a result, the Sadc region believes the time is right to introduce very limited hunting.

Each country would be allowed to export products from five animals only each year, and they would all be elderly males. The application was supported by the scientists and technocrats of the Cites Secretariat, who believe that taking elderly males could actually help herds to expand.

There are an estimated 3 600 black rhinos in Africa with 80 percent of the endangered species found in the Southern African region.

Zimbabwe, which has four black rhino intensive protection zones in Matopo, Sinamatela, Chipinge and Matusadona, has seen its population increase to between 500 and 1 000 animals. Some of the wildlife species was also found in the country*s 11 major animal sanctuaries.

"It's important to realise that black rhinos are on Appendix I and they are staying on Appendix I; their status has not changed," said Mr Michael Williams, spokesman for United Nations Environment Programme.

In an interview, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Dr Morris Mtsambiwa said the Zimbabwe delegation were most interested in the parties to grant the permits as that meant that once there was a precedent, Zimbabwe would put a proposal for the black rhino at the next Cites meeting.

Apart from the black rhino, Dr Mtsambiwa said, Zimbabwe almost had no endangered species and once "we are granted permission to hunt the rhino that will boost our hunting industry revenue base as well as the enthusiasm to hunt in Zimbabwe".

Sport hunting was a cash cow for Zimbabwe and its neighbours, contributing 80 percent of the total revenue for the respective countries* tourism sectors.

Swaziland proposed that its population of the southern white rhinoceros be transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II to permit the export of live animals and trophies while Namibia and South Africa requested approval for the export of five black rhinos as hunting trophies. The white rhino was re-established in Swaziland in 1965 after earlier becoming extinct there and now numbers some 61 animals.

Pro-sustainable use delegates here viewed this historic decision as yet another clear indication this century that Cites had succeeded in making science triumph over the esoteric interests of powerful Western NGOs who fight against sustainable use. Revenue from rhino hunting would be used for rhino conservation.

Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) director Mr Charles Jonga said anti-use NGOs could fight the spirit of sustainable use, but they could not stop it hence "our win is their loss".

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