South African Rhino Horn Trade Halted

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Some hunters have been abusing permits to shoot rhinos and export illegally obtained rhino horns - probably poached and directly linked to organized crime - as "hunting trophies."

This was revealed by Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk when he announced a national moratorium on the trade in individual rhino horns.

Speaking during his budget vote in the National Council of Provinces, he said the moratorium would allow enforcement officers of SA National Parks and the various provincial conservation agencies to align protocols for dealing with the trade in rhino horns and ensure these protocols complied with biodiversity conservation requirements.

Explaining the background to the moratorium, Van Schalkwyk said that despite "tremendous successes" in protecting and expanding the country's conservation network, there had been a "dramatic" increase both in the illegal trade in rhino horn and in the hunting of white rhino.

'rhino hunts had been supervised by the relevant permit-issuing authorities' During investigations into rhino horn deals, enforcement officials had found that prospective hunters had applied for permits to hunt rhino in various provinces, and these had subsequently been issued. But the hunts had never taken place and the relevant authorities had never been informed.

"This allowed the permit holder to legally export illegally obtained individual horn as hunting trophies," Van Schalkwyk explained. This loophole had opened because not all rhino hunts had been supervised by the relevant permit-issuing authorities.

"In some provinces, rhino are still on exemption permits, meaning that the landowner does not require an individual permit for the hunting of the rhino and therefore does not need to inform the provincial authority of such a hunt."

The moratorium would help curb the increased illegal trade in rhino horns and would hopefully discourage the poaching of rhino in South Africa, he added.

The state of the South African environment shows that the government is still not taking sustainable development seriously, and an Office of Sustainable Development should be established in the office of the deputy president, says the Democratic Alliance.

In a speech on World Environment Day last week, DA environment spokesman Gareth Morgan said the most recent "State of the Environment Report", published in June 2007, had pointed to a general decline in the state of South Africa's environment. Also, the National Strategy for Sustainable Development had not been finalised, although South Africa had committed to this more than six years ago.

He called for the creation of a sustainable development programme in the office of the deputy president to deal with environment issues.