Agreement with Vietnam ‘marks turning point’ for rhino conservation

Sue Blaine BD Live Yahoo News 10 Dec 12;

WATER and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday with her Vietnamese counterpart that aims in part to curb rhino poaching, in a move hailed as a turning point in the fight to protect the pachyderm from extinction.

Conservationists see Vietnam as key to curbing the poaching that feeds the illegal horn trade that could render rhinos extinct in the wild in 50 years if rates of poaching are not reduced, despite South Africa still having positive growth in its rhino population.

Several opportunities to sign the memorandum of understanding have been missed since Vietnam first promised to do so last year, and the actual signing, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Monday was welcomed by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) and the wildlife trade-tracking organisation Traffic.

“WWF and Traffic welcome the new agreement, which marks a turning point in efforts to protect Africa’s rhinos,” said Jo Shaw, WWF-SA rhino co-ordinator.

The memorandum refers only in general terms to addressing illegal wildlife smuggling, but there were “clear indications” that rhino horn trafficking would be “top of the new agenda on co-operation between the two nations”, WWF-SA said.

The memorandum was signed by Ms Molewa and Vietnamese Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Cao Duc Phat.

618 rhinos killed in SA this year

South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world’s rhinos. Poachers have all but eradicated rhinos from the rest of Africa and South Africa’s estimated 22,800 are under threat from syndicates that sell the horn in Asia for up to $60,000/kg.

Traffic rhino and elephant expert Tom Milliken said: “We finally have a piece of paper, now let’s see action. There are a number of things that Vietnam can do immediately, like amend its legislation to make the display and offer of ‘fake’ rhino horn a crime.

“Right now, ‘fake’ rhino horn is publicly displayed all over the country. Unfortunately, it’s not a crime, but rather a potent signal and masks illegal sales of real rhino horn.

“Vietnam needs to move quickly to make all rhino horn trade — real and fake — illegal and demonstrate good intentions for the future implementation of this important memorandum of understanding.”

Nongovernmental organisations pivotal to getting the memorandum on the agenda were excluded from the signing, a spokesperson said from Asia.

Ms Molewa said the “continued slaughter” of rhinos, a “national treasure”, was “cause for immense concern”.

Thus far 618 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year, according to Department of Environmental Affairs statistics. This exceeds by far any previous record, with last year’s 448 the highest before this.

Mr Milliken said rhino horn trade in Vietnam was inextricably linked to the country’s rising economic fortunes. Vietnam’s 87-million strong population — the world’s 13th largest — is now enjoying the fruits of unprecedented growth. The country is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and its gross domestic product growth is estimated to reach 6.3% next year.

Vietnam, a known destination for much of illegal rhino horn poached in South Africa, has posted the highest wildlife crime score in the WWF 2012 Wildlife Crime Scorecard report released earlier this year.

Saving South Africa’s rhinos — more than 80% of the global population — is urgent. If poaching increases at the same rate as it has over the past two years, the species could go into decline from 2016 and become extinct in the wild by 2050, says South African National Parks wildlife veterinary services head Markus Hofmeyr.

Between July 2009 and May 2012, 48% (185) of the 384 foreigners who hunted rhinos in South Africa were Vietnamese. It is estimated that since 2003 Vietnamese hunters have paid more than $22m to hunt rhinos in South Africa.