Licensed to kill: The Herald

Lobbyists against poaching back R1.3m packages to hunt rhinos

The only difference between trophy hunting and poaching is a piece of paper – Campaign Against Canned Hunting’s Chris Mercer A few rhinos are allowed to be hunted to save the entire species – Wessa’s Morgan Griffiths

MORE rhinos have been killed in legal hunts in the Eastern Cape this year than by poachers. This shocking disclosure was made in reply to a question posed by DA MPL Ross Purdon in the Bhisho legislature last month.

While 15 rhinos have been poached in the province so far, 17 have been hunted legally.The number of rhino-hunting permits issued in the Eastern Cape this year is also the highest since 2008.

Some conservationists said allowing a few rhinos to be hunted – hunters pay as much as R1.3-million to shoot one of South Africa’s most endangered animals – was a calculated move aimed at saving the species.

But Campaign Against Canned Hunting director Chris Mercer said: “The only difference between trophy hunting and poaching is a piece of paper.

“If you are rich and white and you kill a rhino, you are called a conservationist. If you are poor and black and you kill a rhino, you are a poacher.” A total of 1 020 rhino have been poached in South Africa this year.

And 539 have been legally hunted from 2009 to March.

The provincial hunting figures were provided by Environmental Affairs and Tourism MEC Sakhumzi Somyo in his response to Purdon’s question on November 5.

In total, 72 legal rhino-hunting permits were issued by the Environmental Affairs Department in the Eastern Cape in the past six years. Thirteen were issued in 2008, six in 2010, 14 in 2011, 10 in 2012 and 12 last year.

Most were for trophy hunting by foreigners, according to conservationists.

Surprisingly, four of the conservationists supported rhino hunting and two were neutral.

Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (Wessa) governance programme manager Morgan Griffiths said: “A few rhinos are allowed to be hunted to save the entire species. The selected rhinos should be animals that are superfluous for breeding and no part of the rhino – especially the horn – should be allowed to be exported.

“You can see that there is a very difficult set of choices for South Africa to make in protecting our rhinos.”

The biggest reason given for the support of hunting was the cost involved in protecting the rhinos.

Save the Rhino international director Cathy Dean said trophy hunting played a key role in the recovery of the rhino population.

“In an ideal world, rhinos wouldn’t be under such an extreme threat and there would be no need for trophy hunting.

“But the reality is that rhino conservation is incredibly expensive and there is huge pressure for land and protective measures.”

She said limited hunting provided economic value and allowed private owners to benefit.

“Several private land owners in South Africa are considering disinvesting in rhinos because they can’t afford the cost of protecting them,” Dean said.

Endangered Wildlife Trust chief executive Yolan Friedmann conceded that backing hunting appeared to be contradictory in the midst of a poaching crisis.

“Poaching is illegal and must be stopped but trophy hunting is not illegal. The rhino owners will argue that they need to be able to generate an income from their rhino.”

Friedmann said the trust was focusing efforts on ensuring that poaching was reduced and eventually stopped.

Eastern Cape Private Rhino Owners’ Association chairman Angus Sholto-Douglas said while he had never hunted a rhino or had any intention of doing so, the organisation supported ethical and legal hunting.

Sholto-Douglas represents about 20 Eastern Cape reserves that have rhinos. “Our regulations are strictly controlled and at least one certified official from the government has to be present during the hunt.

“These measures were implemented to ensure that legislation gets adhered to,” Sholto-Douglas said.

Stop Rhino Poaching founder Elise Daffue said the organisation was neutral about the hunting.

Unite Against Poaching spokesman Linda Joyce said it was also neutral.

Campaign Against Canned Hunting’s Mercer said the government needed to understand that farming with rhinos or lions involved commercial operations.

“Counting the number of farmed rhinos and adding them to the total of wild ones to claim conservation success is transparently flawed,” he said. “It is a convenient excuse for failure to protect rhinos in the wild.”

National Environmental Affairs spokesman Albi Modise said the government supported rhino hunting as “the legal hunting of rhinos is not negatively impacting on the survival of the species”.

Most of the hunters are foreign and pay between R800 000 and R1.3-million to hunt a rhino, according to various hunting outfits.

The payment often forms part of a package that includes accommodation and guides.

In his written reply to Purdon, Somyo said the department would not answer certain questions because of their sensitive nature.

“We are reluctant to divulge information only [for it] to land in the wrong hands.

“This document [detailing the number of hunting permits issued] once released will get publicised – something the department has no control over.”

Questions Somyo declined to answer included the rhino species hunted, the hunting dates and the ages of the animals, none of which are critical to the reserves’ safety.

Eastern Cape Environmental Affairs spokesman Sixolile Makaula failed to respond to questions about the rhino hunting.