How Good Intention Has Led to the Slaughter of the Rhino

Before colonisation by Europeans there were no defined ‘national boundaries’ in Southern Africa and those that we have today inconveniently often straddle traditional tribal boundaries, and of course have no relevance to wildlife.  But since the 1990’s there have been moves to establish a number of transfrontier reserves called Peace Parks.  Here are some notes of explanation from the Peace Parks website – – :

On 27 May 1990, Anton Rupert, President of WWF South Africa (then called the Southern African Nature Foundation) had a meeting in Maputo with Mozambique’s President Joaquim Chissano, to discuss the possibility of establishing a permanent link between some of the protected areas in southern Mozambique and their adjacent counterparts in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.  The concept of trans-border protected area cooperation through the establishment of peace parks had already been accepted internationally. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) had long been promoting their establishment because of the many associated benefits. In 1988, the IUCN’s Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas had identified at least 70 protected areas in 65 countries which straddle national frontiers.
As a result of Rupert’s meeting, WWF South Africa was requested to carry out a feasibility study, which was completed and submitted to the Government of Mozambique in September 1991. The report was discussed by the Mozambican Council of Ministers, who recommended further studies to assess fully the political, socio-economic and ecological aspects of the feasibility study. The Government of Mozambique then requested the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of The World Bank to provide assistance for the project, which was granted. The first mission was fielded in 1991, and in June 1996 The World Bank released its recommendation in a report entitled Mozambique: Transfrontier Conservation Areas Pilot and Institutional Strengthening Project.
The report suggested an important conceptual shift away from the idea of strictly protected national parks towards greater emphasis on multiple resource use by local communities by introducing the transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) concept. In short, TFCAs (or peace parks), were defined as relatively large areas that straddle frontiers between two or more countries and cover large-scale natural systems encompassing one or more protected areas. Very often both human and animal populations traditionally migrated across or straddled the political boundaries concerned. In essence, TFCAs therefore extend far beyond designated protected areas, and can incorporate such innovative approaches as biosphere reserves and a wide range of community-based natural resource management programmes. (PPF subsequently adopted this new paradigm.)

Towards the end of 1996, it became clear that interest in the peace park concept was not only growing within the countries mentioned, but also in other neighbouring states. For the first time, southern Africa as a whole was being seen as a tourist destination, and an integral part of this vision was the development of TFCAs or peace parks (De Villiers, 1994; Pinnock, 1996). There was a growing recognition that tourism could be the one industry with the potential to become the economic engine that would create the jobs that were so urgently needed on the subcontinent.  The Executive Committee of WWF South Africa came to the conclusion that, unless a separate body was set up to co-ordinate, facilitate and drive the process of TFCA establishment and funding, these peace parks would not receive the attention that was required to make them a reality. Accordingly, Peace Parks Foundation was established on 1 February 1997 with an initial grant of R1,2 million (US$ 260,000) from the Rupert Nature Foundation to facilitate the establishment of TFCAs in southern Africa as a first area of focus.

In 2014 the Great Limpopo Peace Park straddles the border between Mozambique and South Africa, including the Kruger National Park and the largest population of white rhino surviving in Africa.  It covers a vast area and allows for free movement for wildlife and humans across the border between the two countries.  There is no doubt that the transfrontier parks have been a great success for many species, allowing freedom of movement much more naturally across protected areas.  Even with such grand ideas however there are often unintended consequences.  On the South African side, entrance to the Park is strictly controlled and South Africa in general is a well policed and largely prospering modern country.  But in Mozambique things are very different.

Mozambique is slowly emerging from a vicious civil war, which although it ended after 15 years in 1992 left a painful legacy. The country has a high degree of rural poverty, a massive number of modern assault weapons in private hands, and thousands of well trained and now unemployed bush fighters, originally recruited as children during the conflict. There is widespread corruption especially amongst those charged with controlling access to the Limpopo National Park in Mozanbique, and it is suggested that the corruption goes to high levels.  Here is a quote from stoprhinopoaching,com :

‘Since the start of the poaching epidemic in 2008 South Africa has lost over 2600 rhinos – a figure that, despite so much effort, increases daily. Coupled with the increasing poaching figure comes the question – why after all this are we still losing more rhino than ever? Sadly, few people realize the challenges facing those on the frontlines – thousands of kilometers to patrol with little to no idea of where the poachers plan to hit next. At this stage the poachers have the upper hand – they know when, they know how, and if need be they’ll just come back another day or hit a softer target. 
Mozambique has a lot to answer for when it comes to doing far too little too late to address the poaching situation, though at least towards the end of 2013 this seems to be changing. Their citizens illegally breach our border, armed with illegal semi-automatic/automatic weapons (on its own an act of terrorism and a matter of National Security) with the intent to kill rhinos in Kruger. Mozambique is upset that South African’s are killing their people, yet never mind the threat to our rangers and troop’s lives this side. The community upliftment from poaching profits in Mozambique is staggering, poachers openly call themselves ‘professional hunters’ and have become “Robin Hoods” in their communities…all factors that make up the complex web of challanges that need to be tackled.’

rhinoThe chilling facts are as follows:

Most of Africa’s white rhino are in South Africa, and most of those are in the Kruger National Park.

The border with Mozambique is over 200km long and almost completely porous.

Mozambique is home to literally hundreds of criminal gangs, who because of the war are well armed and are trained fighters.

These gangs have direct links to Chinese and Vietnamese markets

Rhino horn sells for $65000 per kilo, and demand in China and Vietnam is increasing.

Since 2008 the annual kill rate of white rhino has increased steadily:

2008          2009          2010          2011          2012          2013

  83            122            333            448            668           1004

Information document for CITES CoP16

Since 2008 the number killed per arrest made has increased from 2 to 3, so that although over 300 were arrested last year the potential success rate and reward was higher than ever for the poachers, and only about 50 a year are killed.  Against such a perfect storm the rhino has little chance, and depending on the estimate of numbers of animals, which varies between 15-20000, the sub-species has already reached the point where natural replacement cannot keep up.

If that is true, then the white rhino will be extinct within 10-15 years.

How to stop it?  Several things need to happen.  In the short term the South African government needs to provide much more help to the locals trying to confront the poachers, and should if it hasn’t already, adopt a shoot to kill and ask questions later policy.  If 300 arrests and 50 dead became 300 dead and 50 arrests that would be much more of a deterrent.  In the medium term the Mozambique government must be ‘encouraged’ to get  a grip on its side of the border and stamp out the corruption, educate its people and with help from the international community remove the need to poach.  Sanctions will not work – they will only make things worse.

But the real solution lies with the Chinese.  If there is no market there will be no poaching.  So how to convince them that using common keratin such as they have in their own finger nails and hair is no cure for either cancer or impotence? What is the Chinese government doing about this?  There is little sign that they are doing anything.  They rely so much on international trade that any boycott of Chinese products will get the attention of the Chinese government, but such action seriously threatens world trade and growth.  And since they buy the raw materials for most of what they make from the rest of the world, are other nations really going to put their own economies at risk for a few thousand rhino?

Despite the efforts made by organisations like Stop Rhino Poaching it seems that because of international politics and Chinese ignorance the rhino is to be sacrificed.


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