On the 18th October, the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian reported that a memorandum of understanding between South Africa and Vietnam seeking measures to curb the escalation in rhino horn poaching was not signed at a biodiversity conference in India.
The Vietnamese Minister was “not available” despite a year-long discussion between the two countries. Vietnam is identified as the major import destination of both legal and illegal rhino horn exports from South Africa.
Yesterday the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs stated that:
"South Africa remains committed to entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Vietnam that will promote cooperation between the two countries and compliance with CITES. The MoU will be addressing, in particular, the illegal trade in rhino horn that has seen a scourge in rhino poaching.
Contrary to recent media reports, both countries are still committed to entering into an MoU and discussions on a future date for both ministers to sign the MoU are already underway."
So... more discussion. The report also contains some updated numbers on rhino poaching. The last official numbers from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs on their official website were from the 3rd July 2012. They then reported 262 rhinos poached and 173 arrests. Today they say 467 rhinos and 207 arrests. That means an increase of 78.2% of poached rhino numbers since their last "official" report and only an increase in arrests of 19.6%. Seems like a losing battle. One would have expected the opposite ratio - a greater increase in arrests using growing information from intelligence operations versus a lower increase in rhinos poached as such intelligence proves more effective?
Rhino poaching in South Africa began taking off in 2007/8. In 2011, 448 rhinos were poached, and today the total stands at 467. At this rate it could reach 590 by the end of this year. Surely, after 4 to 5 years of an escalating problem, South Africa could have made progress in terms of identifying the kingpins? A memorandum of understanding is far from the decided will to take the clearly needed action. It is at best an agreement on the agreed music, not the steps involved in ending the dance.
Perhaps Vietnam would be more amenable to stern measures IF South Africa was determined to take their own no-nonsense stand? And perhaps South Africa should also be concerned about rhino poaching outbreaks in neighbouring countries as collateral damage?
Picture credit: istockphoto 7127192