On 20 April, approximately 80kg of rhino horn was stolen from the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) offices in Nelspruit. Because rhino horn trades in excess of $65,000 per kilogram on the black market in Asia, that means someone is making up to $5,2 million on the theft – and raises the question of why there isn’t better security.
The 112 rhino horns were locked up in inadequately secured MTPA offices, and as yet the question has not been answered why the South African government is not securing these high-value items more tightly.
It’s a thorny question, since the items – despite being of such high value – are regarded as unethical produce.
Nonetheless, from a security perspective, the MTPA offices are a weak link. They are situated a mere 90 minutes from Mozambique, the hub of wildlife criminals in Southern Africa, and the capital, Maputo, is often the transit point for horns being moved for shipment to Vietnam or China.
These particular stolen horns were allegedly micro-chipped and DNA samples obtained. However, a delay in signing a properly executed Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and Mozambique could potentially hinder retrieval of the horns from the criminal syndicates involved.
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, and the Mozambican Minister of Tourism, Carvalho Muária, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Management at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park on 17 April this year.
According to a statement by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), “The development of a Joint Operations Cross Border Protocol by the park management will, once approved by the safety and security clusters of the two countries, provide for joint cross-border operations”. Minister Molewa also stated that “within the coming months, a further diplomatic agreement will be signed by South Africa and Mozambique to ensure the MOU comes into force”.
Yet a bilateral meeting already took place on 14 June 2013 in Maputo, Mozambique, between Minister Molewa and Minister Muária, during which the requirement of a government-to-government MOU on Cooperation in the field of Biodiversity, Conservation and Management was acknowledged.
One can therefore deduce that the MOU still does not facilitate the retrieval of the 80kg of rhino horn stolen over the weekend. This year already over 300 rhinos have been killed by criminals in South Africa, of which at least 185 were in Kruger National Park (KNP). Since 2010, a total of 1,614 rhinos have been slaughtered in the KNP, with the majority of onslaughts emanating from Mozambique. Four years later, there are still no effective measures from the South African government to curb the threat emanating from its neighbour state.
At a recent international conference on the assessment of rhino horn trade, hosted by OSCAP on 8-9 April, 19 international speakers with over 400 cumulative years’ experience in the fields of law, economics, wildlife conservation, wildlife trafficking, veterinary science, NGO involvement, conservation finance/marketing and business expressed their opinions that any form of legalised trade in rhino horn was unlikely to succeed. (A report on the OSCAP conference is soon to be released.)
The Department of Environmental Affairs did not attend the conference. The consensus, however, was along the following lines:
The latest theft, then, appears to be just a symptom of the ongoing destruction of Africa’s wildlife heritage. DM
Businessman, conservation activist, fundraiser for rhino conservation. Involved in raising global awareness for the plight of Africa's wildlife, especially endangered species of rhinos, elephants and lions, using social media platforms to educate against use of ivory and rhino horn in markets in Asia.
"I know of a cure for everything: salt water...in one way or the other. Sweat or tears or the salt sea." ~ Karen Blixen