Future of rhinos to be debated as farmers get rid of animals

By August 27, 2019Law & legislation
Lisa Isaacs, The Independent Online | August 26, 2019

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CAPE TOWN: South African rhino farmers own half of the rhino population in the country – an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 rhinos – but many of them have already started to get rid of their animals and are considering discontinuing rhino farming, as it is not profitable.

This is according to University of the Free State (UFS) Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences senior lecturer Dr Francois Deacon.

Today UFS experts, including Deacon, will meet with Indonesian rhino conservationists to discuss the animal’s future.

This comes as a decision will be made by the end of the week on rhino trophy hunting at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

The proposal to increase the number of black rhinos that can be killed as trophies – after arguing the money raised will support conservation of the critically endangered species – has been met with mixed reaction, but was provisionally approved at the Conference of Parties for Cites currently sitting in Geneva, Switzerland.

Photo by Ross Couper from the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation archive.

According to Deacon, if farmers can trade with rhino horns, people will return to the industry and possibly create an increase in rhino numbers and the protection of more conservation habitat.

There was a belief that campaigns to reduce the demand for rhino horn would help to address the problem, he added, saying the aim was to legally sell rhino horn to the east, thereby reducing the demand for black-market trade in horns.

According to Deacon, the position of the Java (an estimated 35 left) and Sumatra rhinos (an estimated 65 left) differed completely.

The Indonesians believe the ban on the rhino horn trade has helped them to preserve these animals.

They are opposed to the trade in rhino horns and believe the possible opening of trade could have global implications.

Discussions on the way forward will be held early next month with key Indonesian and South African role-players during a four-day meeting in Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, Deacon said.

“Due to their different viewpoints, conservationists from South Africa and Indonesia have never met before. The UFS is the driving force for this meeting,” Deacon said.

He believes that South Africans in the industry can learn a lot from their counterparts in Indonesia.

For example, the Ujung Kulon National Park has had no poaching incidents over the past 19 years.

They also manage rhinos in small areas very well and have good control of their population around the parks. During the colloquium, conversations will take place with Dr Rudi Putra, a biologist who received a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014 for his efforts to save the Sumatra rhinos; Muhamnad Syamsudin, responsible for a 30-person rhino protection unit – not losing one rhino to poaching in 19 years in Ujung Kulon National Park – and Dr Firmanto Noviar Suwanda, the lead scientist on rhino observation data, with a 30-person rhino monitoring unit, also in Ujung Kulon National Park.