The fight against rhino poaching was given a further shot in the arm this week with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China on cooperation in the fields of Wetland and Desert Ecosystems and Wildlife Conservation.
The MoU was signed by South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Minister Edna Molewa and Chinese Minister, Mr Wang Yi yesterday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The signing of the MoU between the two countries comes only three months since the signing of a similar agreement with Vietnam in December aimed at promoting cooperation in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection. While both agreements are designed to promote cooperation between South Africa, China and Vietnam on broader issues of conservation, they are particularly aimed at curbing the current scourge of rhino poaching through cooperation in law enforcement, compliance with international conventions and other relevant legislation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
As international efforts to combat the scourge of rhino poaching increase, the number of rhino poached in South Africa since the beginning of the year has increased to 188.
In the Kruger National Park 135 rhino have been poached, while 17 rhino have been killed in North West, 16 have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal, 10 in Limpopo and another 10 in Mpumalanga provinces. A total of 63 people have been arrested since the beginning of this year for rhino poaching and or related activities.
The objective of the MoU between South Africa and China is to extend areas of co-operation between the Parties in the fields of Wetland and Desert Ecosystems and Wildlife Conservation, and to establish a long-term cooperative relationship on the basis of equity and mutual benefit.
This includes compliance monitoring and enforcement, research and development, institutional capacity building and personnel training. Among the aspects included are wildlife trafficking and law enforcement, the development and management of nature reserves, national parks and other protected areas, botanical gardens, conservation, rehabilitation, and sustainable utilisation of wetlands, the monitoring of wetlands of international importance, and the sustainable utilization of desert ecosystems.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and China reaffirmed the goals and principles stated in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD); the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention), and other relevant international conventions, as well as relevant applicable legislation in both countries.
This agreement also sends a clear message that both countries are aware of the regional and global nature of wetland and desert ecosystems and wildlife conservation, and the urgency to find cost-effective and long-term solutions in addressing these issues through international co-operation and the importance of coordinating joint activities of the Parties, and that the development of solutions can only come through bilateral cooperation.
Protecting the environment for future generations has become more important than ever given all the challenges we face today. Both countries are faced with common challenges with respect to wetland and desert ecosystems as well as wildlife conservation.
South Africa’s successful conservation record remains threatened by the escalation of rhino poaching, with reports indicating that most of the horns removed from these iconic animals are being directed and exported to the Far East, where there appears to be great demand for this.
While South Africa has not yet been affected by large-scale elephant poaching, as has been experienced in other parts of the African continent, the signing of the MoU not only strengthens mutual cooperation between the two countries, but also gives further impetus to one of the agreements adopted at CITES – that requires the CITES Secretariat to, subject to external funding, convene a CITES Ivory Enforcement Task Force.
The greater emphasis on law enforcement related to wildlife crimes at CITES will, hopefully, contribute to greater assistance and cooperation between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China in combating the present scourge of rhino poaching.
The government of South Africa also sees this MOU as one of the enabling tools that will assist the two countries in the implementation of the recently adopted decision at the 16th Conference of Parties to CITES in Thailand on Rhino compliance and enforcement. The decision was based on a CITES Secretariat report which has identified a number of gaps in rhino conversation and the combating of rhino poaching. This included the development and implementation of demand reduction strategies by range, transit and consumer countries.