South Africa: Department of Environmental Affairs Requests Permission to Obtain DNA Samples From Rhino Horns Seized in Hong Kong

The national Department of Environmental Affairs today congratulated the People’s Republic of China on the seizure of rhino horn and ivory items in Hong Kong. The Department plans to send a delegation to Hong Kong to take DNA samples of the rhino horns. This will enable DEA to compare it to the current data in the DNA database. The Department is in the process of obtaining permission for sampling from the Chinese authorities.

Officials from the Department have already informed their counterparts in China that they would like to cooperate with them on the seizure and the matter has already been reported to INTERPOL.

The request for assistance and cooperation is in line with an agreement between Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to cooperate and assist each other in the fight against the illegal trade in CITES listed species.

At the 15th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP15) which took place in Qatar in 2010, Parties adopted an amendment on the Conservation of and trade in African and Asian Rhinoceros (Resolution 9.14). The amendment among others urges “that law enforcement cooperation between and among range and implicated States be increased through the existing international, regional and national law enforcement mechanisms and, where necessary, through the creation of such mechanisms in order to curtail illegal trade in rhinoceros horn; where an implicated State in this Resolution is a State or citizen(s) of a State significantly implicated or involved in legal and/or illegal trade in parts and derivatives”.

Bilateral discussions between the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa and Shengxian Zhou, Minister of Environmental Protection (MEP) of People’s Republic of China took place at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg on 7 July 2011. At this meeting it was agreed that the existing MoU between South Africa and China on cooperation in the field of Environmental Management will be used to strengthen collaboration in terms of enforcement matters relating to wildlife trafficking.

Albi Modise, Spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said that, “The latest seizure is an example of the increased cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and South Africa. This follows a September meeting between officials to discuss issues relating to CITES and law enforcement between the two countries. This was followed by another meeting between the Minister of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, Ms Edna Molewa and her Chinese counterpart from the State Forestry Administration in November 2011.”

The number of rhinos poached since January 2011 now stands at 366 and 199 suspected rhino poachers have been arrested this year. Albi Modise condemned the continued illegal killing of rhinos and assured the public that numerous interventions have been put in place by government to address this scourge.

Amongst others the interventions includes the recently gazetted amended norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros horn and the hunting of white rhinoceros for trophy hunting.

DNA samples of rhino horns is a proposed new section in the norms and standards. This section states that DNA samples of horns must be collected when live rhino are darted for translocation, treatment and any other management purposes. This proposed addition will enable South Africa to identify and link confiscated horns to a specific rhino, thereby identifying the source of the horns and whether it was removed illegally.

Modise explained that the new section on DNA samples aims to assist enforcement officials to achieve successful prosecutions during criminal proceedings.

Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

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