WWF-South Africa (WWF-SA) has announced its new national programme to strengthen and support rhino conservation efforts in South Africa. The plan, which is in response to the dramatic increase in cases of rhino poaching, comes ahead of World Rhino Day 2012 on Saturday, 22 September.
“Our planned projects and interventions are based on a new five-point strategic framework to help protect and increase our rhino populations,” says Jo Shaw, WWF-SA’s Rhino Co-ordinator. “Within these five key areas, a range of inter-related activities have been identified with either immediate effects or working towards a long-term solution.”
The primary threat to rhino conservation remains the demand for and illegal trade in rhino horn. For this reason, WWF recognises the need to address these issues at their origin. Shaw explains, “Rhino horn has long formed a component of traditional medicine in Asia, where it was historically prescribed to reduce fever. However, since 2008 the surge in the illegal killing of rhinos in South Africa is believed to be linked to changes in demand for rhino horn - this as new uses and markets have emerged, with Vietnam identified as a particular threat.”
In an effort to better understand who is buying rhino horn and why, detailed research in Vietnam is one of the organisation’s first priority projects. This information will play a leading role in developing tactics to shift the threat to rhinos from this new demand.
“In addition, breaking the illegal trade chain will require cooperation between South Africa and end-user markets such as Vietnam, as well as the transit countries en route. WWF-SA supports the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance high-level law enforcement efforts between these countries and to promote joint operations,” says Shaw.
The criminal syndicates involved in the illegal rhino horn trade have become increasingly sophisticated. WWF-SA will provide backing to enhance tools available to those fighting rhino crimes, in particular, to proactively arrest poachers before they commit a wildlife crime, as well as target the so-called “kingpins” further up the illegal trade chain. Shaw adds, “The RhODIS Rhino DNA database has been identified as a key tool in protecting rhinos and the organisation will continue to support its further development.”
Rhino conservation plans also need to include local communities living near key rhino populations. It is therefore very important that they are afforded tangible benefits for their safeguarding efforts. WWF-SA is developing new projects which will promote involvement of local communities in rhino conservation.
Finally, WWF-SA acknowledges that healthy, resilient rhino populations are the foundation of any successful rhino conservation strategy. The organisation will continue its efforts to help grow black rhino populations and support key donor populations, especially through the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project
“Rhinos have ranged far and wide across Africa and formed a magnificent part of our cultural and natural heritage for thousands of years – we urge all South Africans to play a part in their protection at this pivotal point in their future,” concludes Shaw.