The rhino crisis is getting worse and if nothing is done rhinos will be extinct in the wild in just thirteen years’ time, the chairman of South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners’ Association (PROA) warned this week in an exclusive interview with Project African Rhino.
Chairman of the PROA, Pelham Jones, told us his association now believes sustainable utilisation of rhinos – including allowing rhino horn to be traded legally – is the only way to prevent rhinos disappearing from the African continent completely.
‘All other interventions have failed. The CITES ban has been ineffective and as a desperate measure we now believe sustainable utilization is the only solution left,’ he said. ‘If we continue as we are rhinos will be extinct in the wild by 2026. With demand reduction this may give another four years, but with sustainable utilization like with, for example, ostrich, crocodile and so on, rhinos can last for eternity.’
In South Africa some 28 per cent of the national rhino herd, around 5,000 rhinos, is held in private ownership. According to Pelham Jones the figure represents more animals than the rest of Africa combined. It is generally believed private ownership of rhinos has played a huge part in the success of rhino conservation in South Africa encouraging growth in rhino numbers together with the creation of welcome new rhino habitat. But the massive security bill, along with stock losses, following the recent spike in poaching is pushing many private rhino owners to the brink.
‘Latest survey results show that of the original 400 private rhino reserves in South Africa about 10 per cent have now either had all, or some, of their rhino poached while the rest have sold their rhinos resulting in habitat loss for rhinos of some 480,000 hectares,’ Pelham Jones told us. ‘Due to a combination of reduced values, high security costs and direct asset loss, many rhino reserves have been pushed from profitable to marginal or marginal to loss which is having a negative impact on rhino conservation.’
‘As private owners we receive zero support from the state yet each reserve is now required to maintain and fund a military styled APU [anti-poaching unit], ‘ he added. ‘The facts speak volumes, the poaching crisis is worsening and not enough is being done to turn the tide in South Africa or internationally.’
How does the PROA see a legal trade in rhino horn working? ‘Only horns from accredited private reserves and provincial or state reserves would be traded,’ Pelham Jones explained. ‘Each horn would be uniquely identified by DNA and micro chip.’
Pelham Jones told Project African Rhino that South Africa has over 20 tonnes of horn that could be sold from national stockpiles and that this revenue could go back into rhino conservation and protection. ‘Why would a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine buy horn illegally and face prosecution when he could buy the same product legally at a lower price?’ he asked. ‘Sadly we are fighting a war on two fronts; poaching syndicates and animal rights organisations,’ he explained.
‘Why can the passionate animal rights organisations not ask how they can help the rhino custodians rather than justifying their anti trade position. Why not take the horn of dead rhino and sell it, saving the lives of living animals, as well as bringing desperately needed revenue back into conservation? What is not realized is that by helping enforce a trade ban the animal rights community helps keep the illegal market flourishing to the benefit of the criminal syndicates,’ he said.
Finally it has emerged recently that a growing number of desperate rhino owners in South Africa have announced publicly that they have poisoned the horns of their rhinos in an attempt to deter the poachers (anyone consuming the horn risks becoming ill as a result). We asked Pelham Jones for the PROA’s position on this controversial practice. ‘We do not support this concept,’ he told us.