The value of rhino ensures their future

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    The value of rhino ensures their future
    by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA)

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    Dolfi Stoki Rhino Poaching Painting

    Rhino Conservation and Utilization in SA:
    This position paper will provide some history regarding conservation in South Africa and shed light on the massive success story of rhino conservation and utilization in South Africa and how it came to be that we have approximately 20 000 rhino in South Africa today, distributed between our Government Reserves (such as Kruger) and privately owned game ranches.

    Dr Ian Player:
    PHASA recognizes Dr Ian Player as the grandfather of conservation in South Africa. Dr Player is the recipient of many local and international conservation awards around the globe and his name is synonymous with Conservation in South Africa.

    In approximately 1958 Dr Ian Player was working as a senior ranger for the then Natal Parks Board (today KZN Wildlife). During this time the Parks Board conducted a survey of the rhino populations in Umfolozi Game Reserve which was the South African stronghold for rhino in those days, with the highest population in SA. They established that there were less than 400 Rhino in the park.

    Dr Player had the foresight to realize that if the population was limited to one area, its growth would be limited and they would be vulnerable. Therefore in approximately 1960 the Natal Parks Board began a stocking program, capturing rhino from Umfolozi to stock Hluhluwe Game reserve and a number of other State Parks in KZN as well as Kruger National Park. The populations began to multiply rapidly.

    KZN Rhino Populations:
    In the late 1960s early 70s, the KZN population of white rhino had grown to the point where Natal Parks Board had to find a market for these rhino, because it was inevitable that based on the growth rate in some of the parks, the carrying capacity would be exceeded. Dr Player already dreamed that Rhino would be widespread across South Africa, he just didn't know how? In the meantime he travelled to the USA where he marketed the sale of white rhino to wildlife parks. These were not Game reserves or national parks but were similar to Lion Parks in SA today, where visitors can enter a small enclosed area and view lions from their vehicles. He sold rhino successfully and in addition, he traded (swapped) rhino for specially modified big truck and trailers because back at home the plan was to continue spreading the range of the rhino and the vehicles that were required were not obtainable here.

    Private Rhino Ownership and Demand for Rhino
    Back in SA, private landowners who had already begun game ranching were identified and they were offered rhino in those days at a cost of +-R200 to R250 per animal. In those days the game ranching industry was in its infancy and the professional hunting industry was just a fledgling.

    Natal Parks Board realized that land owners needed an 訴ncentive" to own, protect and breed Rhino. The Natal Parks Board began issuing permits for rhino to be hunted on private land, sustainably. This instantly created a financial incentive for the private ownership of rhino, which immediately created a demand for rhino. Natal Parks Board began selling off surplus rhino to private ranchers, similarly to them already selling nyala, impala, kudu, wildebeest and other species to game ranchers. The game ranching boom had begun! Surplus rhino were sold to the private sector just like the antelope species. An important point to note is that initially many land owners did not want rhino because they held no value, meaning they could not be hunted, they couldn't trade with them. Rhino were initially NOT a worthwhile investment for game ranchers. This alone was a threat to Rhino.

    Only when permits were issued that allowed rhinos to be sustainably hunted, did the demand for rhino grow, and with this their value was enhanced dramatically. The professional hunting industry, focusing on international hunting tourists also grew and PHASA was born. Ian Player promoted the value of rhino and hunting was a major factor of this brilliant concept. This led to the successful conservation and widespread growth of Rhino populations through the wise concept of sustainable utilization. The same principles applied to kudu, nyala, bontebok, black wildebeest and impala for example.

    Kenya: Ban on Hunting:
    In 1976, Kenya stopped all hunting as a result of pressure from fanatical anti hunting/ utilization groups. Two things happened.
    The first was that South Africa became a more desirable destination for foreign hunters; the main attraction at that time was rhino along with some plains game antelope species.

    The second thing that happened was that Kenya's wildlife began disappearing in the wilderness areas around the parks because nobody was benefitting from the wildlife and nobody had any incentive to protect the wildlife in the "wilderness areas". Today Kenya's wildlife is nothing close to what it once was; in fact their wildlife is limited to a few parks such as the Masai Mara and a few game ranches. Their rhino populations today, are miniscule in comparison to what we have in South Africa. They only have a few hundred left and many of these were re-introduced to Kenya from South Africa and many of these have already been poached. It's ironic that Kenya is the country that has submitted a proposal to CITES to ban all trade of rhino, including legitimate trophy hunted rhino in South Africa and Swaziland, the world's two strongholds for Rhino. Despite their failed conservation of Rhino, they are determined to impose restrictions on two countries which are renowned for rhino conservation successes. This issue will be discussed at the next CITES meeting in March 2013. We know that Kenya are the puppets of the fanatical anti hunting/ utilization groups who are the biggest threat to wildlife around the globe and Kenya's wildlife is a fine example of this.

    2013: Role of Private Wildlife Ranchers:
    Today we have 10 000+ privately owned game ranches in South Africa covering an area of 20 500 000 million hectares. This is land that supports wildlife and is mostly marginal agricultural land. In contrast, the Government Reserves collectively cover a mere 7 500 000 million hectares. A huge portion of the privately owned land entertains hunting, and a lesser portion entertains photographic tourism and many landowners and reserves (state and private) do both. South Africa has approximately 6000 foreign hunter tourists visiting our country each year, and the game ranching and hunting industry accounts for approximately R8 Billion to the GDP each year, and it's growing and so is the "space" that is home to wildlife. Employment is created to well over 100 000 people directly, the domino benefit to families of the employed is exponential. Privately owned game ranches account for approximately 2,5 million head of game, which is approximately four times more than what can be found in our state parks. This huge conservation success story which began in the late 1960s is all as a result of the value that was and is placed on wildlife, including rhino. Today there are +-20 000 rhino in South Africa, of which 5000+ live on privately owned game ranches.

    Value of Hunting:
    No form of tourism or wildlife industry places more value on a wild animal than hunting does, including rhino. Even though rhino are being poached at an alarming rate, they must continue to be sustainably hunted and traded with. If legitimate trophy hunting is stopped and all legal trade on rhino is banned the first thing that will happen is that rhino will lose their value because the demand for rhino will decrease. The 5000+ rhino in private ownership will become a liability, they will (and already do) cost a fortune to protect and insure, and if these land owners cannot get a financial return from surplus rhino they will not want them anymore. It's like anything in the 21st century, if an asset no longer has a value it is disposed of; this is a reality that everyone must face and accept. The minute the value of rhino decreases or is lost is the day that the rhino numbers will begin to decline. At the moment the vast majority of rhino poached are in state parks, far less are poached on private land, because the incentive to protect their private investment is paramount.

    Why should rhino's be hunted in reserves from time to time?
    To demonstrate this a perfect example can be used of a rhino hunted in a community game reserve in Zululand during 2011. It was a specific old rhino bull. The fact that this bull was selectively hunted had no negative effect on the population of rhino whatsoever in this reserve or in the country. Poachers killing rhino indiscriminately and non-selectively, has a negative effect on the population. Instead this community benefitted financially (enormously) from this rhino. There is no better incentive for them to protect the remaining rhino on their reserve and one day another rhino can be sustainably hunted, for a substantial sum of money which will directly benefit this community again. Interestingly, the community reserve referred to also caters to photographic tourists. They are wisely making use of every responsible opportunity to benefit from their wildlife, and as a result their wildlife will remain protected because there is an incentive to protect it! This applies to many thousands of game ranches and some state reserves where hunting of rhino takes place. Hunting, like it or not, has played and will continue to play a pivotal role in the wildlife success story that we can be proud of in South Africa today.

    Another example: A white rhino hunt (for a mature bull) became available in a well known South African Private reserve in late 2012. This reserve has a substantial white rhino population. All the income that is generated through hunting on this Reserve is ploughed back into the sound management of the reserve. If a mature (normally an old) rhino is hunted sustainably (quite frankly age is not the ultimate factor) out of a healthy population it has no negative effect on that population. In this particular case a very old bull was harvested; estimated to be approximately 35 years old. At some stage in the not too distant future this rhino would die, either through fighting or old age.

    As a land owner and a believer in conservation through sustainable use, would the managers/ owners of this reserve rather have this rhino die of old age or would they rather get paid a substantial sum of money to have this rhino hunted, and plough that money back into protecting the other rhino in the reserve through sound management. Before going to print, this reserve had only lost 1 rhino to poaching. This is the success of rhino conservation in South Africa, this is one of the main reasons why we have 5000+_ rhino (privately owned) and 20,5 million hectares of privately owned land dedicated to wildlife in South Africa today. Stop legitimate trophy hunting for rhino, ban all trade in rhino, and the final loser will be the rhino. Let's not end up like Kenya; do we want thousands of rhino or just a few hundred?

    Poaching and Pseudo Hunting:
    The vast majority of rhino poached in South Africa are being poached in our Government Reserves, far less have been plundered on private land. As long as private landowners have an incentive to continue protecting their rhino, rhino will continue to thrive on private land. This is the concept that was born in the late 1960s and it's still relevant, if not more relevant today than ever before.

    There is indeed a minority group of bad eggs in the Professional Hunting Industry (as far as we know who are not members of PHASA), just like one would find a few bad attorneys, car dealerships and pseudo doctors. These professional hunters have been involved in pseudo trophy hunting of rhino where the horns are destined for the illegal trade, where the horn is worth more than gold today. The syndicates and the professional hunters in question have exploited loopholes in some provinces legislation whereby they have been able to export rhino horns legally, under the guise of legitimate trophy hunting. Unfortunately all professional hunters have been painted with the same paint brush by the media, and the reality is that it's only a minority that has been corrupted by greed! PHASA has stated categorically a number of times in the media that it condemns any form of pseudo hunting. PHASA co-operates closely with the DEA and various NGOs on this problem and going back as far as 2006 PHASA has been making suggestions to our Government on how to close down the pseudo hunting loop holes.

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