Produced by: Step Lite Films

During the first week of May, a professional hunting outfit from the Free State, started the hunt at Dwessa, armed with all the correct permits and paperwork they needed. The hunt was advertised by and bought from Eastern Cape Parks Board. Of the five on the permit, one was shot and one wounded by their clients.
The officials justified the decision by saying that it was taken in line with the requirements of the national biodiversity Act or NEMBA.

We are hunting white rhinos, which are not indigenous to the Eastern Cape. 

The white rhino were originally introduced to the area some 25 years ago.

The hunt angered many people who feel that the animals should simply have been relocated, keeping them alive.

Letters from Public: 
“If this is indeed lawful under recently promulgated national legislation, then these laws are worthless. “

“The use of State wildlife sanctuaries as public hunting grounds is totally repugnant - for any reason whatsoever in a civilised nation! “

Eastern Cape Parks Board sold the 5 rhino at DWESSA to the hunters for R1.5 million.

There is absolutely no angle from which I can see that there was any reason for going in there, whether it was permitted through provincial, whether it was a policy, no, just wrong. Period!
Independent conservation biologist and part time pilot, Kevin Cole says he has had the pleasure of seeing the rhino at Dwessa while at work and during private visits to the reserve.

I have observed those rhinos on at least a third of the flights up the coast in the grassy open areas.

This amateur footage of two of the DWESSA rhino.

With one animal dead, the park authorities spent two weeks looking for the wounded rhino. It was eventually found with a flesh wound and let go. In total 6 rhinos were killed at DWESSA.

If I were in management position in Eastern Cape Parks I would look at a decision to hunt rhino against a back drop of 76 rhino being killed illegally last year, in 2008 alone.  I would look at it against the back drop of the moratorium and I would look at the possibilities of whether or not bona fide hunters are going to be involved in the hunt.  

The hunt at DWESSA was sold off to Vietnamese citizens. 

One of the problems in bringing this whole upsurge in rhino poaching under control has the fact that people from the Far East, who are not really hunters, could come out here and hunt a rhino legally.  That would give them access to a permit // Often these permits would then be forged to take other horns out of the country, which were illegally obtained. 

In two previous investigations, we have now showed the involvement of Chinese triads and of Vietnamese citizens in the illegal trade in rhino horn – some even linked to their Embassy in Pretoria. 

It’s all happening in front of the embassy – even if it is driven away – we’ve linked the staff of the embassy to the actual deal.

In response to the flourishing trafficking, the previous Minister of Environmental Affairs, Martinus Van Schalkwyk issued a national moratorium on the sale or export of rhino horns, unless it could be proved the horn was obtained as part of a legal, permitted trophy hunt.

Against this backdrop the whole timing for this hunt being allowed in provincial nature reserves by the very people who are supposed to the custodians of our wildlife seems questionable.

Looking from the outside, it doesn’t seem to be an unhealthy decision to say that we are going remove species that never occurred here and focus on the conservation of biodiversity.

When we have manipulated an environment, modified the natural habitat of the southern white rhino some place else and it’s got a tarred road and a city through it.  What really is indigenous?  // And if they are bulk grazers, happily utilising and not having a detrimental effect on the particular grass veld type there, then so be it.  Then you redefine what your perspective is on exotic and alien.

Andrew Muir is chairperson for the Eastern Cape Parks Board. He says the decision to hunt rather than move the rhino was based on scientific data.

As a board we were informed by our scientific services that game capture and translocation of that particular group at Dwesa was problematic.

Part of DWESSA’s charm is that it offers a shoreline, grassland and coastal forest. Normally white rhino graze in open veld, but here at DWESSA they often hide in this dense forest.

But local game reserve owner, Graham Statton, says this unusual behaviour and difficult terrain are no excuse to shoot the animals.

They capture animals in all sorts of conditions.  The helicopter can get anywhere on the terrain.  And I mean the helicopter will actually guide them out of a bad, difficult terrain into an open plain and then dart them.

When Graham heard about the first Dwessa rhinos that had been shot, he offered to buy the remaining ones for a competitive price, saving them from a similar fate.

Dwesa is at the coast and we are at the coast.  So that is the first thing that they wouldn’t have to relocate to another area to get used to the grasslands and that again.  //Being close there wouldn’t be stress on the animals moving them from Dwesa to us. 

As part of the processes the Eastern Cape Parks Board had to advertise the rhino. Advertised as a “take off package”, they could have been auctioned rather than hunted.

We haven’t seen any documentation asking for anybody interested.

The advert only featured once in the Sunday Times and once in the Eastern Cape Herald. And it was advertised on the Professional Hunter’s Association website.

But Kevin says not nearly enough was done to let the general public know about the rhino’s plight.

We pay the salaries of the parks board, we should have some sort of say.  Or an opportunity, a public platform to participate in management plans and decisions such as shooting rhino in protected areas. 

Environmental lawyer, Jeremy Ridl agrees. The Biodiversity Act is very clear - all stakeholders must be consulted.

It’s been a source of great concern for me that some provinces have chosen, or seem to be reluctant to enforce National Legislation, or even adopt it.

The only time Eastern Cape Parks Board interacted with the public was at the initial stages of their planning in 2006 - But only with the immediate DWESSA community.

It was awarded in the early nineties to the community Dwesa in one of the first land claims.  And, so this reserve is owned by the community, managed as a conservation area and we the managing agents. 

Jeremy says this doesn’t excuse them from the legal requirements of the process.

The authorities that have control over that protected area are our custodians and have got the legal mandate and obligation to ensure that all of the recourses of that protected area are protected in the public interest, not in the interests of an individual community.

In addition DWESSA was established in 1890 as a state forest and as a nature reserve in 1975. Trophy hunting of threatened or protected species, including rhino, within its border was made illegal.

This mandate should still be upheld under the Protected Areas Act of 2003.

In my opinion on the side of caution would be to place a ban on rhino hunting period. 

But in the Eastern Cape – this doesn’t seem likely.

There are all sorts of pressures that come into the mix.  Not least the fact that all agencies are under pressure financially. 

And while Andrew argues they would have got a comparable amount for the rhino whether they were hunted off or sold, hunting would have saved the Eastern Cape Park’s Board relocation & capture costs.

And according to Noluthando Bam from DEAT, it seems, DWESSA wasn’t the only Eastern Cape Parks Board reserve whose rhino were about to be hunted. Permits were already being issued for one rhino at Dubbledrift and another at Mpofo.

Johann: Tell me what the nationalities of the hunters are that applied for the other two reserves?

Ms Bam:  
It is, they are from Vietnam. 

This is part of the whole shock.  I mean apart from the rhino in the first instance being shot, the fact that there a Vietnamese involved. 

Willem Botha is the outfitter who won the tender to hunt the rhino at Dwessa.

ons het gisteraand vinnig bereken seker so ‘n 100 e-posse uitgestuur net na outfitters toe en ons weet, hulle het nou weer kliente op hulle beurt en op daai manier – hierdie rhenosters was basies orals geadverteer en dan kom die mense terug na jou toe – jy weet Europeer kom terug na jou toe, ‘n Amerikaner kom terug na jou toe en hierdie Vietnamese het ons genader. En die eerste ou wat bevestig hy vat die goed en hy betaal die deposit, hy, hy kry die jag.

We asked him if the one rhino was wounded because the Vietnamese hunters were inexperienced.

Nee, nee,standard procedure is dat voor ons in die veld in gaan moet hy eers ‘n skiet toetsie slaag en die mense van natuurbewaar wat ook by is – wil ook sien dat hy die skiet toets kan slaag. En jy weet die ouens het die skiet toets met vlieende vlae geslaag.
die ouens kon skiet, daar’s geen twyfel oor die skiet nie – skiet kon hulle skiet

Willem says he did everything by the book.

die moratorium op rhenoster jag bepaal nie jy weet jy mag nie rhenosters aan Vietnam of China of waar okal verkoop nie – dit se een rhenoster per klient per jaar en dis hoe ons gewerk het.
 // die enigste mense wat kan besluit rhenonsters is uit vir die Ooste, is basiese die regering. En as eendag besluit of wel, hulle het bewyse dat dit wel so is en hulle besluit geen rhenosters vir die Ooste nie – dan is dit geen rhenosters vir die ooster nie.

And, amidst the whole furore over the Dwessa hunt, Eastern Cape parks let both hunts at the other two reserves go ahead quietly.
But, were these hunts in fact legal? Eastern Cape Parks Board had to follow specific steps to establish a management plan for the eradication of so called “alien species” in their reserves.

In terms of both national and provincial law, the Eastern Cape Parks Board has to prepare management plans for each of their parks. These plans then have to be signed off by the provincial MEC of Environmental Affairs before they can be implemented.

Where an important species like rhino is concerned it should also have gone up to the national department of environmental affairs.

But, Andrew Muir admits the management plan has “not yet (been) signed by the MEC office “

According to Jeremy, this means that the whole process, including the issuing of the permits to hunt by DEAT, is fatally flawed and illegal.

The individuals who broke the law by not going through the consultative process, by signing off on permits to hunt that are found after the event to be unlawful, and that would be my view – unlawful, they could well be held liable for the value of those rhino. And at the going rate of a quarter of a million or more per rhino that could be a very serious claim that they could face.

let’s nationally have a complete rethink about the rhino hunting story.  // its time to go back at looking at rhino for what they are.  They represent a species that came back from extinction.  We lose species every other hour on this planet.  We lose habitat every other second on this planet.  We don’t need to exacerbate a situation by doing this sort of thing in a protected area.  It’s unnecessary.

STUDIO OUT LINK:   With only a handful of white rhino left in Eastern Cape Parks, it seems clear anymore hunting of these animals should be outlawed.  There must also be a serious investigation by the National Department of environment as to why the Eastern Capes Parks Board and the Provincial Department of Environment blatantly ignored the legal processes involved in the their parks management plans that eventually led to the unnecessary deaths of these Rhino.

Add new comment