African Politics and Policy, concerned with the rhino situation in South Africa, is delighted to talk to Kim Da Ribeira, spokesperson of the organization that one of the few is the rhinos’ defender, Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching (OSCAP).
APP: How was the idea to establish on the initial stage the Facebook group born, and how did the group transform/evolve into the organization fighting against rhino poaching?
Kim: In August 2011, three rhino were poached on a reserve in the Western Cape in South Africa. The poaching was well publicized especially on social media. The media coverage of this poaching highlighted the horror and brutality of rhino poaching. Allison Thomson started the OSCAP (Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching) Facebook group after this poaching incident as she felt that there was a need for more action from the general public to create worldwide awareness of the poaching crisis that South Africa was facing. OSCAP organised a mail campaign to raise awareness of the extent of rhino poaching in South Africa. Members and friends of OSCAP sent personalised, predrafted call to action letters to domestic and international government officials, wildlife organisations, newspapers and media outlets. OSCAP was instrumental in organising on-the-ground protests at the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria, as well as arranging peaceful awareness campaigns in various city centers across South Africa. Due to the rapid growth of OSCAP Allison registered OSCAP as a non-profit organisation, this has enabled the organisation to perform their work more efficiently and effectively.
OSCAP is now one of the largest anti-rhino poaching groups in South Africa with more than 20 000 members worldwide. The non-profit has been a pioneer in manufacturing the world’s first rhino ambulances and now has 4 out in the field throughout South Africa. The ambulances are used in the rescue, stabilization, treatment and transport of rhino calves to rhino orphanages. Rhino calves often stay close to the corpse of their mothers after a poaching incident and many die from dehydration or injuries. Their rescue can be problematic and there is a risk of further injury and of the calf succumbing to shock. The ambulances ensure that orphaned rhino calves receive the best treatment and care available.
OSCAP also assists private rhino owners, orphanages and anti-poaching units with anti-poaching equipment. OSCAP works closely with other Rhino groups, NGO’s, local and International Wildlife agencies as well as local and provincial government departments in order to assist where ever possible. We are also strong advocates against the trade in rhino horn both domestically and internationally.
APP: Why did rhinos become a particular focus of your attention? What does make rhinos particularly under the risk?
Kim: South Africa is home to many species of wild life, many of whom are threatened by the illegal trade in wildlife. Rhinos are iconic species who deserve our protection. Rhinos are an umbrella species – protect the rhino, and you protect all the other species that share their habitat. Rhinos are mega-herbivores and impact greatly on their environment by shaping the landscape. They force their way through thick shrub and forest opening up access for other species. By continuously browsing shrubs and small trees, rhino’s shape the way these plants grow and keep them short and accessible to a whole range of smaller leaf eaters. It is important that we conserve this mega herbivore for the welfare of the ecosystems they inhabit, as well as for man’s wellbeing.
According to Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation, “the industrial-scale, commercial exploitation of wildlife under the ‘it pays, it stays’ paradigm is a relatively recent concept. It doesn’t really take into account the human condition based on greed and avarice or the massive growth in human population. There are simply too many of us and too few of them for us to continue to try and create an economic model that allows us to treat wildlife as a commodity”. He suggests a more benign approach: “in the same way that we value the great human works of art and are willing to put state, corporate and private funding into their preservation, why don’t we do the same for wildlife by thinking of it as a natural work of art in which we invest for our own sanity as much as for protection and conservation”. (http://www.news24.com/Columnists/AndreasSpath/the-commodification-of-south-africas-wildlife-20151207)
It is OSCAP’s vision to protect endangered species in Southern Africa and end the illegal wildlife trade of endangered and threatened species. Currently rhinos are being poached at a rate where it is predicted that we will see a detectable negative population growth rate in the Kruger National Park. The number of rhino poached in South Africa has grown at an alarming rate. In 2009 there were 122 rhinos poached and in 2010, 333 rhino were poached. The official poaching statistics for rhino in 2016 are 1054.
Because of the demand for rhino horn and the fact that rhino horn commands such a high price they are at risk from poachers who wish to benefit from selling the horn. As the price of horn has escalated to the point that horn now fetches a price higher than gold, rhinos have increasingly become a target for poachers.
WE COULD SEE THE EXTINCTION OF WILD RHINO IN OUR LIFE TIME…
APP: How does South African legislation treat rhinos? Could you please comment on the South African recent legalization of the domestic rhino horn trade? How will it affect the rhinos?
Kim: The South African Department of Environmental Affairs and our National legislation promote the use of our wildlife in a sustainable manner. We support sustainable use policies but it is yet to be determined beyond any reasonable doubt that rhino horn trade is sustainable and will not increase the risk to the current rhino population (wild and private) in South Africa, as well as rhino populations in other range states. Without proper knowledge of what the demand for horn is or will be under a trade environment means that decisions are being made without the relevant information needed to make an informed decision. The authorities run the risk of making the wrong decisions.
We question our Department Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) ability to monitor and regulate trade. In the Appeal that went before the Constitutional Court the DEA said they would need a minimum of 12 months to have systems in place to regulate and manage trade. It is not clear if the DEA still envisage that it will take those 12 months to have systems in place to monitor and regulate trade. The other question they have not addressed is what they propose doing with permits to trade that are submitted to the DEA in the interim.
OSCAP would also question the statement that regulatory loopholes have been identified and addressed, if the DEA do not have regulations in place how will they know where the loopholes are?
We have regularly expressed doubt about the pro-trade assertion that lifting the trade ban would stem poaching and create ‘self-sustaining funds’ for rhino conservation. OSCAP believes that opening legal trade would only facilitate trade in ‘illegal’ or poached horn, by creating a parallel market. There is insufficient data available on the size and scope of any existing or potential market to support a legal trade argument.
Trade could lead to increased demand and the ultimate extinction of the rhinoceros in the wild. There is also no evidence that legalizing trade will prevent poaching. On the contrary, legalizing trade has the potential of increasing poaching. Legalizing the trade in rhino horn was proposed as a “solution” to the rhino poaching crisis, however the same agenda was proposed at the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in 1997 — during a year when four rhinos were killed in South Africa. Trade has nothing to do with curbing poaching and everything to do with money.
APP: According to your report, “there are roughly 25 000 rhinos left in Africa and South Africa is the largest range state, with numbers becoming below 20 000; we are losing 3 rhinos per day due to the criminal activities of unscrupulous men causing havoc in especially Kruger National Park”. Why does not the status of being national park, where wildlife is protected by rangers, and guarantee security for rhinos? What are the ways to improve the situation?
Kim: The Kruger National Park covers a vast area, policing this area is a difficult task. Mr Nicholas Funda, head of the KNP anti-poaching team, said the size of the park necessitates 2 000 rangers to keep it safe, but that the Kruger National Park can only employ 500 rangers.
Recently the Kruger National Park introduced a surveillance system called Postcode Meerkat. This technology is basically a new set of ‘eyes in the sky’ that identifies poachers and their movements and has proven to be very effective. If we can make use of technology like this in conjunction with anti-poaching patrols and on the ground intelligence, we could see a reduction in poaching.
With the price that rhino horn attracts rangers are often approached by the poaching syndicates and offered money to provide information to poachers, which sadly some of them do. Some rangers have even gone so far as to being directly involved in rhino poaching themselves. Corruption is endemic in the rhino poaching arena with vets, pilots, rangers, policemen, members of the Organized Crime Unit, conservation officers etc. all being involved in poaching and poaching syndicates. We need to tackle corruption it is probably our biggest threat.
APP: What are the organizations main achievements to stop the poaching? What are the problems you face?
Kim: OSCAP constantly lobbies the South African government and relevant government organizations to ensure that rhino poaching is addressed with the necessary urgency and commitment.
The non-profit has been a pioneer in manufacturing the world’s first rhino ambulances and now has 4 out in the field throughout South Africa. The ambulances are used in the rescue, stabilization, treatment and transport of rhino calves to rhino orphanages. Rhino calves often stay close to the corpse of their mothers after a poaching incident and many die from dehydration or injuries. Their rescue can be problematic and there is a risk of further injury and of the calf succumbing to shock. The ambulances ensure that orphaned rhino calves receive the best treatment and care available.
OSCAP also assists private rhino owners, orphanages and anti-poaching units with anti-poaching equipment. OSCAP works closely with other Rhino groups, NGO’s, local and International Wildlife agencies as well as local and provincial government departments in order to assist where ever possible.
Corruption and the political will on the part of our government to address the poaching crisis are the two biggest challenges we face. The moratorium was instituted in 2009 to put in place a database and means of regulating domestic trade and now 8 years later our DEA are still asking for time to put their house in order? This doesn’t show us that they are taking the matter seriously.
Criminal organisations and individuals often rely on, weak legal frameworks and bureaucratic procedures, lack of coordination between oversight agencies, lack of capacity of customs officials, and lack of enforcement in order to poach and illegally trade wildlife animals, addressing such challenges could help reduce corruption linked to wildlife crimes. All of these are relevant in South Africa, we need to address these issues and effect change in order to start to win this war against the criminal syndicates.
APP: How do you assess the recent initiative to ship 100 white rhinos from South Africa to Botswana to save them from poachers (http://www.africanpoliticsandpolicy.com/?p=5599)?
Kim: We support this initiative.
APP: What are the measures that should be taken in a short term period to save the rhino population? In your view, currently what is the biggest change that needs to happen to protect the rhinos in South Africa?
Kim: We believe that there is no single solution to this problem and that all the tools that are available to us should be used to stop the poaching. These tools include but are not limited to:
- Top notch security
- De-horning – only where absolutely necessary when no other alternatives are available.
- Education and awareness
- Increased sentences for people found guilty of Wildlife offences
- No bail for suspects
We need to;
- Improve the capacity and skills of enforcement, conservation agencies and rangers;
- Find alternate sources of funding other than rhino horn trade;
- Use appropriate technologies on the ground to aid patrolling and wildlife protection;
- Engage communities and work in partnerships (there are well documented cases of successful community partnerships as well as documented cases
of unsuccessful partnerships – it is of vital importance that SA ensures that we do not enter into any more unsuccessful partnerships such at the GLTP community projects);
- Strengthen prosecution for wildlife offences;
- Co-operate with other countries to control and respond to illegal wildlife trade.
- Increase targeted demand reduction campaigns as well as education and awareness campaigns in demand side countries and supply side
- Increase minimum sentencing and in particular special sentencing structures for those in the enforcement and conservation environment who are found to be complicit in
APP: How do you think, is it possible to create world-wide shelters for rhinos, where they can enjoy safe life? What is the role of the international community in protecting rhinos?
Kim: We support any move that will ensure that our wild rhino populations flourish. It’s important that the measures we take ensure that wild rhino populations are the ones protected and that African rhino are conserved on the continent of Africa.
APP: How can our readers get involved in the various initiatives you offer to protect rhinos against poachers? and how can we (African Politics and Policy) be helpful to you?
Kim: There are a number of ways readers can get involved, the main aim is to continue to raise awareness. Despite all of the information available many still don’t appreciate how much of a crisis this is for our rhino.
You can raise awareness by participating in RHINO FRIDAYS, wear your ‘Save The Rhino’ type T-shirt and then talking to others about it. Share and forward any emails or newspaper articles that you come across with everyone you know. The more people that are talking about it, the more people there are doing something about it, the more chances there are that the powers that be will do MORE than they are currently doing to save our rhino. Whenever readers or their family or friends participate in a sporting even i.e. fun runs/walks, cycling events, triathlons etc. call yourselves ‘Team RHINO’, wear rhino T-shirts have a rhino mascot!
If you are a learner then get your class or school to make Friday’s RHINO FRIDAYS and get all your class mates to send a postcard to President Zuma. Encourage your school and or social group, art group whatever to start project like making a life sized rhino out of papier-mâché /wire whatever. Possibly in conjunction with a prominent business, your local radio station etc. Have the rhino on display outside your school, out front of a highly visible shopping center (NB please ensure you have the relevant persons authority/ permission)
TALK about it – SHARE about it – WRITE about it – DO something about it.
Donations to the OSCAP (now collecting for Wildlife transportation trailers for the rhino orphanage) could be made via the link: http://www.oscap.co.za/about-oscap/donations/
The website of the organization: http://www.oscap.co.za/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OSCAP/
 International Rhino Coalition (2014). “Assessing the risks of rhino horn trade”. A Journal of arguments presented at the April 2014 Conference in South Africa. Available at: http://www.oscap.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/INT- RHINO-COALITION-JOURNAL-V1.2.pdf