Swaziland conservation authorities have accused South Africa of reneging on an agreement to propose the legalization of rhino horn trade, which draws into question South Africa’s stance on the issue.
In formal documents submitted to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna) Swaziland said eleven SADC (Southern African Development Community) nations, including South Africa, agreed on 6 April to support a proposal to trade in rhino horn.
A week after this commitment was made the South African Cabinet decided (at their 13 April meeting) that it did not support submitting a pro-trade proposal to CITES. The Cabinet decision was informed by the findings of a Committee of Inquiry, convened by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
“Swaziland was expecting South Africa to submit a rhino horn trade proposal to CoP17 and was ready to support it,” the formal Swazi submission to CITES states.“[…] with the exception of only one country (Botswana), there was a consensus in favour of rhino horn trade and in support of a trade proposal to CoP 17” (the CITES Congress of Parties 17, which is due to be held in Johannesburg later this year).
“These claims are very alarming – how could South Africa make a commitment to supporting trade proposals to COP 17 when at that stage they must have known the recommendations of their own Committee of Inquiry which were before Cabinet” Michele Pickover of the EMS Foundation said.
Swaziland says South Africa’s change of heart forced it to make “an eleventh hour” proposal to CITES requesting permission to sell 330 kilograms of stockpiled rhino horn.
In a written response to questions the Department of Environmental Affairs would not confirm or deny Swaziland’s claims that it had supported a joint SADC position in recommending trade in rhino horn.
“The Department can confirm that South Africa informed the SADC meeting that a decision relating to a proposed international trade in rhino horn had not yet been made – and that, at the time, the matter was to be considered by the South African Cabinet in due course,” the DEA said.
The DEA declined to say whether South Africa would support the Swaziland proposal at CITES.
At the time of writing Swazi Conservation officials had not responded to questions on the issue but their role has been questioned by some conservationists.
“This proposal looks a little suspicious. Is this a proxy move motivated by a handful of pro-traders?” conservationist Ian Michler said. “It is also entirely out of step with world opinion, a situation a nation such as Swaziland can’t afford to be in”
Recently, Swaziland Big Game Parks (BGP) was widely criticized for its capture of 18 wild elephants, one of which later died, which were sent to zoos in the US.
Ted Reilly, the founder of BGP, is also Swaziland’s top CITES official as well as the country’s Scientific Authority responsible for both the proposal to trade rhino horn and the elephant export. This is arguably a serious conflict of interest.
According to the London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Swaziland’s submission to CITES could not work under international law since international commercial trade in rhino horn is banned under CITES and there are no legal buyers for Swaziland’s horn.
“The EIA urges Swaziland to immediately withdraw its reckless proposal and to focus on securing the survival of rhinos in the wild instead of putting a price tag on these threatened species,” EIA director Mary Rice said.