African rhino conservation has seen a major boost this week with the launch of the continent-wide African Rhino Conservation Plan, led by South Africa and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (IUCN SSC AfRSG).
The plan focuses on areas where African rhino range states can work together to enhance rhino conservation, such as sharing and analysing intelligence information, re-establishing rhino across boundaries, and enhancing effective funding for conservation. It does not seek to duplicate existing national plans, but rather complement them.
South Africa's Minister of the Environment, Edna Molewa, said: "I am very pleased that all eleven African rhino range states actively participated in developing this important continental plan, and hope it further enhances collaboration between range states for the good of our rhino.”
Initiated two years ago by South Africa, the plan was developed at three range state meetings held in South Africa and facilitated by IUCN SSC AfRSG Chair Dr Mike Knight and Scientific Officer Dr Richard Emslie. All 11 African rhino range states– Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – as well as a previous range state, Angola, participated in its development.
The plan, which was announced at the ongoing 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES CoP17) in Johannesburg, aims to ensure continental rhino numbers increase over the next five years, with a longer term vision to have secure, viable, and valued rhino populations across the African landscape.
Reported rhino poaching has increased continentally for six consecutive years from 2009 to 2015, with just over 6,000 rhinos poached since 2006.
“Poaching and trafficking are driven by transnational organised crime syndicates, so combatting them requires international cooperation. This continental plan should strengthen cooperation between African rhino range states in combatting poaching,” said Richard Emslie, IUCN SSC AfRSG Scientific Officer.
However, there is concern that the necessary increasing militarisation of anti-poaching efforts may be negatively affecting relations with neighbouring communities. Poachers are also often being recruited from poor rural areas where there are few prospects for formal economic empowerment and jobs.
Ultimately, the success of wildlife both outside and inside protected areas depends on the attitude of local people, which is why socio-economics was included as one of the plan components. Namibia’s Minister of the Environment, Mr Pohamba Shifeta, emphasised that the more local people can be incentivised to conserve and benefit from rhinos and other wildlife, the better for conservation.
Range states have voiced support for the development of an African Rhino Fund to facilitate the funding of identified continental priority conservation projects. Rhino conservation is very expensive, with rhino protection costs in South Africa currently around $1,650 per rhino per year, for example.
The CEO of Swaziland's Big Game Parks, Ted Reilly, welcomed the plan's proposed exploration and development of financing mechanisms and structures, noting that "conservation without money is just conversation".
To date, the plan has already been approved by eight range states and it is hoped that the other three will also soon approve it. In addition to the dignitaries from South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland, the Director General of Kenya Wildlife Services, Botswana’s Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife, and an Angolan Conservation Director were also among the speakers lending their support to the plan.