Hanti Schrader
3 minute read
10 Jul 2015
12:11 pm

Vital rhino poaching evidence up in smoke

Hanti Schrader

Mozambican authorities have destroyed rhino horns, which have most likely been poached in the Kruger National Park (KNP), allegedly without having taken DNA samples.

Authorities are still investigating whether the horns came from South Africa. Pic: Lowvelder

Without DNA indicating the origin of the horns, successful prosecution of perpetrators might be impossible.

The authorities destroyed 2 434.6 kilograms of elephant ivory and 86 pieces of rhino horn earlier this week. The Mozambican minister for land, environment and rural development, Celso Correira, hailed this event as sure evidence of his country’s stand on poaching. “Today sends a signal: Mozambique will not tolerate poachers, traffickers and the organised criminals who employ and pay them to kill our wildlife and threaten our communities,” he said as he set the stack alight on Monday.

The environmental organisation, Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (Traffic), says it is unfortunately not clear whether DNA samples were taken of the tusks, ivory and rhino horns. There is a strict protocol declared by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that samples should be taken and tested in the case of ongoing criminal investigations. However, an informed source at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, the only facility in South Africa where rhino DNA analysis is being conducted, confirmed that no samples of this heist in Mozambique had been received.

Almost 350 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns which were seized on May 12 in a raid in the southern Mozambican city of Matola, was burnt on the stack. Pic: Lowvelder

Almost 350 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns which were seized on May 12 in a raid in the southern Mozambican city of Matola, was burnt on the stack. Pic: Lowvelder

CITES Decision 16.84 directs all parties to submit rhino horn samples from specimen for criminal investigation to designated accredited forensic laboratories for DNA analysis. Decision 16.83 directs all parties to do the same thing for any seizure of ivory that represents 500kg or more.

The case against those arrested in connection with the seizure of the 65 horns is still awaiting completion.

“The apparent destruction of evidence in ongoing cases raises obvious concerns over how the legal process will now be properly followed in Mozambique,” said Tom Milliken, rhino and elephant expert, at Traffic.

Milliken also warned that the destruction, like that witnessed on Monday, July 6, could also increase the demand for such products and drive prices upwards. “Public destruction of wildlife products seized from illegal trade may capture the media limelight, but it is certainly not going to solve the global poaching crisis,” he added.

According to the shadow minister for environmental affairs, Terri Stander, neither she nor minister of environmental affairs, Edna Molewa, knew about the burning of the tusks and rhino horns.

“This is not good. This is definitely compromising the prosecuting process in South Africa,” Stander told Lowvelder.

She is also asking why no South African official was invited to attend this colossal event.

“There is an existing Memorandum of Understanding between us and Mozambique. They know that we see their country as the transit country, especially for rhino horn, but they don’t feel inclined to invite us to this? I find it suspicious,” she lamented. The coordinator of the United Nations (UN) system in Mozambique, Jennifer Topping, congratulated the decision to incinerate the rhino horns and elephant tusks.

“For the UN this act is very important. It’s part of a series of universal measures adopted to discourage poaching. This shows the world that Mozambique is implementing these measures. Environmental preservation is part of development,” Topping added. She also stressed that this was an clear indication that Mozambique was renewing its determination to combat environmental crimes.

The incineration was partly funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and spokesperson for the organisation, Alistair Nelson, said in Mozambique “recent efforts show real commitment to tackle wildlife crime, associated corruption and organised crime gangs”.

Caxton News Service