Mozambique could face a ban on the trade in wildlife products after failing to meet a year-long deadline to submit a report to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), urgently outlining measures to curb the escalating rhino poaching crisis.
In March last year, Mozambique and Vietnam – the countries recognised by Cites as the world’s worst offenders in illegal trade of rhino horn – were given a deadline of 31 January 2014 to submit the reports to a Cites working group which includes conservation heavyweights such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
“Vietnam did report and the working group is now assessing the merits of what they have done, and what they need to do.
“Mozambique did not respond and the working group will have to decide how it reacts to this,” said Colman O Criodain, international wildlife trade policy analyst for the WWF.
O Criodain said that the WWF was not aware of any tangible action being put in place by Mozambique to address rhino poaching.
“On the question of Mozambique, we are really in the dark at this stage in the absence of a formal report. We are not aware ourselves of any concrete measures on the ground that we can share with the rhino working group chair,” he said.
O Criodain added that the working group would have the option to recommend sanctions to stop trade in Cites-listed species with Mozambique, a decision which will most likely be taken at the next meeting of the Cites standing committee in July.
“It would certainly impact on Mozambique’s trophy hunting tourism and on their exports of reptile skins,” O Criodain said.
An estimated 90% of the rhino poached in the Kruger National Park (KNP) are killed by insurgents entering the park through the 356km long border fence with Mozambique.
Kruger head of conservation Dr Freek Venter said that the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park treaty signed by the Mozambican and South African governments in 2002 was an agreement that was not working well.
“The Mozambican authorities are not coming to the party. They don’t take the issue as seriously as us and they do not have nearly enough resources to do anything about it,” he said.
Venter, who conducted a tour of villages in Mozambique in late 2012, said that residents viewed poachers as Robin Hood-type figures.
“Poachers drive the economy of these villages. They bring prosperity to these areas in a very poor country and therefore naturally villagers do not want them to stop bringing back horns,” Venter explained.
Former Kruger section ranger Andrew Desmet added that anti-poaching laws in Mozambique were lax, and poachers were relatively safe from prosecution once re-entering the country.
“Rhino poaching in Mozambique is viewed more as a misdemeanour and is often punishable with just a fine. Poachers can get into more trouble for carrying illegal firearms than for using those firearms to kill rhino,” he said.
At least 172 rhino have been poached for their horns in South Africa since the beginning of 2014, 14 more than at the same stage last year.
Last year, a record 1 004 rhino were killed in South Africa, 606 of which were poached in the Kruger.
O Criodain explained that any control measures put in place in Vietnam to reduce demand for rhino horn would take some time to yield results.
“In terms of the high poaching numbers, we expect that any control measures put in place in Vietnam and Mozambique [especially the former], will take a while to feed back along the trade chain and lead to a reduction in poaching,” O Criodain said.