Since 2007, rhino poaching has been occupying the attention and resources of conservationists both in South Africa and worldwide. What started as a low-level poaching concern soon escalated into what is now regarded as a complex crisis involving a real threat to biodiversity and the tourism economy via sophisticated and well-funded global criminal syndicates. And as each succeeding year’s poaching losses increase, the need for urgency in putting in place efficient and effective counter-measures has grown.

Losing any species to poaching would be an ecological tragedy, but losing our iconic rhino ‚Äď which have become a major draw-card for South Africa‚Äôs tourism and wildlife industries ‚Äď will also have significant social and economic consequences. One in every seven South Africans currently depends on a thriving tourist industry to put food on their tables every day, and many of the tourism successes are based on the country being able to market itself as a prized ‚ÄėBig 5in the Wild’ safari destination. If poaching continues at current rates, there is a real and imminent prospect that South Africa could, within a decade, be reduced to offering only the ‚ÄėBig 4 in the Wild’, which will diminish our appeal to international travelers. It may also result in severe job losses, particularly in the rural areas where work is most needed.

The proposed solutions, however, have tended to fall into one of two camps: those that support the changes to international legislation that would legalise the trade in rhino horn as a means to end the poaching, and those that believe non-trade solutions are the best options. As a result, these two competing strategies have polarized decision makers and the professional conservation community like never before. And with so many concerned citizens of South Africa involved either as volunteers, rhino owners or financial contributors, this polarity has also spilled over into the wider community.

Increasingly, this polarity on rhino horn trade issues has become a stumbling block for constructive and united action that seriously undermines attempts at solving the crisis.

With this in mind, a ground-breaking debate took place behind locked doors, in which members on both sides of the rhino horn trade lobbies agreed to keep debating and discussing until there was consensus. Many hours later that consensus was achieved and they have now forged a new pragmatic partnership that brings together their combined energies, with the aim of creating a unified rhino survival strategy that unites the vast majority of stakeholders behind a common purpose ‚Äď to ensure the long-term survival of rhino in the wild.

The parties in favour of the legalisation of the trade in rhinos and rhino products were Dawie Roodt and Braam Malherbe. The parties against legalisation of trade in rhinos and rhino products were Ian Michler and Colin Bell.

AdvocateJacques Joubert, from Mediation in Motion, mediated the debate. Advocate Paul Hoffman, SC, from the Institute of Accountability in Southern Africa (IFAISA) ‚Äď which campaigns as ‚ÄúAccountability Now‚ÄĚ provided wise counsel when the debate overheated.

An unfolding process has come about because ‚ÄėThe Parties‚Äô agreed on five key aspects of the debate:

1. The economic modeling for trade in rhino horn is by no means  conclusive, and the premise that rhino horn trade should be the tool to significantly reduce poaching to manageable levels is tenuous.

2. Even if South Africa was given the green light to trade its rhino horn at  the next CITES meeting     (to be held in September 2016 in Cape Town), this would merely be the first step in a lengthy and onerous process before CITES gives its full approval. South Africa and other African range states as the sellers, as well as China and Vietnam as the buyers, would all have to implement a host of legal, trading, policing and administrative procedures before CITES can approve. This could take anything up to  ten years and permission may still not be granted. These are time-frames that rhino do not have.

3. It is unrealistic that South Africa will get the necessary 2/3rds vote needed change the legislation governing the trade in rhino horn when CITES members meet 2016. The outcome of the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Tradeclearly indicated how unlikely the international  community is to support such change.The conference on The Illegal Wildlife Trade held in Botswana in March 2015 and the Asian Range States conference confirmed that sentiment.

4. The Parties are also in agreement that South Africa withdrawing from CITES is not a well-reasoned option. Disengaging from CITES would not be in the best interests of conservation and our general standing in the global community.

5. The Parties agree that South Africa’s wildlife resources fulfill an ecological niche that needs protection for future generations and that promoting the conservation of rhinos fulfills the constitutional imperative set out in section 24(b)(ii) of the Bill of Rights.

Addressing the realities above and given this newly found consensus, attention was devoted to exploring the nature of the various measures open to stakeholders that would help stem poaching of rhinos and raise the funding needed to put these processes in place effectively.

A comprehensive plan has been agreed upon by the Parties that promotes a multi-faceted approach covering the entire scope of the rhino poaching crisis and the full spectrum of non-trade and demand reduction options, both locally and internationally, to assist in dealing with the situation in a legally sound and constitutionally compliant manner.

It is the vision of the Parties to get as many rhino stakeholder groups and NGOs to align behind a single, broad-ranging strategy that will be discussed at its launch at the Cape Town Press Club function at the Pavilion at Kelvin Grove in Newlands, Cape Town on 1 October, 2015.

To read The Plan