The Rhino rancher's statutory burden

Thursday, 03 May 2012 11:04 Tanya Jacobsen
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By Izak du Toit

South Africa is experiencing the highest incidence of rhino poaching in history and it is fair to
state that the survival of the species is at risk if this trend continues. The custodians of rhino
in this country are divided into two distinct groups, the National and Provincial governmental
nature conservation authorities and the private game farm owners. This short essay is
dedicated to the challenges faced by private game farm owners and potential private rhino
owners in their effort to keep, breed and protect rhino in South Africa. It also serves to
highlight the challenges faced by South Africa’s emergent black farmers and communities
who may wish to enter the rhino farming industry.

At the outset it must be noted that Black and White Rhino in South Africa are listed,
classified and governed by the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations (in short
referred to as TOPS regulations) which regulations are promulgated under the National
Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (in short referred to as NEMBA).

If any private individual or community has access to a suitable piece of farm land (either as
owner, as tenant, as manager or as beneficiary) and wishes to purchase and keep rhino on
such land, such individual or community has to comply with the prescriptions of NEMBA,
TOPS and several other statutory requirements. The procedural and logistical burden that
these statutory requirements place on the private rhino owner, coupled with the security risk
posed by poaching, are so burdensome that more often than not, the incumbent rather
elects to pursue other game species and avoid rhino ownership all together. This spells
danger of extinction in capital letters to the rhino because if no one is interested in buying
and keeping rhino, then no one is protecting rhino.

The legal requirements applicable to any person who wants to keep and breed rhino on a
suitable piece of land can be summarised as follows:

This essay will not comprehensively deal with the entire process of buying the land,
fencing the land, obtaining a certificate of adequate enclosure, applying for and
registration of a game farm, game trader, captive breeding operation, conducting
habitat assessments for suitability and/or commissioning a biodiversity management
plan. The rather cavalier assumption is made in this essay that the potential rhino
owner is already adequately set up in all of these respects and is now ready to start
buying rhino.

NEMBA contains a long list of restricted activities in relation to TOPS animals. A
short excerpt taken from this list reads as follows: “hunting, catching, capturing,
searching, pursuing, driving, lying in wait, gathering, collecting, plucking, picking
parts of, cutting off, chopping, importing exporting (both internationally and/or
interprovincially), having in possession, exercising physical control over, growing
breeding, in any way propagating, causing it to multiply, conveying, moving,
otherwise translocating, selling, trading in, buying, receiving, giving, donating,
accepting as a gift, in any way acquiring or disposing of a specimen of a listed TOPS
animal”. All these things are restricted activities and the list of such activities ends off
by saying, in addition to all of the above: ”any other activity involving a TOPS animal”.

NEMBA then states that no person may conduct any one of the above mentioned
restricted activities without first obtaining a permit from the relevant issuing authority,
which in the case of rhino is the local provincial nature conservation authority.

Our potential rhino farmer who wishes to purchase, keep, manage and hopefully
successfully breed with rhino should therefore take cognisance of the
abovementioned list of restricted activities and, being a law abiding citizen, should
comply with all of it.

Now in order to get rhino onto his farm, our farmer must purchase rhino. This
involves the following restricted activities (underlined phrases) :
searching for the animal on the seller’s farm (this may involve the effort and
cost associated with a helicopter);
when the rhino is found, it must be pursued and darted (this involves the effort
and cost associated with a registered wildlife veterinarian);
when the rhino is darted it must be captured and loaded onto a suitable
vehicle (this involves the effort and cost associated with an approved wildlife
capturing team).
when the rhino is loaded it is then moved by road to the destination farm
where it is released (this involves the effort and cost associated with a
transport vehicle suitable for big 5 game movements) .

The statutory requirements for the process described above are burdensome. An
export permit is required for the originating farm, an import permit is required for the
destination farm. If the move is taking place within the same province then an internal
movement permit is required. The wildlife veterinarian must have a standing permit to
dart rhino (the same veterinarian will require a different standing permit for each one
of the nine provinces).

NEMBA and TOPS furthermore state that the local authorities may impose their own
additional conditions to the permits issued in respect of above mentioned restricted
activities and in recent times such conditions prescribe that an official of the issuing
authority must be personally present during certain of the activities. This means the
potential rhino farmer is dependent on the availability of overworked and underpaid
government officials. These officials are often unable to attend the farm because
game farms are by its nature usually situated in remote locations around the country,
and officials have limited resources (vehicles, fuel allowances, cellular phone
allowances etc). These officials are also only available during office hours. This
burden is illustrated by the following examples:
The rhino finds itself on route in a transport vehicle and arrives at the
destination farm at 21H00 in the evening (the process of searching, finding,
darting, capturing, loading and traveling often takes up an entire day). The
destination farm owner now finds that no nature conservation official is
available to unload the animal (notwithstanding the fact that the farmer made
every effort to arrange this in advance). The farmer must now either break the
law and unload the animal himself or he must risk the life of the rhino by
leaving it in the transport crate overnight and unload it after 8H00 the next
morning when the nature conservation official is available.
The rhino farmer plans to capture and move a rhino to his farm. He arranges
and pays for a veterinarian, a wildlife capture team, a helicopter, a suitable
transport vehicle and of course he arranges well in advance with the local
nature conservation official to attend. On the morning of the planned capture

the whole team arrives on schedule, except for the nature conservation
official. Upon enquiry the rhino farmer learns that the said official has been
called at the last minute to another commitment. Now the farmer has two
choices, either break the law and proceed with the capture or send the
veterinarian home, send the capture team home, send the helicopter away,
send the transport truck away and re-schedule the entire operation to a new
date when the nature conservation official is able to attend.

If the game farmer manages, in spite of the above mentioned challenges, to get the
necessary permits and get some rhino onto his farm he then immediately faces a
grave security risk to himself, to his staff and most importantly to his live rhino who
are carrying sought after horn on their noses.

Once again, presuming that the rhino farmer already has a military like security force
in place on his farm (which involves a great deal of effort and cost), he may
nonetheless choose to de-horn his rhino in order to protect the rhino against the
threat of poachers. This exercise involves another long list of restricted activities.
Darting the rhino is a restricted activity, cutting off a rhino horn is a restricted activity,
possessing a rhino horn is a restricted activity, moving a rhino horn is a restricted
activity. Once again, the law requires that a registered wildlife veterinarian (who must
be in possession of a valid standing permit for the specific province where the rhino
is located) must be present during the de-horning process, in addition to the nature
conservation official who must yet again be personally present, otherwise the farmer
risks prosecution for non-compliance with permit conditions. Certain provincial
authorities insist that the veterinarian must personally conduct the dehorning. The
farmer is conducting no less than 4 restricted activities when de-horning a single

In addition hereto the nature conservation authorities recently imposed a further
permit requirement that the farmer must also complete a DNA test kit when he dehorns
a rhino. This is a commendable scientific effort but the implementation thereof
is creating practical and logistical difficulties for the rhino farmer. The DNA kits are
only available from one University situated in Pretoria, Gauteng and the farms are
scattered over nine provinces of South Africa. The local provincial authorities more
often than not do not have any DNA kits available so the farmer (wanting to comply
with his permit requirements) must obtain the said kits at his own cost and on his own
effort from the Pretoria University. The DNA kit involves drawing blood from the rhino,
cutting an ear-notch from the rhino and taking a hair sample from the rhino, all 3 of
which are, very technically speaking, restricted activities in terms of TOPS.

11. Darting and immobilizing a rhino presents an inherent risk to the life of the animal
(very similar to the risk of placing a human being under general anesthetic) so the
cautious farmer would prefer to de-horn the rhino simultaneous with the capturing
and moving process because the rhino is darted and immobilized for this exercise
anyway). Now the logistics of complying with the permit requirements gets really
Firstly the farmer can not apply for a possession permit for the horn before he
has actually cut the horn off the rhino (a horn still attached to a live rhino does
not constitute a separate specimen from the rhino itself).
Secondly the farmer can not apply for a possession permit for the horn unless
he is able to provide a micro-chip number, length and weight measurements
for the horn. All of these are only done after the horn is cut off and it may only

All of the above restricted activities which require permits must be read and
considered in light of the fact that different provinces have different rules relating to
permit applications. One province takes 4 to 6 weeks to consider and issue a single
permit application, other provinces can ONLY consider and issue permit applications
on Tuesdays and fortunately another province will consider and issue permit
applications within 2 or 3 days.

13. If, against all the above mentioned odds, our rhino farmer manages to keep and
breed rhino successfully on his farm, we can proudly count him in as custodian and
conservationist of an endangered species. The farmer however has no viable means
to profitably keep and breed such rhino because the cost of the land, the cost of the
farming operation, the cost of security, the cost of feed in winter months, the
veterinary costs in caring for the rhino and many other hidden costs are stacking up
against the farmer and he can generate a very limited amount of income from the live
rhino alone.

14. The fact that South Africa is experiencing the highest incidence of rhino poaching in
history has sparked a legislative clamp down on the rhino industry. On the one hand
this is arguably a natural reaction by authorities against criminal activities but on the
other hand it also means by necessary implication that the law abiding rhino farmer is
pestered by legal red tape and every move he makes is scrutinized with hawk’s eyes.
Another example is the following:
A rhino farmer concludes an agreement in terms whereof he is purchasing 4
rhino and he makes his arrangements to capture and move the rhino to his

15. In strict contrast to the above, the rhino farmer then discovers that his rhino in fact
have the ability to generate a very lucrative income from their horn without having to
carry the legal burdens described herein above. There is an enormous demand for
rhino horn and literally thousands of people are willing to pay top dollar for rhino horn.
If our rhino farmer wishes to utilize this lucrative market and still remain a law abiding
citizen, then he can easily do so by obtaining a single permit.

This permit is a hunting permit. It involves, by necessary statutorily enforced
implication, the death of the rhino. The farmer can legally hunt the rhino and sell the
rhino horn as a hunting trophy and he needs one hunting permit only.

17. It is an unfortunate statistical fact that many rhino farmers have chosen the easy way
out of conservation and have resorted to killing their own rhino. Some farmers go so
far as buying rhino for the sole purpose of hunting it immediately thereafter. That is
after all the only legal way they can generate any form of profitable income from this
magnificent and endangered African animal. Farmers need not bother with the

statutory burden of keeping and breeding rhino and in the process try to save the
species. Legally it is much easier and much more profitable to simply kill them all.
farm. This includes applying for the necessary permits. The permits are
issued and the team as described herein above arrives on the seller’s farm
and commences with the capture operation. The wildlife veterinarian however
finds that one of the rhino is not fit to be darted and moved (this can happen
for a number of reasons and the best interest of the rhino will always be
served first). The farmer therefore moves only 3 animals instead of 4. Six
months later the farmer is confronted by the nature conservation authorities
and/or the police (both of which are, as a result of the high poaching figures,
vigorously investigating and scrutinizing every single permit ever issued). The
rhino farmer suddenly finds himself a suspect in a criminal investigation
because his permit (with a total of 4 rhino) and the actual number of rhino (3)
on his farm do not add up. If this same rhino farmer happens to own more
than one farm in different provinces and has many rhino on such farms, then
this example may repeat itself several times in a specific capture season and
the investigations against the farmer intensifies because he now faces
several incidents of non-compliance or so-called irregularities regarding his

14.2 Just imagine for one moment any other commercial farmer, like a sheep
farmer or a cattle farmer, and place upon such farmers the abovementioned
burden of permits and legislation. Every single sheep or cow purchased, sold,
moved, captured or even killed requires various permits and personal visits by
local law enforcement officials. Or imagine what would happen to the sheep
farming industry if every sheep farmer were legally required to have a permit,
a micro-chip and a DNA sample for each and every piece of wool sheered
from his sheep. It is safe to assume that most farmers will get out of the
farming business altogether under such circumstances. This is unfortunately
exactly what is happening to rhino farmers in South Africa.
It deserves to be mentioned that the above mentioned risks of prosecution
exists in the letter of the law. Reputable game farmers usually have good
business and working relationships with their local conservation authorities
and in an ideal world apparent irregularities should be resolved amicably but
this does not detract from the fact that the legal mechanisms exist to
persecute the otherwise law abiding game farmer whose main purpose is the
proliferation of the rhino population on his farm and such mechanisms are
burdensome to the farmers.
be done if and when a nature conservation official is available to personally
supervise the exercise.
11.3 Thirdly the farmer can not apply for a permit to move the horn to a place of
safety unless he already holds a possession permit. The farmer wants to
move the horn because the risk of keeping the horn on the farm is simply too
high. Wildlife capturers and veterinarians have been robbed at gunpoint by
poachers looking for rhino horn.
So once again the farmer must either risk the life of the rhino by leaving the
horn on the rhino or the farmer must risk his own life and break the law by
cutting off the horn but then keeping it in his possession illegally, or moving it
to a place of safety illegally until he can apply for the necessary permits and
comply with the legal requirements.
A place of safety is typically a safety deposit box in a Bank in the city or town
closest to the farm, much like people who keep other valuables such as
diamonds, firearms and expensive jewellery in Bank safes.
Applying for the horn possession permit requires a micro-chip, a DNA sample
kit sealed by a registered wildlife veterinarian, a visit by the local nature
conservation official to measure, weigh and register the horn (if and when
such official is available subject to his budget and time constraints). Microchips
and DNA sample kits are not necessarily always available from the
authorities and the farmer often has to wait several days or even weeks to
obtain these items.

18. When
we consider this tragic situation, it becomes clear that the private owner
custodians of Black and White Rhino in South Africa, who have been credited in the
past with making a dramatic saving contribution to the species, are being forced by
the statutory burden placed on them, to become the killers of that very same species.

The legal requirements involved in rhino farming simply make a rhino worth more
dead than alive.

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