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S.Africa, Mozambique reach deal to fight rhino poaching

South Africa signed an anti-poaching agreement on Thursday with neighbouring Mozambique, a major transit route for rhino horn trafficked to Asia.

Mozambique is a prime source of illegal hunters hired and armed by transnational crime syndicates to cross the border into South Africa to kill the huge, prehistoric beasts.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park shares a long border with Mozambique and has borne the brunt of rhino poaching in recent years.

So far this year a total 293 rhino have been killed in South Africa with nearly half of the attacks in the Kruger Park, despite the deployment of troops to protect them.

The agreement “entails us working together with Mozambique to eradicate rhino poaching… so that Mozambique is not used as a transit country,” Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told AFP.

The two countries agreed to share intelligence and jointly develop anti-poaching technology and education programmes.

Rhino horns are prized as a status symbol in Asia and mistakenly thought to possess medicinal properties to cure cancers and hangovers, even though they are composed of the same material as fingernails.

The poachers kill the rhinos with semi-automatic rifles, hack off the horns for shipment to Asia and cross back into Mozambique, leaving the bodies to rot.

Mozambique early this month approved a law that will impose heavy penalties of up to 12 years on anybody convicted of rhino poaching.

“Previous laws did not penalise poaching, but we think this law will discourage Mozambicans who are involved in poaching,” Mozambique’s Tourism Minister Carvalho Muaria said at a ceremony to sign the agreement inside the Kruger National Park.

At least 46 Mozambicans, five of them policemen, have been arrested inside their native country this year alone for poaching.

Mozambique has also started relocating 1,250 families that were housed inside the Limpopo game park, which borders Kruger, and erected hundreds of kilometres of fence between the two areas.

South Africa is home to around 80 percent of the world’s rhino population, estimated at more than 25,000.

Most live in the vast Kruger Park, which is roughly the size of Israel.

In 2007 only 13 rhinos were reported poached in South Africa, but since then the numbers have increased exponentially every year.

South Africa has hinted it is now considering legalising the rhino horn trade in an attempt to limit illegal demand, allowing the sale of horns from rhino that have died of natural causes.

“Experts are working on structure to look at the stockpiles that we have and not benefitting anybody, yet people are killing rhino for these horns that we have elsewhere,” said Molewa.

It is a “proposal moving towards possible trade,” she said, adding it could be one of the solutions to end the rhino slaughter.

“We do think that it could… just taking it from the lessons we have learnt from ivory. We did an ivory once-off sale” and elephant poaching has not been a problem since.

“We hope we’ll be able to win this war,” said Molewa.