Pieter's Blog

Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.

Bluefin tunas bargained against elephants

                                                 

                                                   Save tunas? Only if you save elephants

 

 

This is an old report I came upon, but it clearly indicates how issues are handled at CITES meetings. 

The report can be found here.

 

 It concerns pre-CITES CoP15 (Doha, March 2010) negotiations between a group of 23 African nations (Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia are identified) and the EU bloc. The 23 African nations were concerned that the EU would allow Zambia and Tanzania to downlist their elephant populations to Appendix II so they could sell their ivory stockpiles (and engage in elephant trophy hunting, etc). So the group of 23 decided to apply a bit of pressure – we will vote to protect tunas if you vote against the Zambian and Tanzanian proposals.

 

"Please do not force our collective hand to cast our 23 votes against the EU on any of the issues it is supporting such as, for example, the high-profile proposed ban on bluefin tuna," they stated in a leaked letter seen by Reuters.

 

As you will remember, the elephants were not downlisted but the tunas were not protected – Japan was able to mobilize sufficient support to convince CITES that tunas should be looked after by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (which had overseen the decline in the first place) so that tuna fishing could go on unabated. Tanzania tried again to have elephants downlisted with a proposal to CoP16 in Bangkok, but withdrew the proposal before the Conference. 

 

So anytime anyone says that CITES carefully considers trade in species based on scientific evidence and the “precautionary” principle, please remind them of the tuna. It is all secretive horse-trading and politics at the end of the day. 

 

 

Picture credit: www.lastwordonnothing.com

 

 

 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 14:40

The EU to review regulations on imports of animals as trophies

The European Union has invited LionAid to participate in a review of current regulations concerning the import of hunting trophies of species listed on their Annex B (equivalent to CITES Appendix II). 

 

We feel this review is well overdue and therefore increasingly urgent. It should be noted that a number of EU Member States proposed a comprehensive review of current import practices by all parties at the recent CITES Conference, but this was watered down to only include elephant and rhino trophies. Such trophies belatedly have to be issued with import permits (not required before, an export permit from the country of origin sufficed) – in response to the rampant rhino “pseudo-hunting” scam facilitated by lax controls in South Africa. 

 

“Pseudo-hunting”, as you will remember, took advantage of a glaring loophole in CITES regulations where a “hunter” could legally export a rhino trophy and then quickly take advantage of the significant difference between the hunting price and the street value of the horn to turn a tidy profit. This is against the CITES rules, but to date there have been few successful prosecutions outside South Africa we are aware of (though arrests have been made in the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Such horns initially were collected by droves of Vietnamese hunters, but as eyes in South Africa slowly began to open (largely due to NGOs and the media raising questions), the syndicates began to recruit numbers of proxy hunters from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, Poland, Russia and the USA (countries, it might be added, with significant Vietnamese communities). 

 

Trophy horns imported by such “proxy hunters” have since not surprisingly been conveniently declared as “stolen”, “lost”, cut up and given to relatives and friends, etc.  

 

It is suspected that the same scenario applies to ivory collected by “hunters” in Africa – “cut-rate” hunts are offered by many agents and operators, the ivory is legally exported, and the tusks then “disappear”. Again, the EU is involved – CITES records indicate substantial increases in numbers of Danes and Portuguese, for example, showing a sudden interest in elephant hunting and significant discrepancies between numbers of exports versus imports. Ivory from hunts often seems to vanish into thin air.

 

The EU is proposing to “address” the issue by contemplating a requirement for import permits in addition to export permits for hunting trophies.

 

Lions fall in a different category, in that there does not appear to be an illegal trade in hunting trophies per se. However, we will advocate a complete ban on the import of lion trophies from South Africa. Such trophies virtually all originate from the captive breeding industry (“canned hunting”), are mislabelled as “wild” by South African authorities to allow hunters to place them in record books maintained by hunting organizations like SCI, and are hunted by very cruel techniques. In fact, the entire captive breeding for trophy hunting concept should have come under much greater scrutiny and sanctions in the past, but such was the attention given to rhinos, elephants and tigers that the industry was allowed to blossom and bloom. 

 

If the EU prohibits import of seal skins from Namibia and Canada on the basis that this industry is based on cruel practices, why not similarly ban imports of lion trophies emanating from the canned hunting industry? Since South Africa only exports captive raised lion trophies, a blanket ban would not be difficult to enforce as the issue of truly wild versus captive raised animals would not need to be considered. While over 60% of canned lion trophies go to the USA, significant numbers end up in Germany, France, Spain, etc in the EU. 

 

The necessity of an import permit for lion trophies from countries other than South Africa would also give the EU, under existing Wildlife Trade Regulations, greater latitude of ensuring that lion trophy hunting is indeed sustainable. This sustainability is currently claimed by the trophy hunting community but is increasingly being challenged by published information, surveys, and indeed the governments of Botswana and Zambia.

 

We will seek backing from our supporting organizations like IFAW, HSI, EIA and others to ensure that lions are not once again swept under the carpet in the exclusive stampede to conserve African elephants and rhinos. Desperate though the status of such species might be, concern needs to be spread to all species suffering from unsustainable commercial offtake whether it is poaching, “pseudo-hunting” or legalized trophy hunting.

 

 

 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. - See more at: http://www.lionaid.org/blog/#sthash.FDoAV1Yr.dpuf

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:49

LionAid proposes 10 Point Lion Conservation Programme

It is undisputed that lions are being lost at a great rate. Of the 49 continental African nations, lions are already extinct in 25 countries and seriously threatened in a further 10 countries. Only 14 countries with some lion populations remain, but even there these predators are increasingly threatened. 

 

The major threats include a long list of factors including loss of habitat, loss of prey due to unregulated bushmeat poaching, civil strife, lack of effective wildlife departments, lack of political will to engage in wildlife conservation, conflict with livestock and humans, excessive trophy hunting, diseases introduced by domestic animals, lack of dedicated national lion conservation programmes, and lack of realistic lion population numbers to guide better and more effective conservation techniques. 

 

Some of these factors can be addressed by conservation programmes, others will require significant sociopolitical solutions. For example, wherever there is civil strife, wildlife conservation is no longer on any agenda. Countries without effective central governments will also lack any effective wildlife conservation programmes. This means, that among the few African range states where lions might still remain, we can pretty much rule out a future for lions in Somalia, large stretches of South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali. 

 

Remaining lion populations in Malawi (<40), Nigeria (<40), Senegal (<40) will need greater efforts than currently exist to ensure any future survival. Remaining populations in western African nations like Benin, Burkina Faso and Cameroon immediately need to be placed on the IUCN Critically Endangered Species list as well as CITES Appendix I as they represent a unique genotype and perhaps have no more than a few hundred animals remaining.  All those three mentioned nations still allow trophy hunting offtake. 

 

So where do lions have a long-term future with much better conservation programmes? We would say Kenya, Ethiopia, Botswana, Uganda (no trophy hunting offtake); Zambia (trophy hunting moratorium); and Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania (trophy hunting offtake). 

 

Conservation challenges are different and similar in countries with and without lion trophy hunting. Except for South Africa, lion populations in all other nations occur within unfenced protected areas too small to contain seasonal wildlife movements.  As a general statement, wildlife concentrates in protected areas with water resources during the dry season, but then disperses away during the wet seasons. Not surprisingly, lion/livestock conflict increases greatly during the wet season. 

 

There have been a number of attempts to mitigate lion/livestock conflicts in the past, but these have been piecemeal, inconsistent, and seemingly incapable of integrating adaptive progress. As a comprehensive statement, financial compensation programmes for livestock losses do not convince communities to tolerate lions. This is because government programmes, like those in Botswana, are slow and bureaucratic. Private programmes might work better, but often run out of funds. Both programmes do not compensate fully for livestock lost to prevent false claims and encourage better herding practices. None of these programmes ultimately convince tolerance among communities living with lions to accept livestock losses.

 

Neither do the trophy hunting arguments that giving value for lions increases tolerance. Communities are expected to accept livestock losses because, overall, they benefit from lion trophy hunting fees and other handouts. In theory, a good agenda that has long underpinned the lion trophy hunting industry rhetoric. In practice, a failed programme as hunting companies only share about 3-4% of profits with communities and governments and community organizations dispense crumbs to those living with wildlife.  

 

In discussions with communities in Kenya suffering from direct lion livestock conflict there are much better ways forward. These include better protected bomas and night-lights to deter predators. But more importantly, the communities themselves came up with much more straightforward and equitable ways forward to deal with livestock losses and predator tolerance.  We cannot yet disclose these while we seek to implement them, but they are simple and elegant and could be applied across lion conflict zones at very little cost.

 

These programmes would also apply to regions in Africa too arid to allow bomas for cattle – Botswana for example, where free-ranging grazing is the only sustainable option outside the wet season. 

 

Another big problem for lion conservation is that we do not really know how many lions are left. Very few nations have engaged in direct lion counts as they are expensive. They require trained individuals engaged over many months, photographic evidence, repeat surveys, and unbiased evaluation. To date, lion surveys have largely been conducted by various categories of guesses and extrapolation of available habitat. This is no longer acceptable.

 

Especially as the trophy hunting countries need very accurate lion population numbers to at least guide future quotas and offtake. For example, vested opinion surveys placed 3,199 lions in Zambia in 2002. Other indirect surveys indicated a minimum of 970 to a maximum of 1,975. More recent estimates show that there might well only be between 414 and 750 lions. Zambia, before the moratorium on lion hunting, was allowing an average of 60 male lion trophies to be exported yearly 2007-2011. A hunter-funded programme, the Zambia Lion Project, supposedly oversees trophy lion age minima, but has not published any publicly available information since inception in 2004. 

 

This brings up another point. Nowhere, in any lion trophy hunting country in Africa, have there been any recent surveys of lions in hunting areas. In many trophy hunting countries, the concession holders have been allowed to set their own quotas based on no discernible data. Meanwhile, studies in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Cameroon have shown that trophy hunting concessions bordering on nationally protected areas greatly influence lion populations in terms of male depopulation, pride structure, reproduction. 

 

In 2004, Craig Packer and his associates published a paper much applauded by the hunting community that indicated that as long as male lions over the age of six were shot, quotas were not necessary. Based on very questionable data about male reproduction (males take over prides age 4, are evicted by new males when they reach age 6 and then have no further reproductive opportunities) supposedly based on Serengeti lion data (challenged by virtually all lion research programmes), and guided by computer models, this has now become written in stone for hunters. Now every trophy hunter supposedly aims for 6 yr old males to the benefit of future survival of lion populations. 

 

Big problems remain. Lions are very difficult to age through a telescopic rifle sight, and younger and younger males are continually shot. Only in Mozambique is there an enforced 6 yr minimum, but how do you realistically age a lion to 6 yrs? It remains a puzzle. Tooth wear, pulp cavity measurements, skull suture measurements all occur post-mortem. Nobody abides by them, and nobody admits that the 6 yr rule is fundamentally flawed. Craig Packer will not speak out against it, but he knows full-well that it is based on questionable science. 

 

So how to go forward? We propose a much better lion conservation programme based on 10 points:

 

1. Lion range states need to conduct urgent, independent and sound population assessments. Such assessments need to be done in hunting concessions and protected areas alike. Once remaining population numbers are scientifically determined, much better conservation programmes can be put in place.

2. Lion conflict needs to be better addressed to truly mitigate costs of communities living with dangerous predators. No more piecemeal and temporary solutions, a breakthrough is both required and available.

3. Lion research programmes need to do more than monitoring. Disease threats need to be urgently assessed and quantified. Causes of lion mortality need to be documented and mitigated. Research programmes need to be established in hunting areas subjected to many years of male offtake to determine consequences of trophy hunting as a “conservation tool”.

4. Lions need to be brought to the forefront of range state national conservation programmes. Far too much attention is presently devoted to rhinos and elephants in Africa. All lion range states need to immediately formulate and enact lion conservation programmes. In all range states, lions should immediately be declared nationally protected species.

5. All lion trophy hunting should cease. There are no benefits to the species for this continued offtake.

6. The USA and the EU should immediately declare an import ban on all African lion trophies. Until independent assessments can verify that such offtake is sustainable, and does not impact negatively on trophy source populations, the precautionary principle allowed by CITES should immediately be implemented.

7. South Africa has allowed a captive breeding programme including about 7,000 lions to provide canned hunting for eager trophy hunters. All countries should immediately ban any import of lion trophies originating in South Africa on the basis that the industry integrally involves animal cruelty. No wild animal species should be purpose-bred in small enclosures using forced breeding techniques to be hunted. There is considerable evidence that lion breeding programmes to supply trophy hunters are being established in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe at least.

8. Vested interest groups like the Safari Club International, Conservation Force, CIC, etc are lobbying hard to maintain lion trophy hunting. Politicians and decision makers should insist on careful evaluation of scientific information regarding the status of lion populations after more than 30 years of “conservation hunting” in a number of African range states. If conservation hunting had been successful, lion populations should be flourishing instead of being in steep decline everywhere.

9. Lions should be internationally recognized as a species of concern by agencies and governments, not shuffled under the carpet in favour of tigers, orang-utans, rhinos and elephants. Procedures to ensure lion protection have largely been ignored by NGOs and funding agencies in their rush to sanction species placed in the media spotlight rather than taking more considered courses to ensure biodiversity conservation.

10. LionAid is the only NGO specifically dedicated to lion conservation in the world. We should not be expected to bear this burden for an iconic species faced with an inevitable slide to extinction unless immediate and realistic attention is paid by conservation donors.

 

 

 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. - See more at: http://www.lionaid.org/blog/#sthash.FDoAV1Yr.dpuf

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:48

Commercial trade in polar bears : not cultural, not subsistence, not necessary

                                                            Can’t stand being a commodity

 

 

The more I read about the recent defeat of the joint USA/Russian Federation proposal to uplist Polar Bears to CITES Appendix I (highly restricted international trade), the more convinced I become that this decision was politically motivated, was not based on any economic or cultural benefit to the native Inuit communities, was shamefully handled by the EU delegations especially Denmark, and was a blot on Canada that perhaps peddled influence over Arctic resources in return for votes. 

 My English teachers would be very critical of my use of the over-long sentence above. I beg extenuating circumstances that make me hot under the collar. And in order to consider the issue fully, I hope that you will extend the 2-minute attention span I am assured applies to all blog readers to about five or six minutes. 

 Let’s objectively consider some of the arguments used to defeat this proposal (a 2/3 majority was needed – 38 voted for uplisting, 42 against, and 48 abstained, including 26 EU member states as Denmark voted against – many of those who voted against used the argument that it would go against the cultural rights of the Inuits). A weak compromise proposal by the EU delegations was not accepted by the USA and the Russian Federation and was also defeated.

 The Inuit representatives at the CITES meeting lobbied that it was their cultural right to hunt polar bears as they had done so for centuries, and that the proceeds from such hunting was necessary to augment their meagre incomes associated with living in a part of the world where little alternative revenue is available. 

 

That argument needs to be looked at in some detail – actually it is two arguments. The first is that the Inuit have hunted polar bears for centuries and is part of their culture. That is true, and the polar bear plays an important part in an Inuit culture of hunting. However, such hunting used to come coupled with cultural ethics. For example, the Inuit believe that

“The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls. All the creatures that we have to kill and eat, all those that we have to strike down and destroy to make clothes for ourselves, have souls, like we have, souls that do not perish with the body, and which must therefore be propitiated lest they should avenge themselves on us for taking away their bodies.”

 Also,

“Because of these beliefs, the Inuit had a complicated set of hunting taboos that they needed to observe to be respectful of the animals that, by necessity, they needed to hunt … and to ensure that future hunting would be successful. Various gestures of respect and kindness to the souls of animals were considered to be encouragements to the animal to reincarnate into another body and, out of gratitude, allow itself to be killed again by the same hunter.”

Polar bears were special –

“The polar bear spirit was considered to be the most powerful, dangerous, and potentially revengeful … Bear hunts were usually accidental. If, while out seal hunting, fresh bear tracks are found, the hunter would set out with his dogs on the leash, armed only with his sealing harpoon. The chase was a strenuous one that could go on for days. When finally the hunter caught up with the bear, and the dogs had rounded it up, the fight was with the harpoon alone.”


Once the polar bear was killed, a number of rituals had to be observed –

“The Inuit believed that when a bear had been killed, its soul remained at the point of the harpoon head for four days if it was a male bear, and five days if it was a female bear. The soul of the bear was very dangerous during the days that it stayed in the weapon that killed it, and if it was offended, might become one of those evil spirits that persecutes people with illness or other distress. This time period was considered to be sufficient time for the bear’s soul to return to its family.

The hunter who has killed a bear and returns to his house must take off all of his outer clothing, including his outer mittens and kamiks, before entering the house. For a whole month, he must not eat of the meat or blubber of the bear. Since bears are always thirsty, it was thought to have a positive effect on their souls to give them drinking water once they have been brought into the house. (There is a prescribed way of doing this too.) 

Other death rituals (observed for four or five days, depending on the sex of the animal) surrounding the polar bear include taking the skin, with the skull intact, and hanging it, hair side out, by the nostrils in the snow hut. 

Inside, the skin, the bear’s bladder, spleen, tongue, and genitals are hung together with presents that are being made to the soul of the bear. For a male bear, various men’s implements such as knives, tools, harpoon heads, etc. must be hung up near the skin. If the bear was female, similar women’s implements (cooking utensils, an ulu, etc.) are hung up. The bear is given human tools because it was believed that bears could sometimes change themselves into humans. These gifts are similar to the possessions left with the dead because it was believed that like humans, male bears need their hunting weapons, and female bears need their domestic tools.

As long as the death taboo for the soul of the bear is being observed no man’s or woman’s work may be done, including gathering fuel or sewing new clothing (only the most necessary of repairs to clothing is allowed.) As soon as the taboo is over, children must throw the gifts to the bear’s soul on the floor and afterwards compete in picking them up again. The one who can collect the gifts most quickly will be a skilled bear hunter. 

It was thought that the spirits of humans and polar bears were interchangeable... possibly because bears have many “human” traits. They can stand up and walk on their hind legs. It walks on the soles of its feet the way humans do (unlike most other animals), and leaves full footprints when it walks. It can use its forepaws like hands to carry food to its mouth. It can sit and lean against something as if it is resting and thinking. 

The polar bear eats many of the same foods that humans do. The Inuit respect the bears’ hunting skills, and some stories state that their ancestors learned how to hunt seals by watching polar bears. They respect the bears’ strength, patience, inquisitiveness, speed, and the maternal devotion to their cubs. The Inuit also respect the intelligence of polar bears. Some Inuit believe that polar bears have an intelligence matching or exceeding that of humans.

The fact that may garner the most respect is that a skinned bear carcass has an eerie similarity to the human carcass. Many Inuit stories have polar bears that become humans by removing their fur coats, and then become bears again by putting their coats back on, or are human in their houses, but bears outside of them.”

 

I have quoted the above at length from an insightful article written here as I believe it is important to understand the actual role polar bears played in Inuit culture. All of that has pretty much gone out the window, and polar bears are now hunted as a commodity. So where stands the argument that polar bears should be commercially hunted as part of Inuit culture and therefore an “inalienable” right? It is in fact cultural anathema to hunt bears for skins and trophies.

 

This is what Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and present to lobby at the CITES convention had to say about polar bear hunting  :  

"It is very important, it is our livelihood. 

This is how we make our living; this is how we put food on the table. And for the rest of the world to suggest that how we manage the polar bear is not right is a slap in the face - but the decision that was made today shows we are doing the right thing.

What's traded is not in any way detrimental to the polar bear population. We harvest for subsistence, we are never driven by the market."

 

But is it really so important to local economies? Let’s look at three pertinent lines of evidence, a very detailed report written by George Wenzel, a survey done by the provincial government of Nunavut in Canada, and a comprehensive report written by the Humane Society International and the International Foundation for Animal Welfare. 

 

Before we go there, let’s be clear about something. If the CITES delegates had voted for an uplisting of polar bears to CITES Appendix I, this would in no way have interfered with ANY rights of indigenous people to maintain their “cultural” rights to hunt polar bears. CITES only controls (poorly) international trade in endangered species based the impact that such trade will have on conservation status. The USA and Russian Federation proposal to uplist the bears was only based on commercial trade, not cultural rights. 

 

So how did the commercial trade evolve among the Inuit? Trade involves polar bear pelts and hunting trophies. Commercial sport hunting of polar bears has an interesting history. According to George Wenzel, the first sport hunt occurred in 1969, when an Army officer decided to shoot a bear near to where he was stationed. During the ten years 1970-1979 sport hunting accounted for 0.8% of the quota of 440 bears assigned to Inuits by the Canadian government. By 1990-2000, this had risen to 14.7%. Why? In 1983, the international market for Canadian seal skins collapsed, in part due to an import ban imposed by the European Union. At about the same time, narwhal hunting was placed on a moratorium. To make recompense, the Northwest Territories provincial government, through their Department of Economic Development and Tourism decided to promote polar bear sport hunting. The Department provided not only start-up funding for sport hunt development but facilitated contacts with “big game” hunting wholesalers.  

 

The Canadian government had insisted, as part of their agreement in 1981 to join the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, that they had the right to assign part of the annual polar bear quota for-profit to sport hunters via the Inuit communities. Hunting by local people was allowed by using traditional methods. Are bears therefore hunted with harpoons and dog sleds by the Inuit? Not on your life – these days it is with high powered rifles and snowmobiles. Sport hunters in contrast are given a more “cultural” experience and often get dragged around on sleds. Not that it handicaps them – in four polar bear population areas the success rate was 94% as reported by George Wenzel. 

 

So how commercially important to the Inuit is polar bear hunting? Is it really, as claimed by Mr Audla, an important part of their livelihood? The HSI/IFAW report has this to say:

“The economic benefits of polar bear hunting were, even at their peak, far too limited and far too concentrated in far too few hands to amount to anything approximating a solution to the broader socio-economic troubles faced by the Inuit…”

IFAW and HSI also said that barely half of the proceeds from bear sport hunting end up with the Inuit communities. And that out of 28 Inuit communities surveyed, polar bear sport hunting amounted to an average of 0.8% of the annual income of those communities. IFAW and HSI concluded that instead of any economic difference to Inuit communities via sport hunting, only several dozen individuals at most profited from commercial utilization of the bears. Also, many Inuit communities themselves rejected commercial hunting of polar bears – the very issue presented to CITES.

 

It would seem that provincial government surveys among the Inuit agree. Among Inuit “harvesters”, 44% indicated that issues like housing, education and employment were most important to their future. Only 6% of those Inuit people with an arguably vested interest in continuing polar bear hunting put that activity at the top of their list of overall priorities. What this says to me is that the Canadian federal government has got their support for international trade in polar bears badly wrong and should instead build schools, houses and clinics. They should certainly not have invested money in promoting polar bear trophy hunting as a means of employment…   

 

So where did it all go wrong at CITES? Well, there are many scenarios, so I’ll just add mine. 

•I believe delegations were wrongly swayed into opposition to uplist polar bears by Greenpeace, WWF and the CITES Secretariat who all made their negative opinions well known before the vote. 

•I believe delegations bought into the cultural rights argument of the Inuits to hunt polar bears and did not comprehend that this was not threatened by a cessation of commercial utilization. 

•I believe CITES Parties’ arms were twisted by Canada to consider a negative vote in return for rights to Arctic mineral and oil resources. It is interesting that such resources have become increasingly more commercially exploitable by one of the same factors threatening polar bears – global warming that is causing significant reductions in Arctic ice cover.

•I believe that the issue of commercial utilization of the bears was completely misunderstood in terms of it making any contribution to the financial wellbeing of Inuit communities. 

 

In short, the decision not to give declining polar bear populations additional protection from a cessation of international trade in bear products was a typical CITES snafu. There is some optimism though; this report points out that support for the continued use of polar bears as trade commodities is losing support among former proponents. Let’s hope that the issue is treated with more rational thinking at the next CITES Conference of Parties?

 

 

Picture credit: http://nicoleandtim.blogspot.co.uk/2009_07_01_archive.html

 

 

  If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:10

Thumbing their noses at CITES - Zimbabwe's ivory trade

                                                     It has been going on for a while.....

 


Few people realize that it is perfectly legal to buy ivory carvings in a number of countries – like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, China, Thailand and Japan. The problem is, once you have bought it, you cannot export it. Well, except if you buy it in Zimbabwe or Namibia, where you can buy ivory carvings “for non-commercial purposes” (whatever that means, it probably makes sense to CITES?). Ivory carvings are also described as “worked ivory”, but there is no clear definition of what “worked” means – it could, for example, mean that it was “worked” into a chopstick, a simple bracelet, or even a bit of ivory with some “artistic” scratches on it.

 

After the Conference of Parties in Doha (2010) where such non-commercial trade in ivory carvings was authorised, CITES made a small change in the regulations. Before, Zimbabwe’s licenced domestic dealers were issuing “Short Export Permits” supplied as blank forms by the Zimbabwe CITES Management Authority, and only needed to be filled in and then endorsed by a Customs officer to permit the buyer to take ivory home. Acknowledging that that practice was a bit out of the ordinary, CITES decided to do away with permits issued by dealers and told customers to get a “real” export permit from one of the three Management Authority offices in Zimbabwe before being allowed to export their carvings. Not a big change really, and one probably ignored. In a corrupt country like Zimbabwe, CITES permits for practically anything can probably be bought with ease.

 

Zimbabwe is desperate to sell the ivory they have stockpiled. They were allowed to do so by CITES in 1999 when Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia were given permission to sell a total of 49 tons to Japan, and again in 2008 when Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa sold a total of 101 tons to China and Japan. However, the Zimbabwe National Parks & Wildlife Management Authority now seems to be $10 million in arrears and would like to sell the current stockpile for $8 million or so. Proceeds would go to antipoaching, enforcement, and Quelea control (Queleas are small seed-eating birds that join in huge flocks and can devastate crops). There was no proposal to CITES in 2013, but the Minister is eager to have one on the table in 2016.

 

Meanwhile, CITES trade records show that Zimbabwe has been doing quite well in ivory sales, thank you very much. CITES trade records only go up to 2011, and can only be considered partial for that year. Nevertheless, in 2010 and 2011 alone, Zimbabwe exported 101,651 grams of ivory carvings (83,256 grams to China and 12,670 grams to Slovakia as the major consumers); 3,141 kilos of ivory carvings (3,080 kilos to China); and 2,927 individual carvings (2,547 to China). That’s a lot of carvings in two years, all for non-commercial purposes of course, and doubtless all bought by hordes of Chinese tourists travelling to Zimbabwe.

 

Also, and this is where things get a bit shady as CITES only allows trade in “carvings”, Zimbabwe exported 1,207 kilos of ivory “pieces” to Japan in 2009; 10,910 kilos of tusks from 2009-2011 (2,798 kilos to China and surprisingly, 4,156 kilos to USA as major destinations; others include Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Poland, Russia and Slovakia); and 515 individual tusks from 2009-2011 (128 to South Africa and 75 to China as major destinations; others include Germany, Spain, Ireland and Romania). All duly issued with export permits by the Zimbabwe CITES Management Authority and all duly registered in the CITES trade database. But what about the legality of those sales? These are not hunting trophies but an entirely different category of exports.

 

These ivory exports seemed to raise no eyebrows at the CITES Secretariat.

 

The way CITES operates is that member states (the Parties) are “requested” to abide by the rules set by the Secretariat and the Conferences of Parties, and that no Party trades with another in wildlife products that are not approved. CITES permits are however issued locally, and can create a shambles for CITES rules and regulations until such “irregularities” are detected and the Secretariat issues a warning. Being a rather secretive organization (maintained with our taxes) we are not allowed to know what Parties have been issued warnings and whether these were heeded.

 

Meanwhile Zimbabwe continues to trade in tons of ivory, seemingly ignoring the fact they are not allowed to sell any under current rules. In 2008 CITES allowed Zimbabwe to sell 3,700 kg of ivory legally. Since then and up to 2011, Zimbabwe has exported on the order of 19,842 kilos of ivory that are not “carvings”. To me, at current minimal prices of about $500 per kilo, it seems that would supply lots of funds to battle those pesky Queleas?

 

Picture credit: US Library of Congress: cph.3c02973

 

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:20

Legalizing the trade in rhino horn  - ongoing moves

                                                          Keeping my eye on you Edna

 

During the past CITES meeting in Bangkok, South Africa kept pushing for the legalization of the rhino horn trade. Typical of strategies employed by other countries with vested interests in particular issues, South Africa sent a large delegation and high-ranking politicians in order to persuade other parties to side with them. Edna Molewa, the SA Environment Minister, was much in evidence in Bangkok, as was Pelham Jones, the Chairman of the South African Private Rhino Owners’ Association. Many “side events” on legalization of the trade were organized and SA delegates took full advantage of the furore in the media surrounding the rhino poaching crisis in their country to tout theories about legalizing the trade.

 

In 2010 333 rhinos were poached, 448 in 2011, 668 in 2012, and perhaps already 170 in 2013. Deviating from previous announcements concerning her determination to take strong measures to stop the poaching, Molewa now says “The reality is that we have done all in our power and doing the same thing every day is not working” according to the SA Mail and Guardian newspaper. One could question Molewa’s resolve to combat poaching in the past, but she now seems resigned that no matter what is being “done” by the police, customs, Army, rangers, security guards, fences, etc – it is a losing battle.

 

So now Molewa, doubtless guided by the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, decided to push for legalizing the trade. In a coordinated campaign, many in the SA delegation sought interviews and organized events to push the message “more of the same [i.e. more of the same complacency] will not work”.

Pelham Jones even mentioned that “Anti-trade organizations are aiding and abetting illegal trade without a better solution” with typically convoluted reasoning. No mention, of course, was made of the complete shambles SA has made of proper investigations of the trade, catching those involved, adequately prosecuting those caught, and handing out stern and deterrent sentences. And that SA is actually responsible for the wave of poaching by allowing “pseudo-hunting” by Vietnamese and their proxies that created a supply and stimulated more demand.

Remember that rhino poaching was virtually non-existent before 2008. Over the five years 2006-2010 SA exported 394 trophies and horns to Vietnam legally, but this was obviously not enough.

Edna Molewa went on to state “The model that we have is based on pure law of supply and demand. Economics 101”.

 

But is it really?

 The laws of supply and demand of rhino horn, I’m sorry to inform Molewa, are anything but Economics 101 or 201 or 301. The level of demand is not known, and the numbers of people who will be demanding rhino horn if it is legalized is not known. For example, the acting head of Vietnam’s wildlife trade authority said it was “bullshit” that Vietnam was even a consumer. It all goes to China he said, despite significant evidence to the contrary of Vietnam as a major consumer of illegal horn. China says exactly the opposite, mentioning that there is no trade in rhino horn in China as it was made illegal in 2004 – again despite all evidence to the contrary including the existence of several rhino farms engaged in manufacture of pharmaceutical rhino products.

 

In this environment of denial and counter denial that there is a market for rhino horn in Vietnam and China coupled with an intense demand for “pseudo-hunting”, live rhino trade, and illegal trade in rhino horns, how can any level of demand be established?

Will Vietnam and China, who deny any consumption of horns and in fact say it is illegal to trade in rhino products, now suddenly wish to participate in the legal horn market?

 

And realistically, given that both China and Vietnam are likely involved up to their necks in the illegal rhino horn trade, how much horn would they demand if it becomes legal? There is no ready answer to that, but one can make some educated guesses. Despite lax enforcement, it is still not really that easy to shoot a rhino and transport the horn to Vietnam. Yet in 2012, in the region of 700 rhinos were poached in Africa to supply the illegal market (from SA, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe etc). Demand is at present kept down because of the difficulty in obtaining the horn, and hence the price of rhino horn in Vietnam is currently estimated to be about $60-65,000/kg. Nevertheless, there is a thriving demand, and that demand will only grow if there is a legal supply. If the demand created by legalizing horn grows as expected in China and Vietnam, the supply from the 4,000 to 5,000 rhinos (of all ages) in SA private hands will not meet the demand, prices will go up, and poaching will climb again. 

 

Next, how will the market be regulated, and what will the sale price of legal horn be?

Certainly nowhere near the current black market price. However, if the legal price stays high it will not stop poaching as there is no incentive for poachers to halt their activities. After all, a poached rhino horn is priced in terms of the cost of obtaining it, which is minimal compared to the profit to be made selling it even if the legal price will be put at half or even 1/3 the current black market price. Elephants are being poached at a great rate even though the price per kilo of raw ivory is perhaps $4,000/kg. Poaching will continue as long as there is a profit to be made, and the legal price will have to remain high if the selling and buying governments can have any hope of limiting the demand. In other words, there is no way at all to undercut the illegal trade by placing legal rhino horn on the market.

 

I have mentioned elsewhere that the moves made to influence CITES delegates in Bangkok by SA delegates, the offered hosting of the next CITES convention in Cape Town, and the language emanating from SA politicians, highly placed officials and vested interest lobby groups all point to one thing. There will be tremendous lobbying and pressure applied to be able to sell rhino horns in the years to come.

 

Sadly, statements made by the Private Rhino Owners’ Association are clearly based on expected large profits rather than a well-thought out model to conserve remaining rhinos. What SA needs to do to limit poaching is to stop being complicit and complacent and take strong action. What China and Vietnam need to do is admit they are consuming illegal rhino horn and put real measures in place to stop trading in illegal wildlife products.

 

Some recent steps in the right direction to close loopholes in the “pseudo” trophy hunting trade were made at CITES. Initially, Ireland, on behalf of the EU and Croatia, supported by Kenya and Israel, proposed excluding all hunting trophies from exemptions for personal and household effects. This worried South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Namibia, Botswana and the Safari Club International. The proposal was watered down but still removes personal and household effects exemptions for rhino horn and elephant ivory and was accepted by the Conference. Since rhino trophy hunting permits are no longer extended by South Africa to citizens of Vietnam, this will also affect proxy hunters employed by Vietnamese in the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Thailand and the USA.

 

Before SA gets too far down the line with their fanciful proposals to satisfy the “demand” from China and Vietnam, all nations should ban the trade in rhino products. If that means a failed business model for the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, so be it.  Legalizing the horn trade will make financial profits for some, but will not profit the rhinos at all.

 

Picture credit: africajournalismtheworld.com

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:11

Hiding in plain sight

Sunday 10th March 2013

Hiding in plain sight

                                                                              Outfoxed?

The CITES conference has a few more days to go, and there will be much more to discuss. After failing polar bears, rhinos, and elephants and extending unexpected extra protection to West African manatees (the CITES Secretariat recommended rejection) and many turtles already on the brink of extinction, the next week will see sharks and a few other species on the menu.

 

In a terrifying show of resolve, CITES slapped trade sanctions on Guinea. Long criticized for not having teeth, CITES now bared them at a small western African country for allegedly ignoring many requests to halt illegal trade in wildlife products – in this case of Great Apes. Hmmm. How about trade sanctions against Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Thailand, Philippines, China among others for long being involved in the illegal ivory trade?

 

There will also be a number of “housekeeping” issues to attend to, like hopefully removing “personal and household” effects derogations for hunting trophies so they can rightfully be considered as trade. Another tricky issue will be consideration of a proposal by Denmark on behalf of the EU to insist that members of the Animals and Plants Committees declare any “conflicts of interest” before and subsequent to election.

 Interesting proposal that one – these Committees are quite powerful, and should not be populated by people with vested interests. But one glaring “housekeeping” issue is not on the agenda.

 

This is the dubiously legal trading that goes on in plain sight – something CITES would rather hide under the carpet as it reflects right back on the organization itself.

 

At the start of the conference Secretary General John Scanlon mentioned the following:


“…criminal activity can pose a serious threat… it also robs countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage, and it undermines good governance and the rule of law.
These criminals must be stopped and we need to better deploy the sorts of techniques used to combat illicit trade in narcotics to do so.”

Undermining good governance can be placed at the CITES door as well. John Sands, CITES Secretary General  in 1980 mentioned a process whereby fraudulent CITES permits were facilitating illegal trade. In 2003 the Earth Journal had this to say:

 

“Environmentalists have had a long-running battle with the CITES Secretariat over the administrative practices of the treaty organization. For 20 years, according to many critics, the CITES staff have favored commercial exploitation of wildlife over protection. Instead of objectively weighing science and assessing enforcement efforts, the 12-member Secretariat has repeatedly argued against the precautionary principle and ignored flagrant violations of Appendix I and Appendix II regulations.

During the '80s, the Secretariat vehemently opposed banning the ivory trade, despite a poaching crisis that left 100,000 carcasses strewn across the African landscape each year and the utter failure of a hopelessly weak CITES ivory monitoring system. At the 1989 CITES meeting in Switzerland, CITES Secretary-General Eugene Lapointe lobbied fiercely against the proposed Appendix I listing for the African elephant (Asian elephants were already totally protected). He even held press conferences during the meeting to subvert the proposal. Lapointe touched off outrage in leading conservation nations. An inquiry by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) led to Lapointe's removal on grounds of malfeasance.

Unfortunately, little changed at the Secretariat after Lapointe's firing. His replacement was a bumbling UNEP bureaucrat who allowed the CITES staff - all cronies of Lapointe - to continue their anti-protection ways.

A UNEP investigation in 1998 found significant malfeasance throughout the CITES staff, including the sale of export permits. Several top staffers were fired and the Secretary-General, a Bulgarian named Izgrev Topkov, was forced to retire. UNEP has withheld the damning report from the Standing Committee of CITES, which oversees the Secretariat, as well as the public.”

 


CITES permits are issued by “authorities” in individual nations, and as you will see below, strange practices remain evident.

 

For example, in a deposition to the EU Parliament workshop on wildlife crime we provided the following statistics:


1. From 2005-2008, Denmark imported an average of about 6 elephant trophies annually. But then in 2009 this rose to 118 and in 2010 88 were imported. Most came from Zimbabwe. We do not believe that a small country like Denmark would have such a tremendous surge in elephant trophy hunters, and propose that tusks were imported via dubious means with all correct CITES paperwork.


2. From 2005-2009 Qatar imported no elephant trophies. But then in 2010, 185 trophies were imported, virtually all from Zimbabwe. We again do not believe that Qatar could have had such a tremendous surge in  elephant hunters and propose that tusks were imported via dubious means with all correct CITES paperwork.


3. For many years, CITES authorities allowed the export of trophy rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam in large numbers, knowing full-well that this was a loophole. In 2012 CITES requested the Vietnamese authorities to check on the status of these trophy horns that are not allowed to be entered into commercial trade. Forty homes of trophy hunters were visited. Eleven hunters were not home. Twenty-two admitted they had lost the horns, cut them into pieces, given them to relatives. Only seven still had the horns intact. Despite 83% evidence that CITES regulations had been trounced, the CITES Secretariat praised Vietnam for their efforts and took no action.


4. South Africa has exported 187 live rhinos to China with CITES permits from 2006-2011. Sent to dubious destinations, CITES has not checked on the whereabouts or current existence of these rhinos.


5. CITES has allowed South Africa to send enormous quantities of lion bones, skeletons, bodies and “trophies” to Laos, knowing full well that these were to be used as substitutes for tiger bones in various Chinese Traditional Medicine products. We have said repeatedly that such supplies would stimulate demand and lion poaching. CITES sees no connections.


 We are preparing many more similar statistics on other species for presentation to the EU Parliament.

 

If CITES wants to start wielding a big stick and placing trade sanctions on Guinea, we would suggest they also look within to cease the issuance of false permits, a process ongoing since 1980 at least. Those false permits are no less of a crime than the illegal wildlife trade especially since they greatly undermine the transparency and trustworthiness of CITES itself.

 

Picture credit : http://bit.ly/YlEem7

 

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:25

CITES and the Red Queen

Sunday 10th March 2013

 CITES and the Red Queen

                                                                   Alice in CITESland

 

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” there is a famous encounter between Alice and the Red Queen in a running race. They have been running for some time, but have remained in the same place.


"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

 

It is an apt analogy when we look at the ongoing CITES Convention in Bangkok.

 

Look at a report entitled “Combating the trade in endangered species through CITES” written in 1980 by then Secretary General Peter Sand.

 

Some excerpts:


1. The illegal trade in furs, trophies and protected animals now has higher profit margins than the drug traffic.


2. The aim of the Convention is to establish world-wide controls over trade in endangered wildlife and wildlife products in recognition of the fact that unrestricted commercial exploitation is one of the major threats to the survival of many species.

3. The odds against success are enormous.

 
4. Significantly, recent Australian investigations into bird smuggling revealed connections with organized crime in the United States. When member governments began to exchange export and import documents and to compare their national trade statistics, they discovered curious discrepancies. These, in some cases, were traced back to forgeries and corruption.


5. The committee works in liaison with Interpol and the Brussels-based Customs Cooperation Council (CCC).


6. The Convention seeks to draw a clear line between illegal traffic and black markets on one side and legitimate trade in renewable natural resources on the other.

 
7. Not surprisingly, the decisions of the CITES Conference are taken under a considerable amount of pressure, both from private conservation groups and from economic lobby groups ranging from the luxury fur and leather industries to pet dealers, safari parks and biomedical research establishments.

 
8. Enforcement of the CITES Convention is improving in many countries, as can be seen by an impressive confiscation record. But a number of problems and "loopholes" remain. One of these is the level of sanctions and penalties for violation of the Convention.


9. Western Europe's official 1977 imports of raw ivory may be estimated to represent at least 10 000 dead elephants. Heavy poaching because of this good market is resulting in a rapid decline in large tusked elephants. Furthermore, this means that poachers will kill more elephants to achieve their ivory goal.


10. Contrary to industry claims, only a small fraction of crocodiles originate from "crocodile farms." Once again, Western Europe, together with Japan, is the principal market. Of the estimated two million crocodilian hides traded annually in international commerce, approximately 1.2 million (60 percent) are consumed by tanners in Western Europe: France 500 000, Italy 400 000 and the Federal Republic of Germany 250 000 (4). The European share is equally high as regards snake skins, marine turtles and other reptilian products.


11. Commercial dealers from CITES countries circumvent the Convention either by way of subsidiaries and affiliates in non-member countries or by "transit" operations through free-port areas outside the reach of national customs controls. Furthermore, under pressure from local luxury leather industries, four European countries - Federal Republic of Germany. France, Italy and Switzerland-jointly refused in 1979 to grant full CITES protection to the valuable saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), and, in the case of France and Italy, to other endangered crocodilians and marine turtles. Although the Convention's "opting-out" clause has previously been used by other member countries (e.g., for certain whale species), this was the first time global protection of a highly endangered species was virtually undermined by industrial lobbyists in importing countries.

 

Do you see the same problems almost a quarter century later? Do repeated terms like “the drug traffic”, “loopholes”, “circumvention”, “undermining by industrial lobbyists”, “crime cartels”, “lack of enforcement”, “working with Interpol” sound familiar?  Just substitute the names of a few countries above with China and Vietnam and you have exactly the same scenario. CITES might keep passing more and more resolutions, but lack of progress is palpable.

 

Through the looking glass of history, CITES remains in the same place despite much running in terms of money spent, conventions and meetings organized, motions passed and rejected. CITES could take advice from the Red Queen and maybe now run twice as fast to make a difference? 

 

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/YU94SN

 

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.
 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:32

CITES is keeping true to form

Wednesday 6th March 2013

CITES is keeping true to form


In their usual bid to avoid transparency, the CITES delegates voted to KEEP secret ballots in spite of much opposition from the conservation community. In fact, even the vote on the secret ballots was secret… CITES is a UN organization at the end of the day, funded with our taxes. Secret ballots are not part of the UN procedure, but CITES, in their arrogance, loves it. Why? Because your delegation, charged by you to perhaps vote in certain ways, can hide behind influence peddling and deals made in corridors. CITES is a trade organization after all, and one hand washes the other.

 

There also seems to be a huge furore developing over a rather straightforward proposal by the USA and the Russian Federation to uplist polar bears to CITES appendix I. No more international trade. Canada, the WWF, Denmark, Norway and even the CITES Secretariat oppose for a diversity of reasons.  They either say that polar bears are already accurately protected nationally (Norway, Denmark) or they say that the polar bear slaughter must continue (at least 600 “legal” bears per year in Canada and about 200 poached per year in Russia and then laundered through the Canadian system). Canada claims that the Inuit people (Eskimos) have a tradition of hunting polar bears and that these poor communities must not be deprived of their income and traditional practices. Nice that Canada is now paying attention to her indigenous people, long ignored and marginalized in terms of education, health care, integration into society, etc. Actually, what happens is that these Inuits are selling their polar bear quotas to trophy hunters from all over (China is now a big fan of polar bear trophies) and selling skins from bears harvested under “traditional practice” allowances. If the Inuit people want to harvest polar bears as a traditional right let them do so. But entering into international commerce should not be tolerated.

 

It seems the EU is now proposing a compromise instead of addressing the issue head-on. The EU swing vote defeated the polar bear uplisting at the last Conference of Parties in 2010.

 

The compromise proposed is this:

Instead of uplisting, let’s delay action until we can have proper polar bear population counts and an assessment of commercial offtake versus conservation needs. This is sounding very familiar. Kenya proposed uplisting the African lion to Appendix I in 2004. The proposal was watered down by CITES – instead, let’s have regional meetings and some sort of population assessment. Kenya agreed, the meetings took place, and nine years later we are still no further in terms of an organized lion conservation programme, but we have lost a lot more lions. It will be the same with polar bears.

 

How many meetings, conferences, discussions and diversions do we need to finally agree that polar bears are in sharp decline, will decline further due to climate change in the future? But meanwhile let’s hunt another 800 bears per year while CITES dithers? And let Canada fudge their CITES documents to include poached polar bears from Russia into the international trade?

 

It boggles the mind what is happening at the CITES meeting in Bangkok. It is all smoke and mirrors to be able to continue just as before. The big discussions on rhinos and elephants have yet to take place. But already they have said science is not important, transparency is not important, and every issue on the table can be delayed and obfuscated until the cows come home. And cows are exactly what we will have left in the future instead of our disappearing wildlife heritage.

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you

 

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:00

The EU and the illegal wildlife trade

Saturday 2nd March 2013

The EU and the illegal wildlife trade

                                                                   A messy scene

 

On the 27th February, LionAid was invited to present information at a briefing to the EU Parliament about the illegal wildlife trade. Also present were representatives from WWF, IFAW, WCS, the USA Mission to the EU, Interpol, etc. The meeting was organized by Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP (Netherlands) and Kriton Arsenis (Greece) who have taken the lead in establishing the EU scope and extent of illegal wildlife trade, how the EU can effectively prevent such trade, and what measures can be taken to bring better law enforcement to the arena.

 

The situation is grim, and as of now, the EU is woefully underprepared to effectively deal with illegal trafficking. With over 2,000 points of entry, it is relatively simple for traffickers to identify weak points – the EU is one of the largest and most diverse markets for wildlife products. Also, there is no uniform standard of enforcement within the 27 Member States, and many have weak penalties for those convicted of illegal trafficking. It is therefore somewhat easy to establish operations in countries where enforcement and penalties do not disincentivise the considerable profits that can be made. Remember that once an illegal product enters the EU, the absence of internal border controls means that it can then reach almost all 27 Member States. The illegal trade is a low priority for CITES, there is insufficient coordination and cooperation among EU Member States, there are limited resources for enforcement – all adding to an environment facilitating illegal trade.

 

In addition, our data show that EU Customs officials will accept “official” CITES documents from the exporting countries without in many cases establishing their authenticity and/or appropriateness under existing CITES and EU Wildlife Trade regulations:


• Significant numbers of elephant hunting trophies from South Africa have been allowed entry without establishing whether that country has sufficient “huntable” elephants. From 2006-2011 South Africa exported about 750 hunting trophies yet virtually all elephants are in nationally protected areas.


• From 2005-2008 Denmark imported about 6 elephant hunting trophies per year. But then in 2009 and 2010 Denmark suddenly imported a total of 206 elephant hunting trophies, mostly from Zimbabwe. Was that small country suddenly gripped by elephant hunting fever or were these tusks illegal ivory imports disguised as trophies?


• During 2009 and 2010, Portugal, Austria Denmark, Poland, Italy, France and Germany together imported close to one ton of tusks, mainly from Zimbabwe, and all with “permits”. These were not listed as hunting trophies but tusks by the kilo on the CITES database. Unless citizens from those EU countries all decided within two years to export one ton of heirloom tusks from Zimbabwe under derogations this constitutes illegal trade.


• Rhino horn “proxy hunters”, replacing the “pseudo hunters” from Vietnam, are increasingly importing trophies to Russia, Denmark, Poland, and Czech Republic. We would challenge the authorities in those countries to ascertain the presence of any rhino trophies still in the possession of the “hunters”. Most probably they are all in Vietnam by now, and perhaps the original owners lost them, misplaced them, gave them away, or declared them as “stolen”. 

 

There were a diversity of actions proposed at the meeting, including national action plans for enforcement; risk and intelligence assessments; training and awareness programs for prosecutors and the judiciary; liaising with authorities in source, transit and destination countries, CITES, Interpol and the World Customs Organization; building task forces, enhancing intelligence sharing and information management. In addition, the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations fall far short of the needed rigour in terms of being able to deal with the “grey” wildlife trade discussed above. So a very long list of items “to do”. This will take many years to implement let alone complete.

 

In contrast, the USA is already much better organized in terms of efficient interagency cooperation and existence of a number of highly applicable Acts like the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the illegal trade funded terrorism and militias and promised US support, a coordinated and efficient response could develop virtually overnight.

 

Meanwhile, the EU is badly prepared to handle both the illegal trade and the semi-legal “grey” trade in wildlife in the near future. Unless the EU Parliament and the Commission take a very active and indeed pro-active stance from now on, the EU will not effectively deal with the ever-more sophisticated and financially flush criminal networks that run circles around currently feeble contraventions. When a well-organized business is thrown against a slow and cumbersome bureaucracy there is no doubt of the victor. 

 

There are, however, things that can be done both immediately and in the short term. Almost immediately the EU WTR can suspend many legal loopholes. Among the most glaring is the Personal and Household Effects derogation for hunting trophies that currently allows for much fiddling as is seen in the case of both rhino horns and elephant tusks. Closing such legal loopholes will eliminate much of the currently flourishing “grey” trade.

 

In the short term, the EU can also place a total ban on any number of wildlife products, including ivory, lion skins, lion bones and trophies, polar bear products, snake skins etc. There is precedent for this – in 2009 the EU banned all Canadian Harp Seal products from being traded within the 27 Member States and this came into effect in 2010. Before the ban it was estimated that $5.5 million of products entered the EU from a population of almost 7 million Canadian fur seals. The trade value in elephant, lion and polar bear products is much smaller and comes from a comparatively much smaller source population. 

 

Once a ban on such products is in place, enforcement is much easier as there can be no further “grey” trade and any sale of such items. Given the current levels of concern among EU citizens about elephant and rhino poaching and the continuous steep decline in lion populations, this ban would have great popular support. MEPs at the wildlife crime meeting were indeed reminded by Catherine Bearder MEP (UK) that this concern could well play a part in the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections in June 2014. Cross-party MEP support for measures that put an end to EU trade in species vulnerable because of their high commercial value could pay re-election dividends.

 

Clearly, the EU needs to act fast and effectively. As the third-largest world market for wildlife products traded illegally this is both a duty and a responsibility. The EU and the Commission can do so within current trade legislation and without years of liaising, training, building, assessing, consulting, deliberating and enhancing. Those measures can come in parallel and will take precious time. But without dedicated action right now customs agents will be well trained in the future to recognize species that went extinct years ago.  

 
 
Picture credit: www.stargazerpuj.wordpress.com

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. -

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:17