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.

CITES Travesty Part 3: Polar Bears

Friday 22nd February 2013

CITES Travesty Part 3: Polar Bears

The USA together with the Russian Federation have put a proposal to the CITES Conference of Parties to uplist polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from Appendix II to Appendix I. The proposal considered that this higher level of protection was needed as polar bears, in addition to being threatened in the future by the increasing loss of ice in the Arctic (summer ice has decreased by 15-20% due to climate change) also are significantly affected by trade. Indeed, the USA proposal mentions that from 2001-2010 something like 6798 polar bear products were traded, including skins, skulls, trophies, “bodies” and live animals. 79% of the trade emanates from Canada.

Polar bears seem to be a forthcoming “hot issue” at the CITES Conference of Parties. 

Why is LionAid concerned with polar bears? We are following this proposal closely for several reasons.

First, with a remaining population of perhaps 20,000 animals it resembles the number of African lions remaining in the world.

 Second, the number of sport hunting polar bear trophies and skins exported are roughly similar to trade in similar products from lions, and the USA polar bear proposal could therefore be a test of whether such trade can be considered by CITES as having a negative effect on populations.

Third, polar bear and lion populations are only estimated rather than known, yet such estimates are considered sufficient information by CITES to allow a harvest of trophies and skins.

 Fourth, the polar bear uplisting proposal is based on a very important (but little used) concept that should guide many CITES decisions – the precautionary principle – that basically means that one should always err on the side of caution when allowing commercial offtake of any species where the long-term effects of such offtake are not adequately known.

 

So back to polar bear issues. Their arctic range has been divided into 19 recognized populations. Of those, one is deemed to be increasing in numbers, three are stable, eight are decreasing and seven are unknown/data deficient. For some populations, assessments are only made every 10-15 years. For one Russian population, several hundred bears are estimated to be poached per year for their skins.

 

Of the range states, Canada, Russia and USA allow “subsistence” hunting of polar bears by indigenous communities. Canada additionally allows sport hunting by non-natives and non-citizens by facilitating the indigenous communities to sell their quotas to hunters. The USA declared polar bears protected under their Endangered Species Act in 2008, meaning that no polar bear products can be commercially traded within the USA. Polar bear commercial hunting has been banned in Russia since 1956, and Greenland currently enforces a moratorium on polar bear offtake after a 2008 report indicating a detrimental effect on polar bear populations. Norway allows no offtake from her single population of polar bears in Svalbard.

 

Canada is thus the single nation among polar bear range states allowing international commercial offtake. Looking at the official CITES records of exports from Canada there are some interesting trends in the trade. For example, from 2006-2008 Japan imported 913 skins. From 2007-2011 China imported 420 skins. From 2009-2011 China imported 142 polar bear trophies from Canada. Norway, having banned any offtake from “their” polar bears, allowed imports of 349 skins from Canada 2001-2010. It is estimated that a polar bear skin these days sells between $4000 - $8000.

 

Polar bears came on the CITES uplisting agenda in 2010. It was then defeated, primarily due to European Union swing votes. The CITES Secretariat, perhaps exceeding their mandate, has now advised Parties to again vote against the uplisting at CoP16. We already know that votes against will come from Norway and Denmark (adequate protection measures already in place) and Canada (profitable trade for the local communities regardless of impact on polar bear conservation). Russia and the USA will vote for the uplisting and so will some EU nations. Others, like the UK, are sitting on the fence for no scientifically valid reason. Conservation organizations like the WWF have already come out against uplisting – while appealing for polar bear conservation donations.

 

On our part, we would encourage all CITES member states to vote positively to place polar bears on CITES Appendix I. And once the trade is stopped, to do a careful analysis of remaining polar bear populations given that their habitat is melting away as you read this message.  

 

Picture credit: www.pelauts.com

 

 

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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:19

Whatever happened to the Periodic Review of lions?

                   I DON’T LOOK LIKE AN ELEPHANT OR RHINO BUT I’M IMPORTANT TOO!

 

Back in 2004, Kenya suggested that African lions be placed on Appendix I of CITES . Kenya then was actively encouraged to withdraw that proposal at the CITES Conference of Parties 15,  and to instead accept that a number of meetings would later take place inviting lion range states to report their lion numbers and examine management practices for the species. So the application was withdrawn and such meetings were duly organized in 2005/2006. No substantive and effective action for lion conservation resulted  from those meetings.


Then, in July 2011, at the CITES Animals Committee meeting, Kenya and Namibia were appointed co-Chairs of a Periodic Review of lions.  The purpose of this Review which was recommended as “high priority” was to ask all lion range States to report on their remaining lion populations and report back BEFORE the 16th CITES Conference of Parties in March 2013.


Now, in late February 2013, it seems that this Review has NOT been completed as requested. It would appear that there has been a great reluctance on the part of the lion range States to participate in an accurate assessment of their remaining lion populations and the process has effectively stalled.


Make no mistake here, such a Review could well have resulted in a proposal to uplist the African lion to Appendix 1 at CoP16 if it was felt that remaining lion populations had declined to levels risking the sustainability of trade in the species.


As regular readers of our website will already know, we have already conducted our own review of lion populations and strongly believe that lion numbers have fallen to an all-time low of 15,244.


The reality is that of 49 continental African nations, lions are extinct in 25 (51%), virtually extinct in 10 (20%), and only have some possible future in 14 (28%). Only five populations number over 1,000 lions and these are located in Tanzania/Kenya (3), South Africa (1) and Botswana/Zimbabwe (1). Uniquely genetically distinct western and central African lions are virtually extinct.

 

We can only remain hopeful that Kenya and Namibia, despite any evidence of progress, will still produce a consensus document based on science on the current status of lion populations in Africa.


We realise that Kenya will be very occupied with elephant and rhino proposals at the conference but we would urge Kenya to also pay dedicated attention to other species requiring urgent conservation consideration.

 

Picture credit: Martin Fowkes

 

 

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 Chris Macsween at 19:19

CITES Travesty Part 2: The grey trade in ivory - how legal is it?

                                                              No Chinese involved?

 


In 1989 the trade in ivory became illegal, and a ban was imposed. No more trade, no more sales.

 

CITES decided to overturn that ivory ban by allowing two sales of stockpiled ivory. In 1999 (ten years after Kenya burned ivory stocks in a protest against sales of ivory decimating elephants) CITES allowed the first legal sale to Japan, and in 2008 allowed stockpiles from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to be sold to only two nations - Japan and China.

 

Those sales have been criticized as contributing to elephant poaching as there was now confusion as to whether ivory was legal or illegal. China still claims today that all in-country ivory sales from hundreds of ivory carving factories come from the 62 tons of “legal” ivory received in 2008. Others say that 90% of ivory sold in China comes from poaching.

 

Now comes another twist to this CITES story. After those two “one off” sales, CITES is still approving ivory to be exported to a number of countries. Trophy hunters successfully lobbied to have elephant trophies exempted as part of the CITES “personal and household effects” derogation, meaning that trophy hunted ivory had a special exemption from trade. Trophy hunters are not allowed to sell their tusks, but it is increasingly becoming apparent that this is exactly what is happening. After all, with a street value of $4,000/kg in China, who could resist making a quick profit?

 

Looking at the CITES trade database, it appears that in addition to such trophy hunted ivory, elephant tusks have been exported by the kilogram and individually – with no indication that such tusks fall under any exemptions.

 

For example, CITES numbers show the following:


1. Tanzania – 2005-2010 - 720 tusks exported (in addition to hunting trophies).


2. Namibia – 2005-2010- 437 tusks exported (in addition to hunting trophies).


3. South Africa – 2005-2010 – 90kg tusks to Portugal and 1100 tusks exported (in addition to hunting trophies).


4. Zimbabwe – 2005-2010 – 234 kg tusks to Austria, 17 kg tusks to Belgium, 90 kg tusks to Canada, 196 kg tusks to Germany, 2772 kg tusks to China, 51 kg tusks to Denmark, 22 kg tusks to Spain, 83 kg tusks to France, 33 kg tusks to UK, 32 kg tusks to Hong Kong, 150 kg tusks to Italy, 106 kg to Poland, 52 kg to New Zealand, 38 kg to Portugal, 124 kg to Qatar, 1834 kg to USA. Read those numbers carefully – those are all tusks sent by the kilo. In addition Zimbabwe exported 2446 tusks (in addition to hunting trophies).

 

So just those four countries have somehow managed to export 4704 tusks and at least 5924 kg of tusks in addition to their trophy hunting ivory exempted by the personal and household effects derogations?

 

Adding in the trophies, I would estimate that amounts to 6,800 elephants exported 2005-2010 from just four range states. You might say that’s not much compared to the 25,000 elephants poached in Tanzania over the past three years, but the difference is that these 6,800 elephants were all killed with some veneer of legality.

 

How is this allowed by CITES? Perhaps the recent and very controversial export of elephant calves to China by Zimbabwe can provide some indication. In that instance, Zimbabwe CITES authorities approved the export permits, approved the destination zoos, and stamped all necessary documents. The CITES Secretariat had nothing to say about the terms and conditions of this very dubious export and were in all likelihood not consulted. In other words, local CITES authorities are a power unto themselves and with their stamps can approve all manner of transactions that can at best be called very loose interpretations of CITES guidelines. Add some possible corruption to the mix and you end up with a poisonous recipe.

 

We perhaps see CITES as an organization setting rules so wildlife trade can be monitored and regulated. But the Achilles heel of this organization seems the local offices with their rubber stamps. As seen with the pseudo–hunting loophole provided by South Africa for rhinos and the subsequent stream of “legal” rhino horns to Vietnamese consumers, there is a lot wrong with this formula of devolved authority. 

 

We clearly identify poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking as crimes. Perhaps we should also be looking much closer at how the rubber stamps are abused. If CITES cannot control their own local authorities, how can they be expected to have any measure of success in preventing international trade abuse? 


 
Picture credit – Wikimedia Commons

 

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 12:04

CITES Travesty - Part 1: Rhino horn trade

Sunday 10th February 2013

CITES Travesty - Part 1: Rhino horn trade

In preparation for the upcoming CITES Conference of Parties, much activity has already taken part behind the scenes. I will report here some activity on the part of CITES that will form three separate articles – one on rhino horn, one on elephant ivory, and one on polar bears.

 

Let’s begin with the rhino horn trade. TRAFFIC estimates that 4063 rhino horns were illegally exported from Africa 2009- September 2012. Only 2.3% of those horns were intercepted and seized.

 

South Africa allows rhino trophy hunting of animals owned by private individuals. We have all been aware of the extravagances allowed by CITES via this loophole. TRAFFIC estimates that between 2006 and 2010 a total of 607 rhino hunting trophies went to Vietnam, and that the South African authorities even approved hunts by Thai sex workers who had never shot a gun before. Massive fraud in terms of the legal trade in other words.

 

Further massive fraud indicates that CITES only recorded 154 trophies as imported to Vietnam versus 607 that left South Africa for that country, and that the Vietnamese authorities recorded a further lesser figure of about 104 imports. So only 17% of 607 CITES trophies emanating from South Africa were recorded as legally imported to Vietnam.

 

CITES, faced with these alarming statistics, decided to demand a report from Vietnam as to where all these imported trophies were now. After all, a trophy imported with a legal CITES permit is prohibited by CITES to be then used for commercial purposes. Vietnam delivered their report in September 2012, and the CITES Secretariat actually thanked Vietnam for their “comprehensive” report.

 

What the report said was that “authorities” had visited 40 “hunter-importers” in a stellar effort to determine what had happened to their rhino trophies. Eleven were not at home and were not then interviewed on a second occasion. Seven had the trophies available to be inspected. 22 said the horns had been cut up either to give bits to friends and relatives; or made into products like cups; or said they had lost their horn; or said they had been stolen. Meaning that 82.5% were suspect in having traded rhino horn products illegally after having received them by CITES dispensations.

 

In addition to having provided the CITES authorities with this “comprehensive” trade report, Vietnam said they had absolutely no evidence that rhino horn products were being sold within their country. This is contrary to all independent investigations that show rhino horn is freely available and in great demand on street and private markets. This is like Los Angeles authorities saying they have no evidence of any illegal drug trade in their city?

 

So 83% of South African rhino horn legal exports to Vietnam go missing to begin with, and then the remaining 82.5% of those who received legal rhino horns in Vietnam cannot say those horns have not been entered into illegal trade.

 

CITES did not question South Africa about the reason why their authorities were so lax in enforcing laws about legal rhino trophy hunting. Instead, CITES also commended South Africa for taking measures five years too late to attempt to close the loopholes. 

 

Also, CITES would deny that by offering a legal loophole to the demand of rhino horn that this would in any way have repercussions on the incredible increase in poaching of rhinos over the past five years. CITES is well versed in these kinds of denials as they still cannot see a parallel between the CITES approved legal sale of ivory in 2008 and the huge wave of elephant poaching that resulted. CITES is apparently not capable of monitoring the volume of “legal” trade in ivory in China versus the weight of ivory legally sold in 2008. CITES has also not asked China to account for illegal sales while all evidence is that intercepted ivory is largely bound for China. 

 

Despite this lack of due diligence, the CITES Secretariat has now decided to recommend a negative vote to the Kenya proposal to place a moratorium on rhino trophy hunting exports from South Africa. They say this is because it would impose great financial hardship on the private rhino breeders, supposedly greatly involved in rhino conservation while only meanwhile breeding rhinos for commercial gain by shooting them as trophies largely in the past for the Vietnamese market.

 

We have concerns about this. The CITES Secretariat is supposed to be a neutral entity, and thereby not really entitled to voice opinion about Member State proposals to the Conference of Parties. CITES is in our view now exercising undue influence, lack of diligence, and strangely divergent actions contrary to their policy to ensure that trade in wildlife will not negatively affect conservation. 

 

CITES needs to decide whether they are going to continue to be part of the problem or part of the solution. It seems they continue to be the former. CITES also needs to decide, at a very basic level, why they should promote any trade in wildlife products. At the end of the day, the world community really does not need ivory, rhino horns, lion bones, python skins, dried seahorses, deep sea corals, animal hunting trophies and shark fins? This is all indulgence, luxury, excess and extravagance contrary to conservation policies.

 

CITES is supported by taxpayers – you and me. Perhaps we should ask CITES perform better or otherwise be sure to turn out the lights when they vacate their offices.

 

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/14LVdng

 

 

 

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.

1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:03

Sad for Simba?

Tuesday 29th January 2013

Sad for Simba?

                                                          Where have all the pridelands gone?


In a recent article in The Economist, a reporter mentioned that “whereas elephant and rhino poachers often end up dead or in jail, no lion killer in Kenya has ever ended up behind bars”. The article mentions that Kenya is losing about 100 lions per year (a number that has been bandied about but never substantiated) mainly as a result of human-lion conflict and perhaps ritual killings by Maasai warrior-inductees. Poisonous pesticides like Carbofuran (banned but still widely available) are used widely to destroy lions and other predators.

 

There are some problems with the article, not least that the author does not distinguish between commercial poachers after rhino horn and elephant ivory and those people out for retaliation following loss of livestock to dangerous predators. What is true is that in terms of wildlife both activities achieve the same net result – an ever-increasing cycle of destruction.

 

It is said that in Kenya about 70% of wildlife occurs outside strictly protected areas like national parks and reserves. This is largely because the gazetted protected areas are too small to form viable ecological units that can contain wildlife year-round during wet and dry seasons. In addition, some wildlife species, mainly the ones without teeth and claws, have been historically well tolerated on extensive Maasai grazing lands. Nevertheless, and after many years, the real question has not been satisfactorily answered in Kenya – “can dangerous predators like lions live with humans and their livestock?”

 

This lack of an answer has not resulted from a lack of ideas attempting to make living with predators less onerous for the rural people expected to do so. These include:


• Compensate people for their losses, either as a national or a privately funded initiative. There are three problems with this approach – farmers will cheat to get compensation; compensation is often slow; and private schemes are generally not durable. In addition, national schemes like those in Botswana have not worked well as despite a compensation scheme lions are still killed. In addition, compensation schemes do not pay for the full value of a lost animal as that would discourage better herding practices.


• Introduce an insurance scheme where people pay in to get paid out. Again, this is open to abuse through fraudulent claims, is not a concept that makes sense to rural communities who perhaps do not want to live with lions in the first place, and needs more careful administration than insurance providers seem to have been capable of in the past. In essence, if a claim is turned down, the claimant will be tempted to kill the lions anyway.


• Incentivise rural populations to live with wildlife through various benefit schemes. In Nepal, for example, communities are paid a bonus each year if they forego killing snow leopards and in India people are given grazing rights in national forests (and compensation) the sum total benefit of which exceeds the economic loss of cattle killed by Gir Forest lions. In Kenya, cattle regularly invade protected areas (the Kenya Wildlife Service estimates hundreds of thousands per year) and are not effectively dealt with – in other words the communities are utilizing national resources illegally without penalty and therefore do not value the resources as an offset against costs of living with wildlife.


• Involve rural communities to share in the financial benefits derived from wildlife. This was meant to be a wonderful way of changing hearts and minds – if wildlife pays for itself it will be seen as an asset worth conserving rather than a nuisance worth nothing. Two approaches have been tried in the past – consumptive utilization mainly through trophy hunting and non-consumptive use through photographic tourism. Both have failed in most instances as the rural communities do not truly share in profits that instead all accumulate to operators and governments. Despite many publications pointing out shortcomings, little has changed over very many years. However, in cases where community conservancies have been established, financial benefits flow more directly to the communities and conservation of directly valuable wildlife seems to have a better chance.


• Protect livestock better in areas where dangerous predators occur. This would involve better herding practices and construction of stronger enclosures (with or without flashing lights)  where domestic animals can be protected at night when predators are most active. This assumes there is plenty of alternative prey available for predators (not always the case) and that livestock can be grazed within a fixed distance from their enclosures (also not always the case especially in drier areas and/or during dry seasons). Also, it assumes that rural communities will accept that they must do more and pay more to protect their livestock because of the presence of dangerous carnivores they might not want to tolerate in the first place.

 

Conservation of large predators which impact on human populations by preying on livestock and indeed cause loss of human life is one of the most difficult challenges we face. We have not done well in the past as evidenced by the great decline in all large predator populations all over the world. Past formulas for conservation have not worked well, or at all, not because the ideas were wrong but in many instances because the application of the formulas did not sufficiently benefit the people expected to live with wildlife. This is true both for consumptive and non-consumptive users. Also, as fellow carnivores, humans are often in direct competition for wildlife prey (largely through poaching) with lions leading to a diminution of natural prey bases and an unsurprising turn towards domestic stock by predators. This engenders an ever-increasing cycle of human-predator conflict. In addition, direct poaching of predators like lions seems to be a growth industry to satisfy both the Traditional Chinese Medicine market now deprived of tiger products and the demand for teeth, claws, skins and skulls to supply the tourism industry in many lion range states. Not only that but lion products like fat are used in Nigeria to treat a variety of ills, lion skins have ceremonial value in many African countries (as do leopard skins), and lion cubs are taken to supplement the lion breeding industry (for trophy hunting) in South Africa and to supply the exotic animal trade in places like the United Arab Emirates.

 

Essentially, the decline in lions across Africa has not unsurprisingly resulted from an overwhelmingly negative perception of these dangerous animals by an ever-growing human population. In addition, lions are susceptible to a variety of introduced diseases like canine distemper and bovine tuberculosis, the more so because lions are naturally infected at very high levels by feline immunodeficiency virus, a disease that reduces immune competence and cub survival. Also, organizations like CITES supposedly regulating the international trade in animal and plant products to ensure such commerce does not negatively impact on conservation status stubbornly insist that trophy hunting offtake (accounting for 70-80% of all trade in lion products) is not trade – a lion trophy is merely a “household and personal effect”. Finally, conservation organizations like WWF and the Panthera Foundation confuse clarity as they continue to see commercial offtake of lions as a positive conservation benefit.

 

So what way forward for lions? There are positive developments. Botswana banned trophy hunting of the species in 2008 and a few weeks ago Zambia also announced an indefinite moratorium. More nations will doubtless follow suit and we are applying pressure where appropriate. To prevent further declines, we have accepted a fall-back position to ensure at least survival of lions in nationally protected areas that have a long-term probability for survival of viable populations. The viability of those areas will of course depend on their overall income from non-consumptive tourism, and many African nations have not yet developed the infrastructure to facilitate access to some of the most beautiful areas in the world. More international funding should be made available to intelligently conserve lions – after all something like $100 million was pledged to conserve tigers. Lions are an iconic species all over the world, and ensuring their survival as a world heritage is incumbent on all of us, not just the lion range states often struggling to make ends meet.

 

And finally, can people be expected to live with lions? That remains the biggest unanswered question that many seek to sweep under the carpet of conservation convenience. If 100 lions are killed per year in Kenya (out of a current lion population we estimate at 1,200-1,400 in a nation with a wildlife tourism income estimated at $500 million per year), then there continues to be a major disconnect between theoretical and realistic conservation. Conflict mitigation must be better addressed by Kenya as it is one of Africa’s countries most lauded for setting conservation examples. Good conservation starts at home, and so far it seems that Kenya is failing her lions, one of the biggest money spinners of international tourism and highly important to Kenya’s national heritage and culture.

 

Picture credit: Disney Corporation

 

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 19:14

Flawed economic models will not conserve elephants

                                                               Treat them like cattle

 

In a recent article in Forbes Magazine ,  contributor Doug Bandow sought to apply economic theories to the current elephant poaching crisis. Allow legal sales of ivory Mr Bandow claimed, and the poaching will disappear. I have problems with this concept (previously stated many times) and here will show you why economic models cannot be applied to the ivory trade, legal or illegal.

 

Mr Bandow makes the following points:


• The ivory prohibition has failed, and it is about as easy to stop elephant poaching as to stop drug use;
• Legalizing the trade in ivory would provide resources to governments, communities, conservationists, wildlife departments etc to improve protection;
• Legal sales would lower ivory prices, disincentivising poachers. CITES estimated that a population of about 500,000 elephants could naturally generate $6.7 billion worth of ivory annually;
• It is up to CITES to decide whether elephants must remain sacred and dead or commercial and alive.

 


The problem is much more complex than Mr Bandow realizes, and his Forbes Magazine contribution is not helped by his selective use of statements (even Richard Leakey, a primary opponent to any sale of ivory, is quoted out of context to benefit Mr Bandow’s case). Mr Bandow relies on his economist friends to score points, but does not include a single opposing statement by others well versed in the complexities of the ivory trade.

 

Mr Bandow also makes several economic mistakes.

 First, he assumes that the level of demand for ivory is known. This is a big error, as many have stated that China can this minute absorb all the ivory from every living elephant and more. And China is not the only Asian country interested in ivory – it is joined by Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea to name but a few. And there is a great interest in ivory from Europe, Russia and the USA. If the level of demand is not known, how can Mr Bandow assume that any level of supply can satisfy that demand?

 

Second, Mr Bandow assumes to know something about elephants. This is a long-lived species with high intelligence and close family bonds. It is therefore difficult to “harvest” without unforeseen consequences to herd structure and future reproduction. Mr Bandow says that elephants need to be “treated like cattle”, and thereby exposes his complete ignorance. Harvesting a few elephants here and there to provide the demand for ivory is not at all like harvesting a few cows from a farmer’s herd.

 

Third, Mr Bandow does not understand the complexities of the ivory trade. He could have consulted the good article in the National Geographic Magazine written by Bryan Christy that clearly stated how the 2008 CITES approved ivory sale was manipulated by China – instead of lowering the price of ivory due to the windfall, the Chinese authorities both raised the price of ivory and limited sales to the Chinese buyers. This flies in the face of economic predictions – the Chinese demand a lot of ivory but will not lower the price once it is available. Therefore, illegal ivory is much cheaper, and the release of legal ivory into the Chinese market can be used forever to justify ivory sales as nobody is actually monitoring the volume of legal ivory sold in China (and elsewhere) versus the volume (legal and illegal) received.

 

Fourth, Mr Bandow quotes some completely irrelevant examples to support his thesis that “markets have been the key to conservation”. For example, he mentions that vicunas (a South American relative of the llama coveted for their fine wool) have recovered from near extinction due to captive breeding and non-lethal harvests from wild populations. And that crocodile numbers have recovered as well due to captive breeding – and then he goes onto very thin ice by mentioning that China is now “farming” tigers to supply body parts. Mr Bandow is now clearly showing both his economic and biological ignorance. The captive breeding of tigers to supply a market has not satisfied the demand by any means – wild tigers are still being poached, and now lion parts are being substituted to make up the tiger shortfall. Farming crocodiles and snakes for their skins (handbags, shoes, wallets) has not decreased poaching at all – it is much easier to kill a species in the wild than spend the many years waiting for it to grow up on a “farm”. I hate to be the one to break this to Mr Bandow, but one cannot farm elephants.

 

Fifth, Mr Bandow fails completely to factor into his economic equation the value of a live elephant versus a dead one. The latter is easy – you take the weight of the tusks, the meat value, and if you have a proper abattoir like the ones that used to exist in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, you can include the value of bone meal and canned meat. But what is the value of a live elephant? I’m not an economist (thanks be) but I can perfectly well make an estimate – after all, economics is not a precise science as small clues like the collapse of the world economy indicate. So let me do this simple evaluation. Kenya earns, conservatively, $500 million per year from overseas visitors who come to view wildlife. These people like to see elephants. Kenya has about 25,000 elephants, so each elephant is worth about $20,000 per year to Kenya. Elephants conservatively live about 40 years. So one elephant is worth about $800,000 during its lifetime to tourism in Kenya. A dead elephant is only valued in Kenya for the ivory – the carcass is left in the bush to rot away. Let’s say the dead elephant carried a generous 20 kg of ivory and ignore the fact that very small elephants are also killed by poachers. It appears that ivory on the street in China now has a value of $2200/kg. So a dead elephant is worth $44,000 in terms of ivory delivered to China and perhaps $100 to the poacher in Kenya. Do you see the difference Mr Bandow?

 

Sixth, Mr Bandow is completely accurate when he says three things:


• Realistically, there is no hope to convince Asian consumers to stop buying ivory;
• Virtually all large scale illegal ivory seizures do not result in any successful prosecutions;
• Countries with impoverished populations, incapable governments, corrupt officials, political instability, armed conflict, etc are powerless against any poaching threat.


Here is where all of us need to concentrate our efforts. Let’s just accept there is no satisfying the international ivory market with current stockpiles and future elephant culling/harvesting/gathering of tusks from elephants naturally dead. Let’s just accept that economic models of the ivory trade will be significantly wrong as they do not consider an appropriate number of variables. Let’s accept that even with a legalized trade, it will always be cheaper to poach an elephant than legally buy a tusk. Let’s accept that CITES (and the WWF who supported the CITES sale of ivory in 2008) cannot make a difference in the survival of elephants with their current flawed models. Let’s accept that some elephant range states are incapable of protecting their elephants. Let’s accept that the entire capability scenario of poachers has changed from a few people with guns to highly organized forces with considerable weaponry and logistics. Let’s request much better of people like Mr Bandow to write carefully considered articles rather than superficial and perhaps vested interest reports. Let’s call upon the editors of influential publications like Forbes Magazine to be a bit more demanding of the quality of publications.

 

And let’s ensure that commerce never dictates the value of an elephant.

 

Picture credit: Addoselfcatering.co.za

 

 

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.

 

1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:43

Whither CITES?

Monday 14th January 2013

Whither CITES?


In March this year CITES delegates and member NGOs will gather in Bangkok for their triennial meeting. As we know, CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. What we might not know is that CITES depends on our taxes for survival. What we might also not know is while CITES is given considerable credence (perhaps by their own PR department) in terms of conservation, their real effectiveness has been minimal. After all, the CITES mandate is to ensure that legal international trade in animals and plants (valued at hundreds of billions of dollars) does not endanger the conservation status of the species involved. CITES also seeks to curb the illegal trade, likewise worth billions of dollars. 

 

As with other International Conventions like those on climate change and biodiversity, CITES has become increasingly bureaucratic. There are commissions, working groups, advisory groups and lots of discussion. As an example, a Periodic Review of the status of lion populations in Africa called for in July 2011 by the CITES Animals Committee has still not been completed, despite the relatively simple task assigned. LionAid knows that over 75% of trade in lion products (hunting trophies) is excluded via the loophole of “personal and household effects” given to hunters – in other words, these are not considered as “international trade” by CITES and are not allowed to be considered as an impact of trade on the species. The mind boggles.

 

CITES has not been effective in stemming the illegal trade in rhino horns (and indeed allowed a legal loophole for trade with the “pseudo-hunting” of rhinos in South Africa); has not been effective in preventing the illegal trade in ivory (and allowed past sales since the accepted international ivory ban); has failed to affect the illegal trade in tiger and lion products; has botched in making any change in the illegal trade in pangolins, seahorses, snake skins, deep sea corals, tunas, dolphins, rare birds and plants… the list is endless.

 

CITES conventions have become increasingly expensive talk shops. NGOs seek donor credibility and funding by attending, but after very many years (CITES was formed in 1975) we must now look very carefully at achievements. We are now seeing conservation NGOs like WWF opposing good proposals to CITES by the USA to end polar bear trophy hunting for example. Japan blocks all efforts to end trade in endangered tunas. Norway, Iceland and Japan oppose any efforts to control whale consumption. China opposes much of everything including the trade in shark fins.

 

We are living in years of austerity and accountability. So why is so much money spent by us on a Convention that should perhaps be scrapped? Also, CITES has no teeth – member nations can oppose decisions and continue trading as before, and always use political pressure to achieve vested interests often contrary to scientifically guided conservation proposals.

 

Let’s propose an alternative. Sovereign nations are free to set their own conservation rules. Recently, Zambia announced a moratorium on all trophy hunting of large cats. The USA does not allow imports of cheetah hunting trophies from Africa. Europe and the USA allow no trading of ivory. Botswana will ban trophy hunting in 2014. Conservation starts at home and national decisions are both more binding and effective than trifling CITES edicts. It is after all national resources that form the basis of international trade?

 

Picture credit:  http://www.africanskyhunting.co.za/trophies/lion-hunting.html

 

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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:30

Conservation organizations fail conservation?

Wednesday 5th December 2012

Conservation organizations fail conservation?

Let’s look back over the past twenty years and celebrate the major successes that have made a real difference to the survival of species and world ecosystems. Like you I’m struggling here so let me backtrack while I think on this.

 

One of my favourite authors, V.S. Naipaul (above) hailing from Trinidad, was for a time a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. Famously, according to Paul Theroux, another favourite author, Naipaul was given the responsibility of assessing winners for the Creative Writing prize among his students. Naipaul declined to grant a First or Second prize, and only awarded a Third prize to the contestants. He said nobody was good enough to earn higher prizes.

 

Mr Naipaul was known as a perfectionist and a tough judge. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, and perhaps we can apply the Naipaul Principle to conservation. Sure, there are many individuals who win conservation prizes for their dedicated efforts. You might know their names and they are good people working tirelessly to ensure the species they are concerned with might have a future. In terms of real effectiveness Mr Naipaul would still perhaps give them his Third Prize in terms of overall efficacy.

 

Now let’s consider the NGOs that claim to have made a major contribution to wildlife conservation. There are big ones and small ones, and some are making a difference. But funding, according to the Naipaul Principle, is largely misspent. Leave alone the various president, vice president, assistant president, species presidents, financial officers, lawyers, public relation companies, office rents, meals, travel and sundry expenses, the amount spent on corporate maintenance versus species conservation beggars belief. One major NGO spent $50 million on “conservation grants” according to 2008 tax records, but an analysis indicates that $35 million of that amount was spent on maintaining international offices. Meanwhile they also spent $116 million on their own office and “functional” expenses. In total that organization spent 90% of received funds on their own operations versus conservation programmes.  Conservation has become business, and Mr Naipaul would give no prizes to such well established NGOs.

 

Turning to the international organizations, few have performed well. CITES has not maintained their promise to support the ban on international ivory trade, and that had led to the killing of 25,000 elephants over the past three years in Tanzania alone. CITES allowed South Africa to conduct rhino trophy hunting and the horns disappeared immediately into the illegal trade in Vietnam, home of “pseudo trophy hunters”. CITES allowed trade of hundreds of live rhinos from South Africa to very dubious destinations in Asia. CITES allows captive bred tigers in South Africa to be trophy hunted and live tigers to be exported to China where they are destined for the medicine pots. CITES allows a “personal and household effects” derogation to exempt lion trophies that constitute about 70% of lion offtake from any consideration of trade, meaning that CITES abrogates responsibility. Mr Naipaul will not be handing any prizes to CITES especially given the tragicomic charade at the last Conference of Parties (2010) in Doha and a likely repeat next year in Bangkok.

 

The IUCN does not see fit to consider genetic information to declare African forest elephants critically endangered. Nor do they consider western and central African lions similarly endangered  on the basis of their unique genetics. If the IUCN could be so motivated, they would make a big difference in funding priorities. The IUCN and another major NGO are opposed to the good Kenya initiative to place a moratorium on South African rhino trophy hunting (a major conduit into the illegal trade), mentioning that it will negatively affect income of private rhino owners. A strange decision given conservation and poaching concerns in other African countries – Kenya lost five rhinos poached just over the past weekend. Mr Naipaul would not be impressed with such apparent vested interest influence within organizations entrusted to keep a keen eye on species’ survival.

 

The International Whaling Commission has been somewhat effective in conserving whales. Despite all negative information concerning the impact of whale harvests, the IWC still allows offtake by Japan, Iceland and Norway for “scientific reasons”. But overall, the IWC gets a Naipaul Third Prize for trying hard and recently insisting that all decisions will be based on scientific information transparently made available to the public. 

 

So, who gets a First or Second Prize? Nobody. The failure of all organizations to make a tangible conservation difference over the past 20 years is sadly evident despite many hundreds of millions earned from donors. What is needed is a new formula; much better attention to scientific information, combating illegal offtake and a much better evaluation by the donating public as to the effectiveness of the organizations receiving their money. Mr Naipaul would say that heads need to roll in many organizations based on non-performance and betraying a public trust. But conservation organizations are not (yet) evaluated according to Mr Naipaul’s rules.

 

It is true that conservation of species and ecosystems is being presented with an ever-changing playing field – just look at the impact of commercial poaching on rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and sea horses, for example, to supply a seemingly insatiable demand for ivory and Traditional Medicine products in Asia. But the writing was on the wall for a long time. You can’t shape the future of conservation by relying on past formulas while poachers are using night-vision goggles and helicopters and big bribes for officials. Conservation efforts are due for a sea change if wildlife is to survive, and the Naipaul standard of performance must be applied.

 


Picture credit: thestockholmshelf.com

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:50

Rhino horn trafficking, Vietnam, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Poland - widespread connections?

Kenya recently proposed to CITES to have a trophy hunting moratorium placed on South African white rhinos. The proposal will be considered at the upcoming CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok in March 2013 and if approved, the moratorium will be instituted until 2019.

In the proposal  Kenya mentions that despite some progress made by South Africa in instituting more demanding control measures including development of an electronic database for licence applications, mandatory registration of existing rhino horn stockpiles, developing bilateral treaties to improve law enforcement, increasing penalties for those caught, improving intelligence gathering and sharing, better customs control, etc, etc – the rate of rhino poaching continues to increase. In 2010, 333 rhinos were poached, in 2011, 448, and there are predictions that 2012 could end with perhaps 590 rhinos killed. Kenya is of the opinion that such poaching has resonated across borders and that the recent upsurge in rhinos poached in Kenya is directly linked to a problem made in South Africa.

 

Kenya acknowledges that rhino poaching should jointly be addressed by the implicated consumer states – China and mainly Vietnam – including measures to much more rigorously curtail the activities of criminals involved in the illegal trade. Various reports coming from independent investigators have shown that rhino horn products and horns themselves are widely available and traded in Vietnam. A joint solution seems well over the horizon, hence Kenya’s proposed moratorium.

 

Kenya has expressed great concern about the very strong possibility that South African hunting trophies offer a legal pathway for criminal networks to obtain rhino horn, to launder illegal rhino horn, and that the trophy hunting loophole stimulates overall demand for a product that should not be involved in any trade in the first place.

 

It is clear that rhino trophy hunting has been greatly abused, and in many cases falls into the category of “pseudo hunting”.  Such hunting only is available for the 25% of white rhinos in South Africa that are in private hands, but has shown a great surge in “popularity” in recent years among Vietnamese “hunters”. Permits are issued by the provincial authorities and many cases have been recorded where “hunters” arrived who did not own guns, had not shot a gun before, and in one famous case were recruited from the ranks of Thai prostitutes working in South Africa.

 

In addition, while CITES prohibits any commercial use of trophies, this is clearly ignored in Vietnam where the purpose of the hunt is not the trophy but the products that can be derived from the horn. CITES recently asked Vietnam to account for the trophies imported – rather like asking someone to account for their imported caviar long since consumed. Already there seem to be glaring discrepancies – TRAFFIC reports state that 657 horns were exported from South Africa while Vietnamese import numbers only record 170. Also, Vietnamese “hunters” spent an estimated $22 million on rhino hunting permits between 2003 and April this year when South Africa decided not to issue further permits to Vietnamese nationals. Between July 2009 and April 2012 185 Vietnamese came to South Africa to shoot rhinos (and not a single other species), comprising 48% of the total number of rhino hunters from the rest of the world.

 

It seems impossible for South Africa not to notice this trend and put two and two together – flocks of “hunters” descending from a country known to be predominantly involved in the illegal trade of rhino horn suddenly gaining a great interest in trophy hunting? And then, as the trophy “hunting” by those Vietnamese took off in 2006 also not to notice that there was a possible link to the ever increasing rhino poaching levels 2007/2008?

 

The Kenya proposal was sent to various parties for review prior to submission. South Africa (not surprisingly) did not support the proposal citing a violation of that its sovereign rights. Namibia also opposed on the basis that the proposed moratorium would not “add value” to the conservation of the species but did not explain further.  Those replies are entirely predictable and do not address Kenya’s valid concerns to close a glaring loophole that contributes directly to and stimulates the illegal trade. What was more surprising was that the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (based and perhaps biased in South Africa) also voiced several lines of opposition including that it would cause financial losses to the private owners.

 

South Africa’s decision to prohibit Vietnamese nationals from gaining rhino hunting permits took time and was openly discussed before it happened. Not surprisingly, those making huge financial gain from the pseudo-trophy hunting business anticipated such restrictions and made alternate plans – and may have had such plans already in place before the restriction. LionAid has frequently commented on the rapidly growing rhino trophy import numbers to other countries that, like Vietnam, seemed to have little or no interest in rhino trophy hunting before 2005. Kenya commented on these as well – the Czech Republic (rhino trophy imports 2000-2004: none, 2005-2010: 21), Poland (2 and 22), and Russia (13 and 118). Denmark is also interested: 2 trophies 2000-2004 and 36 trophies 2005-2010. The South African Department of Environmental Affairs has now seen a rise by 300% of trophy hunting applications from the USA in 2012 compared to 2010.

 

Making the assumption that the products of pseudo-trophy hunts are ultimately destined for Vietnam, there is a clear circumstantial line of evidence connecting applications for rhino hunting permits by residents in such seemingly disparate countries  – their resident Vietnamese communities. The USA has the largest immigrant Vietnamese population numbering well over 1.5 million mostly residing in California and Texas. Poland has the third-largest Vietnamese community in Europe after France and Germany (both those countries also import rhino horn trophies). Russia could have as many as 150,000 Vietnamese residents. The Vietnamese are the largest immigrant community in the Czech Republic with about 83,000 residents – and the Vietnamese lead nationwide drug-related crime statistics. A Polish member of CITES informed us earlier this year that all rhino trophy horns recently imported into Poland have now been reported as “stolen”.  Following a number of recent incidents involving rhino horns being pilfered from Czech museums and institutions, the police issued an alert to other European countries to maintain extra vigilance.

 

While such connections between rhino horn traders in Vietnam and Vietnamese immigrants in other nations can only be alleged, there does seem to be a pattern. It could be further investigated by determining whether those so recently interested in joining the ranks of eager rhino trophy hunters in Russia, Denmark and the Czech Republic are still in possession of their legally acquired CITES trophies? And perhaps this same level of scrutiny could be applied to the USA as well? Or, as seems the case in Poland, have many such trophies disappeared into the mists of unexplained thefts?

 

Image: huntinginafrica.co.za

1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:50

A hypothetical rhino poaching budget - expenditures and profits

 
Poacher down: Hardlife Nkomo shot by game rangers while attempting to poach a rhino in Zimbabwe.

 

We all know that the legal and illegal trade in rhino horn (largely emanating from South Africa and destined to Vietnam and China) is highly profitable. Let’s look at some numbers from two different sources (CITES and South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs). The Department mentions that from 2000-2007, an average of 15 rhinos were poached each year. Things then started going badly wrong – 83 poached in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011, and about 430 to date in 2012 (it is estimated that the total at this rate will be over 500 this year – 9 rhinos were poached in a single day on October 1 for example).

 

2007/2008 seem to be the crucial years when the demand for rhino horn grew to stellar levels. South Africa responded to the demand. CITES records indicate South Africa legally supplied 157 horns to Vietnam 2007-2010, 167 live rhinos to China and 16 to Vietnam 2007-2010, 21 “trophies” to China and 177 “trophies” to Vietnam 2007-2010, etc. A TRAFFIC report (see below) questions the number of rhino horn trophies exported to Vietnam citing a total of 657 horns exported from SA while Vietnam cites an import of about 170. Thus 75% of the trade is being under-reported…

 

A Vietnamese Cabinet Minister stated a few years ago that rhino horn cured him of cancer resulting in a big surge of rhino horn imports to that country.

 

The legal trade from South Africa and the hugely increased demand that followed led to the out of control poaching that we see now. Such poaching has resonated across other countries like Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya.

 

It is well known that one kilo of rhino horn has a “street value” of between $65,000 to $100,000 per kilo. That means that the horns of White Rhino (weighing perhaps 4kg) are worth about $260,000 - $400,000. Let me just show you the hypothetical profits that can be made by the poachers and the wildlife trade syndicates in this enterprise by putting together a budget:

 

 

 

Item

Cost

Comment

3 poachers

$4,500

About 6 months salary, perhaps more needed if poacher is wildlife dept. employee

Bribes for officials

$20,000

Police, immigration, local officials, wildlife officials –  a bribe could cover more than one operation

Guns & ammunition

$3,000

Easily acquired on the SA black market

Ground transport

$4,000

Second hand car – re-use or abandon

Night vision equipment

$1,500

E-bay price, can be re-used

“Mules”

$5,000

Must have passports, must be willing take long flights

Return ticket Maputo - Entebbe

$900

Maputo and Entebbe have lax baggage checks, return ticket raises no suspicions

Return ticket Entebbe - Doha

$900

Doha is a major wildlife trafficking hub

Return ticket Doha – Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City via Bangkok

$1,400

Lax customs inspection

Incidentals

$10,000

In case of problems – more bribes for example

Total

$51,200

Expenses could be less, profit greater if more than one set of horns transported

Profit

$108,800

Assuming traders not involved in end sales, otherwise add $100,000 minimum

  

 

NB – the choice of Maputo as an initial transit point is not just off the top of my head, there is evidence that the airport is becoming a major smuggling nexus. In 2012 a Vietnamese national was arrested there attempting to transport seven rhino horns…

 

Clearly, the illegal trade is highly profitable. South African rhino owners are now charging around $100,000 for a legal rhino hunt, a source of contention as many Vietnamese arrived for “pseudo” trophy hunts – they were given the permits by the provincial authorities (though many of them had never hunted before and did not know how to use a rifle) – and allowed to take back the horn as a legal CITES trophy. However, a recent TRAFFIC report  indicates that South Africa is slowly taking measures to close some glaring loopholes. For example, rhino hunts are now restricted to one hunt per individual hunter in a 12 month period; Government officials must be present at every hunt; rhino horns must be microchipped and cannot be exported in personal baggage; and the importing country must demonstrate effective legislation to ensure that trophy horns will remain as “non-commercial personal effects”. In addition, since 2011 South Africa has belatedly demanded that all live rhino exports go to World Association of Zoos and Aquariums approved facilities to circumvent the animals being sent to Chinese and Vietnamese rhino “breeding” facilities that supply rhino horn products as their main activity.

 

 

But poaching meanwhile “saves” about 50% of the legal cost, and the savings will probably grow as the rhino owners raise prices in the future and more loopholes are closed. The TRAFFIC report mentioned above indicates that while there might be a decline in the demand for rhino horn in China, it is growing by leaps and bounds in Vietnam. TRAFFIC mentions that 48 hospitals and medical institutes, 240 departments and 9,000 health centres licensed to practice traditional medicine use rhino horn products. Indeed, there is strong evidence that rhino horn “touts” stroll the corridors of cancer wards to offer desperate terminally ill patients and their families a last resort “cure”. Also, rhino horn is a status symbol, investment opportunity and even a form of currency for down payments on luxury items like expensive automobiles etc.

 

 

So what can be done? To some extent South Africa is closing a few glaring loopholes, but the poaching continues unabated. Organizations like the SA Private Rhino Owners’ Association are calling for a legalization of trade, and conservation NGOs like the Endangered Wildlife Trust support continued rhino trophy hunting. South Africa did announce recently that it would not seek CITES support at the upcoming Conference of Parties in 2013 to legalize sales of stockpiled rhino horn, and Kenya has put a proposal to the CoP to impose a zero export quota on hunting trophies until 2019. Meanwhile, strides can be made by soliciting increased political will to counter the trade, increased collaborative law enforcement, and increased penalties and deterrents for those implicated rather than the endlessly delayed court cases that are the norm in South Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture credit: http://www.beeld.com/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/Zim-renosters-uit-SA-gestroop-20100708

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:34