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.

Tiger Poaching, Tiger Farms, Lion Bones

Monday 1st October 2012

Tiger Poaching, Tiger Farms, Lion Bones


A friend of mine, Karl Ammann, has been involved in exposing the “bushmeat” trade for over 20 years and has won many awards for his factual reports. He is absolutely intrepid and travels to places many would fear to tread to get his information. I know this from personal experience as he took me along on a boat trip up the Zaire River from Kinshasa to Kisangani in the late 1980s. This was when Mobutu was still in power, and Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) was a tricky place to be a tourist. In fact, even before we left Kinshasa Karl managed to get us both arrested (all his fault of course) and when the police saw his Swiss passport suspicion deepened as it was well known in Zaire that all spies carried Swiss passports. This was at a time when there was considerable tension in Zaire as the Government was convinced that the Belgians were going to invade at any moment (I’m not making this up) so it took some fancy footwork not to be thrown in jail. It was that boat trip that got Karl interested in the bushmeat trade as we saw first-hand the huge number of crocodiles, antelopes, monkeys and even chimpanzees being traded for consumption.


Back to the tigers and lions. Karl recently sent me a report on some travels he took between 2008 and 2011 to Laos and Vietnam. He has published the full report here:  but I can give you a few highlights:


• The tiger trade is doing well and flourishing. Vietnamese traders often cross into Laos across mountain trails to buy whatever is on offer in terms of wildlife products harvested from the Laotian forests.

• Tigers are “harvested” with IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices. Trip lines linked to explosives (sourced from road construction companies in the area) are set up on trails tigers frequent and are set up around carcasses tigers have killed. If a female disposed in this way has cubs, these are captured and taken for the trade.

• There is minimal control as the border between Laos and Vietnam is porous and Karl has evidence the Vietnamese border control is involved in their own version of wildlife trafficking.

• Karl was not able to enter the Vietnamese tiger breeding farms as he was told at the gate that there was an outbreak of a dangerous infection among the tigers. An associate managed to get into a different farm and was told a lung infection was killing many tigers. It shows that these breeding farms are set up for one purpose alone – dead tigers that can then be used for the bone and derivative trade.

• Tiger “cake” is openly on sale all over Vietnam and Laos. The “cake” is made by boiling down tiger bones (with added ingredients like goat bones, herbs and even opium) and sells for about $20,000 per kilo.

• The tiger farms are doing their own trading in tiger bone products and other derivatives to eliminate the middlemen.

• Lion bones only have about 70% of the “strength” of tiger bones. Lion bones from South Africa are now legally traded to Laos in large quantities – approved by CITES.

• Karl concludes, like I do, that the new affluence in Vietnam is a driver of the tiger and lion bone trade. The “show off” factor is hugely important to impress friends and potential business partners, whether it is medicine or not.


All in all Karl’s first-hand report fits in very well with what I have been saying for so long. CITES cannot be effective in the very many cases where the officials tasked to control the trade are part and parcel of the trade, whether in South Africa (rhino horn) or Vietnam and Laos (tiger farms, tiger poaching, lion bone trade). CITES regulations are not worth the paper they are written on in countries where the law enforcement agencies and Government officials are themselves complicit in illegal wildlife trade, or where trade regulations are so easily avoided. For South Africa to engage in the lion bone trade with Laos and to allow rhino horn and live rhinos to be sent to Vietnam, Laos and China, and to allow live tigers to be sent to Vietnam is beyond the pale for a nation supposedly concerned about wildlife conservation. South Africa’s actions resonate well beyond their borders. Karl says having CITES administer the trade to guard wildlife is like telling the foxes to guard the hen house and I’m inclined to agree.


So what can be done? On the wildlife trafficker’s side money talks loudly. $65,000 for a kilo of rhino horn, $20,000 for a kilo of tiger bone cake, $15,000 at minimum for a lion skeleton.  Even if we spend only a fraction of the money earned by poachers to combat this trade and to make the public aware, we could be more effective. Get to know Karl Ammann and support him. Support LionAid so we can be more effective in preventing the lion bone trade. Only with appropriate funds can we make a difference – the horn weight of a White Rhino is worth $260,000. Just imagine what Karl and LionAid could positively contribute to a cessation of this trade for the price of just one rhino?




Picture credit: http://www.forevertigers.com/tcm.htm

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:58

Why the Trade in Rhino Horn Should Never Be Legalised

Esmond Bradley Martin in Kenya is doubtless a world authority on the trade in rhino horn, both to Yemen during the years when dagger handles were made of horn, and to the Far East for medicinal purposes. Nigel Leader-Williams put together many of Esmond’s findings in a TRAFFIC report in 1992 (The World Trade in Rhino Horn: A Review) that contains much of the information I use here. Nigel’s report contains several inconsistencies in the Tables presented, but those do not change the overall picture.


There are two interlinked reasons for writing this blog – a historical perspective and a current one. The latter relates to calls from South African rhino owners to legalise the trade in horn and indeed this has been brought up at CITES. Why? Well, because rhino horn is now worth huge amounts of money so the private owners can make enormous profits. For example, an adult White Rhino can carry an average of 4kg of horn, and taking the conservative value of $65,000 per kilo that is often quoted, that means a White Rhino is now worth a staggering $260,000. No wonder poaching is out of control, and the rhino owners are crassly using such poaching to claim that by legalizing the trade they can “flood” the market with legal horn and make poaching a thing of the past. I’m sure with those kinds of profits to be made they will commission all sorts of glossy reports full of statistics to present to CITES – but they will ignore what history can teach us.


And that CITES was persuaded to allow several “one off” sales of ivory in the past from stockpiles maintained by southern African nations like Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. Elephant poaching is now at an all-time high, and CITES does not see a connection…


So let’s have a look at the historical trade. Esmond was able to dig up some figures from 1893 – 1895 showing that Tanzania exported roughly 29,500 kg of horn during that time. Those horns came from Black Rhinos (average adult horn weight about 3kg) meaning that 7,470 rhinos were killed in those three years. The average price per kilo in those days was about $20 (all prices quoted here are in 2012 US Dollars). During 1949 to 1975 (27 years) Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania exported 56,694kg of horn representing 18,900 rhinos or 700 killed per year on average. Main destinations were Hong Kong, Yemen, Zanzibar (a transit point), Japan and China. Horn prices were $58/kg in 1949 to $138 in 1975. Esmond rightly points out that these numbers might have been under-reported by a minimum factor of 3:1, and even when the sale was legal (Kenya joined CITES in 1979) there was much smuggling to avoid import duties etc. By 1980 Black Rhino horn was worth about $1,130/kg but during the 1970’s when prices were much lower ($239-$362/kg: 1970-1975), it is estimated that between 2,660 and 2,800 rhinos were killed per year across Africa.


It should be noted that Asian rhino horns have always been worth much more – in 1986 for example, African horn was selling at an average price of about $1,250/kg while Asian rhino horn was fetching about $35,115/kg. This is for two reasons – Asian rhino horns are smaller and therefore supposedly more “potent” and desirable, and Asian rhinos are much more scarce than African rhinos. It would be interesting to find out how much one kilo of Asian rhino horn is worth today – they are getting ever more scarce and it should not be surprising that the last remaining rhino in Vietnam was poached this year…


Leader-Williams prevaricates greatly on the issue of legalising trade, basically saying it is a “complex issue” and that more data was needed in 1992 when he wrote the report. He could, in fairness, not have anticipated the great surge of personal wealth in Asian nations like China and Vietnam, the continuing belief that rhino horn is medicine, seeing rhino horn as a luxury product to be shown off as a sign of wealth (as it was with the rhino horn dagger handles in Yemen) and regarding rhino horn as an investment opportunity - a cynical means of predicting that rhino numbers will continue to plummet and therefore the value of the ever more rare commodity will keep rising. In fact, an investment of $2,350 in 1986 would be worth $260,000 now – even art masterpieces have not increased at that rate.


But overall, the message is clear. There has historically, and will always be, a huge demand for rhino horn. With ever decreasing rhino numbers, the paltry amounts that could be put on the legal market will not make even a small dent in the demand. It might depress prices in the short term, but even this is doubtful – 179 horns were legally sent from South Africa to Vietnam 2006-2010 (91 in 2010 alone) and 241 “hunting trophies” (more horns) to Vietnam 2003-2010. We know China and Vietnam have rhino breeding farms to supply the trade and 217 live rhinos were sent from South Africa to China as well as 22 to Vietnam (2000-2010).  But still the poaching continues unabated and in ever increasing numbers. 


Bottom line - there is already a legal trade but it has only stimulated demand and hence poaching. Historically, when there were very many more rhinos in Africa than now, the numbers killed per year for their horns is staggering. Horns were then sold for a pittance, but today there are very many more people in China and Vietnam who can afford horn even at today’s prices. African nations should burn the stockpiles, any trade in rhino horn should be illegal, protection of wild rhinos should be increased and those involved in the illegal trade both in Africa and Asia given long prison sentences. 


Picture credit: http://www.wildlifeartbyericrowe.com/wildlife-art-shop/c15-p61-rhino-study.php

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:24

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

Wednesday 29th August 2012

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

The past few weeks have been “interesting” to say the least in terms of global wildlife conservation efforts. The news can maybe best be described as a weather report here in the UK – rain, occasionally heavy, with a few sunny spells. Let’s have a look at some reports:


• Vietnam, despite all evidence to the contrary, denied being the main rhino horn market . The Vietnamese authorities and “conservation experts” like Do Quang Tung, CITES deputy Director for Vietnam, said that a report by the trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC implicating Vietnam as a destination for poached rhino horns in South Africa was not objective. They said the rhino horn was not used in Vietnam, but is only in transit to other Asian countries. Mr Do ignores the fact that 56% of Asian nationals arrested in South Africa for rhino crimes are Vietnamese and that CITES records indicate that 118 rhino bones (2007-2009),  25 rhino bodies (2009), 177 rhino horns (2006-2010),  22 live rhinos (2006-2010) and 241 rhino “trophies” (2003-2010) were shipped from South Africa to Vietnam legally. The CITES Standing Committee in July asked Vietnam to account for those trophy horns by September, as CITES does not allow trophies to be used for commercial purposes. Ooops – that means ground up for the well-documented rhino horn powder used in Vietnam – but not according to Mr Do – who will doubtless ask CITES for more time to “find” the trophy horns? South Africa has now banned licences for “pseudo” trophy hunts for Vietnamese nationals… too little, too late. Meanwhile, Vietnam also runs eleven tiger breeding farms under the guise of conservation but actually destined for the pot. South Africa helpfully exported 16 live tigers to Vietnam (2009-2010) to assist in this captive breeding?

• Zimbabwe comes under our radar again as the country has applied to CITES to sell 50 tonnes of ivory. This ivory they say was confiscated from poachers, resulted from natural deaths and culling programs. Three problems here. First, Zimbabwe claims to be home to 100,000 elephants, which is completely off the mark. That would mean Zimbabwe has about 1/4 of all elephants in eastern and southern Africa which is complete nonsense. Zimbabwe might seasonally share elephants with Zambia, Botswana, perhaps even South Africa. But these animals are migratory, not resident. Second, Zimbabwe was given permission to sell 3.7 tonnes of raw ivory in 2008 by CITES, earning an estimated $500,000. CITES allowed Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell off stockpiles altogether about 50 tonnes or 5,446 tusks. CITES said the sales were meant to benefit elephant conservation and communities living with elephants. Other sources say 108 tonnes were sold, one wonders where the difference in numbers came from?  I doubt any of those four nations spent their ivory cash for conservation. But the interesting point is that in 2008, Zimbabwe had 3.7 tonnes to sell, and now, 4 years later, they have 50 tonnes? Where did all this ivory come from? Perhaps that is why Zimbabwe needed to “invent” 100,000 mythical elephants?

• Zimbabwe also came into the news with an alleged takeover attempt by a Minister (of Higher Education, no less), the Provincial Governor, and a former MP among others of the Save Valley Conservancy. The Conservancy is attempting court intervention, as it is hailed as a conservation success – tourism, trophy hunting, community empowerment, etc. I have my doubts as to the “sustainable” hunting of lions that goes on at the Conservancy for example, but now they have lost their entire 2012 quota as it was suspended in the takeover attempt. We shall have to see where this latest land-grab drama goes.

• India has reported that tiger deaths are at an all-time high, with 48 or so tigers dead since the beginning of the year, compared to about 50 during both 2010 and 2011. I requested further information from Tiger Watch and they confirmed the numbers. Interestingly, all tiger deaths in India are treated as poaching unless it can be proven otherwise. To date, about 20 cases of poaching have been established. Once again, the poaching incidents eventually supply the illegal trade to Asian markets, and the increase this year parallels both the poaching increases on rhinos in Africa and the increase in lion bone trading. We all must realize that poaching of various species (including even pangolins) for the Traditional Medicine market is all interconnected and involves rather few kingpins.

• China has both rain and sun. Yao Ming, an internationally famous Chinese basketball player recently visited Kenya to stand against rhino and elephant poaching (perhaps a good message to other sports “celebrities” to get involved in conservation?). On the other hand at the July meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, China told everyone to get lost in terms of the tiger breeding farms operated for “conservation” – read body parts – as this was internal trade within China and not within the remit of CITES. China was not asked about the fate of the 215 live rhinos shipped from South Africa (2000-2010). There is even a Chinese owned company in South Africa – DeCai – an import/exporter dealing in live animals, animal skins and SA wine also catering to the safari travel and hunting industry – that exported at least 28 live rhinos according to available records.

• Kenya also has rain and sun. The rain fell a few months ago when livestock owners killed 6 lions just outside Nairobi National Park. A lion was chopped up inside Amboseli National Park, and community members in the area killed a number of elephants citing grievances against the Kenya Wildlife Service in terms of non-involvement in the profits of the Park despite promises. The 2008 Wildlife Act that could provide legal relief continues to gather dust on shelves as it has not been enacted. The sun came out with the formation of the Eseriani Wildlife Association, an organization established to serve as a mitigation agency between communities and government agencies. Further good news – John Keen, a respected Maasai Elder and former MP (he is 82) came out in great support of wildlife conservation and offered to donate 300 acres of his land to enlarge the Nairobi National Park.

• South Africa recently ordered AVAAZ posters at the O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) to be taken down. AVAAZ is an international pressure group and internet petition organization that has collected well over 700,000 signatures to ask SA President Zuma to intervene in the lion bone trade. LionAid was closely involved as the leading conservation organization on this issue, but did not design the “offensive” posters that were paid advertising. AVAAZ is now considering legal action as they claim censorship. 

So overall, some bright spells emerging from the gloom that continues to characterize the international will to commit considered effort into the conservation of our joint wildlife heritage. It is becoming all the more evident that the effort and the will and the pressure will come from individuals rather than entrenched large organizations. A Wildlife Spring is on the way.

Picture credit: elephantivory.org

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:30

The ivory trade is covered in the blood of Africans as well as elephants

During the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a comedy show on US TV called "Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In”. Perhaps by strange coincidence, a man by the name of Rowan Martin from Zimbabwe was commissioned by CITES to prepare a report (and was paid $50,000) on the elephant ivory trade, and he presented a positive review. This report was presented at the recent CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, and seems to have been roundly dismissed. Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation who was present in Geneva had this to say:

“Earlier in the week – on Tuesday, which seems like an age ago – Dr Rowan Martin, a longtime advocate of legal ivory trade, submitted a report on a Decision-Making Mechanism for future ivory trade.
However, the report, which contained many flaws (inaccuracies, personal opinions and a proposal which may even be illegal under international law concerning the establishment of an ivory cartel) was roundly criticised by many Parties here at the Standing Committee including the USA, EU, Kenya, India, Israel, Central African Republic, Congo and more.
In light of these criticisms it was decided on Tuesday that a small group would go away and come back with recommendations as to what to do with this $50,000 report!
Comments must be submitted by 31 August 2012.
So here’s my take on all this. A terrible report is almost, but not quite, dead and buried. The process that might lead to a future legal trade in ivory needs to be fully reconsidered (and CoP16 in Thailand is FAR too early) and speculation about whether there may be legal trade in the near future needs to be taken off the table as it is, in my view, fuelling demand and elephant slaughter.”


Comedy? CITES paid for this report, and identified Rowan Martin to put it together. That is comedy, or better put –  tragicomedy. The southern African elephant range states, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia are all pushing to be able to sell their official ivory stocks – supposedly these tusks all come from elephants dying natural deaths, culling operations (yes, too many elephants), problem animal shootings and seizures from poachers. Zimbabwe says it is storing $55 million worth of ivory


Many of these countries say they need to sell such ivory to support elephant conservation programmes – in other words, elephants need to pay for their own future existence.  And they say that by supplying the legal market, poaching would be halted. That was why CITES allowed legal “one time” sales from stockpiles in the past (1997 and 2008). And guess what – the legal sales did not stop elephant poaching (2012 is the worst year to date for illegal ivory seizures – meaning out of control poaching) and thus did not contribute to elephant conservation programmes.


The simple problem with ivory is that it is and always has been worth a lot of money. White gold. Elephant ivory has been valued since time immemorial - there exist figurines made of mammoth ivory carved by the humans living with them. The slave trade was closely interlinked with the ivory trade in Africa – both were valuable to the Arab traders in Zanzibar and Lamu for example. And remember that the markets are not always located in Asia – piano keys and snooker balls and cutlery handles were all made of ivory not so long ago in the West. And just a few weeks ago, one tonne of ivory jewellery worth well over $2 million was confiscated from two traders in New York City.


Ivory has also killed very many hundreds of thousands of people, and not just the brave rangers attempting to protect elephants from well-organized and very well-armed poaching gangs. Ivory has funded civil wars and militias – most recently those invading Cameroon to kill hundreds of elephants to fund their activities in Chad and Sudan.  Before that, ivory facilitated the arming of militias and armies in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Zaire and Sudan as a short list, and we are still counting the innocent people who were killed, raped, maimed and displaced by wars funded with ivory. Ivory is covered in the blood of Africans as well as elephants.  


So what is the solution? All ivory should be made illegal, and CITES should wake up and not allow any sales. Ivory should be made equivalent to Class A drugs. Anyone trading in ivory should receive prison sentences and their stocks confiscated like in New York, whether they sell in China, Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Congo. Those countries with ivory stockpiles should destroy them as recently happened in Gabon. No loopholes, no excuses, no trade, no tolerance, no stockpiles, no value. Ivory is a curse for humans and is best worn by elephants.

Picture credit: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~reinh20j/jaya2/janjaweed.png

Categories: CITES

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 20:23

South Africa again supplies a controversial demand for wildlife products - tigers!

We and others have pointed out many times that South Africa is now the prime supplier of rhino horns and lion bones to an apparently insatiable Asian market. We have also pointed out that this increased supply will create an increased demand, and already has stimulated illegal trade and poaching.


South Africa absolves itself of any blame by invoking the right of private captive breeders to trade their products on the international market - but South Africa also facilitates this trade by supplying the necessary export permits. South Africa should well realise there is a significant problem created by allowing ever-increasing amounts of wildlife products to flow to Asia but does nothing about it (Environment Minister Edna Molewa said at least three years ago that she was going to seriously consider the levels of rhino poaching in South Africa –  while well over a thousand more rhinos have been poached, she still appears to be seriously stuck in consideration mode).


South Africa also ignores the tremendous impact on wildlife in other African countries by facilitating this wildlife trade (and thereby poaching). Rhinos are now being poached at record levels in Kenya for example. Asian nationals are being detained at Johannesburg airport for attempting to illegally export lion bones, an indication that poaching of lions is already happening and likely to spread.


Not content with rhinos and lions, South Africa now seems to be heavily involved in the trade of tiger parts and live tigers. You might well ask why – tigers are after all not part of the African fauna. But once again, the captive breeders are allowed to do business despite a seemingly useless trade restriction in tigers and their parts by international regulatory organizations like CITES. How does this happen? Basically because CITES allows captive bred tigers a loophole in international trade regulations. But they still need export permits, and South Africa once again is happy to oblige.


So how many tigers did South Africa export? In the live animal export category a total of 131 over the past 11 years (2000-2010). Twenty three tigers were in the hunting trophy export category over the same period – so people actually come to South Africa to shoot tigers?  Can you imagine the uproar in Europe if the UK or Germany or France allowed tiger breeders to invite trophy hunters to come and pay significant money to “hunt” tigers? Or if India, a tiger range State, allowed the same? So why is the playing field so different for South Africa?


Where did the live exports go? 54 to the Arab Emirates, and 16 to Vietnam. The Arab Emirates is a well-known staging point for the illegal trade of wildlife from Africa, and any live tiger sent to Vietnam will end up in an Asian Traditional Medicine pot to be stewed up for some tonic.


But here is a real surprise – 28 South African bred tigers went live to Botswana. Why? Is Botswana now also becoming a conduit for the illegal wildlife trade? Or is Botswana getting interested in lucrative tiger and lion breeding to supply Asian markets? 


So where did the tiger trophy hunting exports go?  Six to the Arab Emirates, three to Norway, two to the UK, two to the USA, and strangely, three to Lebanon?


We have written many times to the Ministry of Environment in South Africa to give an explanation for their agreement to the trade in lion bones. They do not reply, and probably will not on the issue of tigers. We will now question Botswana about their tiger imports – they will also likely not reply.


It seems to me that we should all take affirmative action. South Africa is directly responsible for the wildlife trade in rhino horns and  lion bones they say is legal but is directly stimulating poaching. Now they seek to deal in tigers (trophies and live animals). The South African economy depends to a significant extent on tourism income, and much of that tourism has a wildlife component. South Africa will not pay attention to considered advice or questions on banning all exports of lions, rhinos, and tigers, alive or dead, to Asian countries known to be engaged in illegal trading. As responsible tourists might we in future reconsider plans to visit South Africa?

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 10:54

Tigers are worth more dead than alive

At a meeting in St Petersburg at the end of 2010 donors came together to raise much needed funds to save tigers. The conference was hosted by the then Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin (now President again) and guests included representatives from the World Bank, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo, and celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Campbell.


If we accept that there are 3,200 tigers left in the world (actually, only two of the nine tiger subspecies have enough individuals to remain possibly viable, four subspecies are extinct, and the other three are critically endangered) – the donors pledged something like £66,000 per live tiger. We all know that pledges are very different than cash in hand, but that seems to represent the worth of a tiger to potential donors.


Now, what we have to also realize is that a half bottle (350ml) of tiger bone wine made in the 1980’s in China is selling at £6,000. So eleven small bottles equals the value of a whole tiger…


Tiger bone wine is made in vats where rice wine is added to a tiger skeleton and allowed to stew. Perhaps a few other ingredients are added, and the product is supposed to stave off chills, improve circulation, eliminate fatigue and help with rheumatism. While not being a practitioner of Asian Traditional Medicine, I would pose to you that a tiger’s bones brewed up in wine is going to be worth 20-30 times more than a live tiger value decided at St Petersburg.  


In economic terms, you can go to South Africa and trophy hunt a rhino for about $55,000. The horn is worth $65,000 per kilo, and an average white rhino bears about 6 kilos of horn – so $390,000 – a nice and entirely legal profit that many are taking advantage of. A pair of tusks is similarly worth more than the hunting costs of an elephant. So from a purely economic point of view, the price people are willing to pay for wildlife products exceeds the value of the living animal. And the more rhinos, tigers, elephants are killed, the more valuable their products will become as they get scarcer. And the more those animals will be poached, since the profit margins and benefit to risk ratios keep getting higher.


The disconnect is that we have a real and realizable value placed on dead animals but not on live ones. Is a tiger only worth £66,000 alive? What is the worth of a live wild rhino? How much is a living elephant worth? As long as we cannot decide, we are putting market values on what is dead. You might say that wildlife tourism is worth huge sums to African countries, and that is true. But that value is meaningless to the crime syndicates who cannot even pronounce the word biodiversity properly, let alone know what it means.  


This, my friends, is the reality.  Animals will become increasingly more market valuable the more they die. There will be someone willing to pay very many millions so he can say he shot the last lion in Africa. Those of us who would like to keep animals alive need to catch up and pay attention. Unless there is positive finance to conserve our biodiversity, we are going to be left with what remains alive in zoos, mounted in museums, and viewed on old wildlife films.


So what can be done? Better policing and law enforcement for sure. Much higher sentences for commercial poachers and much better monitoring of airports and harbours to reduce the inflow of illegal products. No more legal loopholes that allow pseudo-trophy hunting in South Africa and no more sales by South Africa of rhino horns and lion bones to Asian countries. No more legal ivory sales allowed by CITES. Reverse the current benefit to risk ratio for commercial poachers. Just for a start? 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:39

"Chasing what is already gone"

Tuesday 3rd July 2012

This is the title of a recent song by Mary Carpenter, a wonderful performer/artist. Does it pertain to conservation?


Take a look at the IUCN Red List. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of those species on the Critically Endangered list have no future. The IUCN is good at making lists, but performs poorly in terms of taking positive action. The IUCN has lots of Specialist Groups to draw up these lists, but that seems the sum total of their responsibility.


You might well say that you have never heard of the Oxapampa Poison Frog or the Tai Toad. It could well be that their extinction means little to you. We evaluate what is important to us with anthropomorphic bias, but even then there is no guarantee that we are not chasing what has already gone. We have ignored the plight of many species that share our planet for too long for any meaningful recovery – or put our faith in stewardship by organisations that have not delivered?


Let’s look at the charismatic megaspecies. Orangutans, Mountain Gorillas, Bonobo Chimpanzees – all gasping their last breaths. The Javan Rhinoceros is virtually extinct, the Vietnamese Rhinoceros is extinct along with the Western Black Rhinoceros and the Northern White Rhinoceros. Among the nine subspecies of tiger, four (Bali, Caspian, Javan, South China) are extinct, three (Sumatran, Malaysian, Indochina) are critically endangered, and two (Bengal and Siberian) might perhaps have some viability. A recent donor conference “pledged” £250 million to once again save tigers – that is what experts said was now needed despite WWF's work to try and save them via “Project Tiger” since 1972. Polar bears, Panda bears, Sun Bears… you know what is happening.


In the 1960’s there might have been 200,000 lions on the African continent. There could only be 20,000 now. Trophy hunting, human/livestock conflict, habitat loss, prey loss and diseases have all contributed. Genetically unique lions in western Africa might be down to about 800 individuals, probably a lot fewer. They still have not been listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, CITES still allows trade, WWF supports wild lion hunting under certain conditions…


Lions are on the brink, not yet over the edge. Time is running out – the hourglass is almost empty, but it can be refilled. We need functional protected areas, a determination by lion range States, a much better evaluation of the “sustainability” of trophy hunting, no more exports from South Africa of lion bones to Asia, and a big wake-up call for the world. Otherwise we will be chasing what is already gone once again for yet another species.


Your funding support can make this happen - please consider LionAid.

Click here to see the many ways you can donate to LionAid.


Picture credit: Big Life Foundation, Tanzania

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:57

South Africa continues to support the lion bone trade

Lion bones have taken at least a supportive role for increasingly diminishing tiger bones in terms of demands for the trade of Asian Traditional Medicine. Or perhaps a major role?

It is now estimated that a lion skeleton is worth $10,000 in the Asian countries supplying lion bone products. In 2010, a skeleton was worth perhaps $4,000 – so quite a big increase in a short time. South Africa has risen to the demand, and as with the rhino horn trade, is stimulating a ready market with a ready supply. This can only result for lions the same situation with rhinos – greatly increased levels of poaching.

South Africa has facilitated the following:
1.    An export of 250kg of lion bones to Laos in 2009 (previous total 2000-2008 was 0);

2.    An export of 586 bones to Laos in 2010 (previous total 2000-2009 was 0);

3.    An export of 14 live lions to Vietnam in 2010 (previous total 2000-2009 was 2);

4.    An export of 29 skeletons to Laos and 19 to Vietnam in 2010 (previous total to     Laos 2000-2009 was 5 and Vietnam was 0);

5.    An export of 90 teeth to Laos in 2010 (previous total to Laos 2000-2009 was 0)

6.    An export of 54 lion trophies to Laos (previous total to Laos 2000-2009 was 1).

Surely South Africa is aware of the impact that their trade in wildlife products is having on the significant escalation of poaching of rhinos in their country and on the continent? And surely they might see that their facilitation of the lion bone trade could have similar impacts on increasing the demand for lion products and thereby also stimulating poaching? Or will South Africa continue to insist that their trade is considered legal under CITES and therefore will not have broader lion conservation consequences?

LionAid will request clarification from South Africa, but we already anticipate that this communication will not be acted on. Perhaps we will be pleasingly proven wrong.

Image:  etc.usf.edu

South Africa continues to obfuscate lion export records

Obfuscation means to “render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible”. And that label clearly applies to South Africa’s CITES lion export records, and in fairness, also pertains to the CITES trade record website maintained by UNEP and WCMC.

Let me explain.

1.    South Africa, from 2000 to 2009, exported a total of 2651 “wild” lion trophies to the rest of the world according to CITES records. CITES only monitors exports, so this is a minimum number of lions shot as trophies, as South Africa has an active local hunting community. Add to this the latest CITES export number of 348 wild lions in 2010. Reliable export records end in 2010.

2.    South Africa might have about 10-15 truly wild lions available for trophy hunts per year. Such hunts are either conducted in private reserves where introduced lion populations have outgrown their small population holding capacity, where hunting concessions border on national parks like Kruger and Kalahari Gemsbok, etc. So realistically, there should have been 110 – 165 wild lion trophies exported over the eleven years rather than 2909.

3.    Why the discrepancy? This is where we have major questions. It seems trophy hunters would like to receive a “wild” lion category rather than a “captive origin” one. So the South Africa provincial authorities accommodate, despite the reality. The vast majority of the “wild” category trophies are in fact derived from a large captive population specifically bred for hunting, and “bled” into the system as “wild” lions.

4.    How does South Africa facilitate this mislabelling? You might be surprised that a lion raised in captivity for its entire life can be “released” into a field and then “deemed wild” after a period of a few weeks depending on South African provincial regulations. Of course the lion needs to be fed all along. The “deemed wild” designation, however, does seem to hold weight with the local CITES authorities even though any reasonable person would designate this as a leap of faith.

5.    The European Union has recently banned all imports of lion products from South Africa (except trophies, see below) because of this mislabelling – due to a concern expressed by the Scientific Review Group of the EC Wildlife Trade Regulation. Strangely, the USA Management Authority, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has not acted similarly, despite the fact that the USA is the major importer of all South African lion exports – 71% of all trophy lions for example from 2000-2009. The European Union has requested clarification from South Africa since the 2011 import ban. To date, South Africa has only referred the matter to the provincial authorities issuing the permits, but there has been little overall progress.

6.    Lion trophies, despite a clear involvement of commerce, remain largely outside the designation of “trade” by CITES and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation rules as trophies are considered as “personal and household effects”. So in other words, when you travel to South Africa and purchase a table, chair, rug, or trinket, those fall into a category no different than a hunted lion trophy. Why? Well… just because it has been so for many years is the weak answer we are given.

7.    Until LionAid came along, that was the status quo. Nobody questioned the mislabelling of lion exports from South Africa, and nobody raised questions about the personal effects derogations despite a clear association with trade in lion products. We aim to change all this and question whatever exports of lion products as to sustainability.

8.    Finally, the “obfuscation” label also should be applied to the CITES trade website maintained by UNEP and WCMC. The data supplied, while now including figures for 2010, is only really accurate until 2009. There is little cross-referencing of numbers, and to extract reasonable data, a large number of pages with different categories need to be accessed. When LionAid queried the quality of the data, the WCMC suggested we contact the individual CITES authorities directly – but that is after all their job?

Conservation of lions requires a multifaceted approach. LionAid would urge South Africa and CITES/UNEP/WCMC to fully participate in the process by supplying realistic and supportable data to evaluate lion population offtakes as an important component of designing informed conservation measures.

Picture credit: Monet, Houses of Parliament in Fog, www.monetalia.com

Illegal Ivory, DNA and CITES

Saturday 12th May 2012

 Illegal Ivory, DNA and CITES


I recently contacted a friend of mine, Sam Wasser, about ivory poaching. Sam is now Professor of Biology and Director of the Center of Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, and conceptualized and coordinates the ivory DNA forensics project.


First, Sam had to collect DNA samples from living elephants and did this by extracting DNA from scats to create an extensive reference library of populations across Africa. Next, by extracting DNA from tusks seized by customs and police in various parts of the world, Sam can now trace back where the tusks came from, and with increased numbers of reference samples, can pinpoint locations of where the ivory was poached to within a few hundred kilometres. This means, even  given the extensive movements elephants are capable of, Sam is able to identify with increasing accuracy the populations exposed to poaching pressure.


But let’s back up a bit. Between 1979 and 1989, at least 700,000 elephants were killed for their ivory across Africa, and 70,000 of those were poached in the Selous Game Reserve in southeastern Tanzania alone. The proceeds from the ivory ended up in many pockets and even funded the needs of armies engaged in civil wars. In 1989 Tanzania declared its own war on poaching, and with the combined forces of the army, the wildlife department and the police was able to put an end to most of the illegal offtake. That same year, six African elephant range states including Kenya and Tanzania submitted proposals to CITES that resulted in the ivory trade ban. With most importing countries enforcing the ban, the trade in illegal ivory practically stopped, and western nations contributed substantial sums of money to antipoaching efforts. In a 2009 article in Scientific American (July 2009: 68-76), Sam called this “probably the most effective act of international wildlife legislation in history, and public pressure was instrumental to its success”.


Since then, however, the illegal trade has revived spectacularly. Sam believes this resulted from a diversity of factors – the Western aid dried up, southern African nations opposed the ban as they felt they had done well to protect their elephant populations and should not be penalized with a trade embargo, demand from increasingly wealthy individuals in Far Eastern nations grew, and a number of one-off ivory sales were agreed by CITES.  In the Scientific American article, Sam mentions that by 2006, poaching had arguably reached levels exceeding those before the ban. International crime syndicates had become involved as ivory smuggling was relatively easy and driven by very high prices – rising from perhaps $200 per kilo in 2004 to an estimated $6,500 in 2009. Based on the amount and number of seizures made, it was estimated that 8% of Africa’s elephants were being poached every year, higher that the 7.4% rate that led to the ban in 1989.


So where did all these elephants come from? Such information, Sam argues, can bring pressure to bear on the nations with poor records of antipoaching operations. He and his team analysed DNA from ivory made in three 2006 seizures – 5.2 tonnes in a harbour in Taiwan, 2.6 tonnes in a Hong Kong apartment, and 2.8 tonnes in a harbour in Japan. Despite numerous requests, the Japanese authorities did not allow Sam to sample their confiscated ivory, but the Taiwan and Hong Kong seizures were analysed.


All came from the Selous ecosystem, with spillover from Niassa in northern Mozambique.  Previous (2002) shipments seized in Singapore came from Zambia. PIKE, an index of poaching threat, rose from 22% in 2003 to 63% in 2009 in the Selous. The same measure climbed to 88% in 2008 in Zambia.


Tanzania applied to CITES to downlist their elephants to Appendix II in 2006 (allowing trade), withdrew the application, but resubmitted in 2009. Tanzania (and also Zambia’s) applications to CITES were defeated at the 2010 CITES Conference of Parties in Doha. Currently, all African elephant populations remain listed on CITES Appendix I, except those of Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia, which are on Appendix II.


In a 2010 article in Science (327: 1331-1332), Sam and co-authors point out a number of failures of monitoring programmes, lack of data needed for scientific assessments of levels of poaching, and a continuing reluctance within CITES to place science above politics contributing to overall uninformed decisions on trade. The inference is that Tanzania and Zambia’s abilities to address the challenges of illegal poaching are compromised despite their claims of conserving elephants. 


Clearly, a renewed effort is needed to ensure the proper protection of elephants. There is considerable disagreement whether the legal ivory sales from national “stockpiles” (natural deaths and elephant culling) allowed by CITES and campaigned for by some elephant range states (with proceeds often promised to assist elephant conservation) has led to increased poaching. Such debates often lead to acrimony, but clearly, the legal trade cannot satisfy the demand generated in the Far East. Sam argues that if the data is not available or made available, a precautionary principle should be applied before elephants are downlisted and legal trade is allowed.


Recently, we have seen worrying levels of rhino poaching, and some would argue that the way to end this trend is by allowing nations like South Africa to sell their stockpiles, and for private rhino owners to sell horns as well. The rationale is that by flooding the market with legal products, the poaching will stop. South Africa is similarly defending the right to sell lion bones to the Far East. We do not believe that such measures can begin to supply the demand by legal means; indeed it seems to stimulate further demand and thereby encourages poaching. There are just too few rhinos, lions, and elephants left to supply a booming market that does not discriminate between legal and poached products. Poaching must be stopped by using scientific information like Sam is gathering to pinpoint hotspots followed by enforcement and court cases to break up the syndicates and their local supporters. And the public must continue to play a significant role in calling for the necessary reforms. 


 Image: 2002 Singapore ivory seizure, Benezeth Mutaboya

Categories: South Africa, CITES

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:13