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 and the Red Queen

Sunday 10th March 2013

 CITES and the Red Queen

                                                                   Alice in CITESland

 

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Some excerpts:


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


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

3. The odds against success are enormous.

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

CITES 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

 

 

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 19:19

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

 

 

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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

 

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 18:30

2012 - The annus horribilis for African wildlife?

Some of us might remember the speech by Queen Elizabeth to the nation and the Commonwealth when she referred to 1992 as the annus horribilis – the horrible year – referring to the break-up of two family marriages and one divorce within her family and a fire at one of her homes – Windsor Castle.

 

I believe we can also label 2012 as the annus horribilis for wildlife conservation in Africa. During that year, we were informed that over 650 rhinos were poached for their horns in South Africa, tens of thousands of elephants poached for ivory on the continent, lions killed for the value of their bones and trophies in increasing numbers and the list goes on. We also heard that the illegal wildlife trade is now only just behind drug and illegal arms trafficking in terms of profits.

 

We are realizing that wildlife is a commodity to be traded illegally by syndicates and legally by “pseudo hunters”. We learned that international organizations were scrambling to keep up but ultimately ineffectual to control the killings. How could they be when we also learned the extent to which officials in countries are involved in the illegal trade? And that militias and armies were funding their activities by the sales of ivory and rhino horns? And that some allege that the recent upsurge in rhino and elephant poaching in Kenya is attributable to candidates in the upcoming elections in March are filling their coffers?

 

More and more illegal ivory is being seized in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Kenya, Malaysia. We are only just beginning to realize that for every one seizure, maybe nine reach their destination. Some estimate that four elephants are poached every hour to supply the insatiable demand for ivory. Some estimate that 80,000 elephants have been killed over the past three years. Photographs of the seized shipments include tusks that belonged to juvenile elephants.

 

So what have we learned? Quite a few sobering lessons. I have revised lion numbers down to about 15,000 on the African continent based on an analysis of the capability of range states to be able to maintain them based on a number of international indices like poverty, corruption, failed state ranking, wildlife department effectiveness, and perhaps most important the will of Governments to conserve their national wildlife heritage.

 

We have also learned, regrettably, that some major conservation organizations have become so corporate that they reward their executives a salary exceeding that of President Obama. We learned that hopeful contributions by their donors went to office expenses rather than wildlife. We learned that major conservation organizations have not been effective to stem the tide of illegal wildlife trade, and indeed some continue to support the outdated notion that trophy hunting contributes to conservation.

 

Most importantly, we learned that we have been complacent and perhaps even ignorant of the consequences of wildlife trade. We ignored trends facilitated by South Africa in terms of rhino poaching that has now spread to Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania. We ignored the fact that there used to be 10,000 Northern White Rhinos – all gone. We ignored the fact that there were over 200,000 lions in Africa 50 years ago – all gone except for maybe 15,000 survivors of habitat destruction, human/wildlife conflict and an immense toll from trophy hunting.

 

We must all accept a new formula. It will be difficult as the current trends of commercial poaching for bush meat, ivory, rhino horns and lion bones has become established to an extent perhaps beyond our comprehension. This was not a sudden development, it has been building for a long time. If we want to make a difference in conservation of African wildlife, we need to engage the African decision makers and the very people who consider wildlife as their heritage.

 

We need to engage and provide funding to those conservation organisations that have grasped the new realities, adopted new methods to deal with new threats, and above all, are not weighed down by a vast corporate infrastructure that swallows conservation dollars faster than you can say ineffectual.


2012 should be our last annus horribilis based on failed conservation formulas. We need to get smart, get real, and move forward.

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:02

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