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.

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

Elephant and rhino poaching - big fish and little fish

Recently, a known elephant poacher (he was out on bail for a previous offence) was arrested for killing elephants in the Amboseli area in Kenya. He was released on KSh 50,000 bail – about $580. He allegedly remarked to a Kenya Wildlife Service officer that he would soon continue with his poaching activities.

 

Kenya has seen a dramatic upsurge in elephant poaching recently – not surprising as poaching is rampant in neighbouring Tanzania where it is estimated that 25,000 elephants have been killed for their ivory in the last three years. Recent ivory seizures in Hong Kong and Dubai emanate from both Tanzania and Kenya, shipped in containers from Dar Es Salaam and Mombasa.

 

Conservationists are not surprisingly up in arms about the light sentences being imposed on poachers in Kenya and are demanding better justice for those who are after all destroying Kenya’s wildlife heritage. I have long been saying that such light sentences are not unexpected, as the poachers themselves are only the first link in a long chain. A notorious poacher knows some of those links, and it could prove very embarrassing to follow the chain of evidence too far.

 

Coincidentally, a long awaited court case finally came to some sort of conclusion in South Africa. There, it involved a rhino horn trafficking syndicate. Let me introduce you to some of those in the dock:


1. Chumlong Lemtongthai, a Thai national who first came to South Africa under instructions from his bosses at the Xaysavang Import/Export Company in Laos to source a supply of lion bones. Two other Thai nationals were also sent to South Africa on the same mission, and were apprehended in Edenvale with 59 illegal lion bones. Punpitak Chumchon and Phichet Thongphai were fined R10,000 ($1,130). A further R100,000 fine ($11,300) and five years’ imprisonment was suspended if they left the country. Punpitak was arrested again at Johannesburg International Airport when he tried to sneak back some months later, presumably to assist Lemtongthai. Meanwhile, Lemtongthai discovered a legal loophole in the provision of rhino horns to his bosses in Laos – trophy hunting. He then set up a scheme whereby Asian nationals in South Africa – most notoriously a group of Thai prostitutes – would apply for rhino hunting permits. Once the rhino was shot, the horns would be sent to Asia, all perfectly legal under CITES regulations – but then ground up for medicine which is against CITES regulations. This went on for several years. Lemtongthai was sentenced to 40 years in prison (he was involved, coincidentally, in 40 rhino “hunts” and ordered 50 more before his arrest), but is appealing. We think, despite his guilty plea, he was set up to take the fall.

Lemtongthai could not have run the rhino operation on his own, and as an accomplice he found:


2. Marnus Steyl, a game ranch owner who sourced rhinos from auctions and/or breeders for the “pseudo” hunts. The “hunters” would send their passports to Marnus who arranged the permits. Steyl would then provide the “trophies” to Xaysavang through his South African company. Indeed, Marnus invoiced Xaysavang for such products to the tune of R1.734 million - $197,000. A video now widely available shows how such hunts were conducted – the “client” was taken along, Marnus shoots the rhino, the “client” poses with the dead rhino for some trophy pictures, Lemtongthai is also there. It is illegal for Marnus to shoot the rhino, but he does not care. Marnus owns hunting farms in the Free State, North West, and Eastern Cape Provinces and also has business interests in Dubai (interesting, as Dubai is a major transit hub for illegal wildlife trafficking). Marnus was granted bail when he was originally charged as being an accomplice in the rhino horn trafficking scheme in November 2011, but was then released and charges dropped at the trial in November 2012 for no apparent reason. The South African National Prosecuting Authority gave no explanation apart from a statement that the charges against Marnus were “circumstantial” – an explanation repeated when Gareth Morgan MP (Democratic Alliance) brought a question about his release to Parliament. Marnus, given his association with Xaysavang in Laos, might also be involved in the lion bone trade, but this remains unproven. But for rhino horns Marnus has/had some friends:


3. Under South African law, a professional hunter (registered with the Professional Hunter’s Association of South Africa) must accompany all rhino hunts. Marnus found a willing accomplice in Harry Claasens. Harry was not prosecuted as he gave State Evidence in return for immunity of prosecution. His evidence apparently did not extend to implicating his friend Marnus, and was all directed against Lemtongthai. It would not be surprising to us if Harry still has his professional hunter’s license. Meanwhile, Marnus had other friends:


4. Werner Boing is a Deputy Director of Enforcement and Permits in the Free State Department of Conservation. Werner issued a number of rhino hunting permits to Marnus on the basis of the Asian citizen applications, and also allowed Marnus to transport white rhinos out of the Free State to be hunted in North West Province. Werner should be investigated by his Department as he did not declare that he co-owned a hunting company, setting up the interesting possibility that he could issue licenses to himself. The other owner of Werner’s hunting company is Jaco Oberholzer, an officer of the HAWKS – an elite police unit that is charged with the scrutiny of wildlife crimes among other duties. Jaco says he resigned from the hunting company. Nevertheless, it shows Marnus’ tentacles reached out to many, perhaps including:


5. Unnamed officials in the various Provincial Departments of Conservation who issued the permits and are required by law to be present at all rhino hunts to verify all is legal. Perhaps they stayed away as they must have known that all Marnus’ hunts were illegal and were paid to turn a blind eye.


6. Less than two weeks after Marnus was excused of all complicity by the court, several rhinos were poached in Beestekraal, a location about 25km from Marnus’ house in Brits. That must be pure coincidence?

 

The South African court case basically resulted in the conviction of a “patsy” – Lemtongthai. But the case also reveals a glimpse of the remaining iceberg – Marnus’ connections that have been exposed to date – and there are doubtless many more.

 

Rhino horn traders and the ivory poachers operate by many links in a chain as I said above. The first link is the poacher, and if arrested that poacher can reveal the next link. Dedicated investigation will reveal the whole chain, but both in Kenya and South Africa there is a hesitation by prosecutors to go too far along the chain – who knows what official in high places might be implicated in the networks? Despite the long sentence passed to Lemtongthai, does this really indicate a seriousness on the part of the South African Government to get to the bottom of the rhino horn trafficking? As long as those who have information about the kingpins are given immunity from prosecution I would say we are only dealing with little fish instead of the sharks.

 

Picture credit: “Big fish eat little fish” – www.metmuseum.org

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:55

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

Concentration camps for tigers in China

Monday 10th September 2012

Concentration camps for tigers in China

We have long been alerted to the existence of tiger breeding farms in China. The farms say it is all for conservation – tigers are bred to be released in wild. No chance of that – you cannot take a captive bred tiger and expect it to survive in the wild. China also says they are doing the same with their captive breeding programmes for pandas – it is not happening.

 

An article in the Mail Online published in 2010 shows what goes on at the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Village, Guilen. Emaciated tigers encouraged to die so their bones can be sold at $14,400/kg. Vats of tiger bone wine are displayed openly. China has 1,500 tigers in captivity, about half of the remaining world tiger population – none of which have any hope to be returned to the wild and are therefore useless to conservation efforts.  Recent questions by CITES about these farms were rejected by China as it does not fall under international trade. South African tiger breeders happily provide extra stock to Chinese “zoos” – read tiger mills for consumption.

 

China was a signatory to what I will term the Great Tiger Hopeful Recovery Programme initiated by now Russian President Vladimir Putin. The World Bank signed up for funding. China probably elected not to pay much attention, as they have likely already lost all wild tigers within their borders.

 

Tiger concentration camps provide tiger products. China will augment a demand for those products with substitute lion bones. Make no mistake here – the large cat bone trade is growing and will involve a great further challenge to wild tigers and now lions via poaching. Complacency will kill the big cats, and Africa will continue to lose lions. We MUST shut down the tiger and lion breeding farms in China, Vietnam and South Africa as they provide no conservation benefit to the species WHATSOEVER and they are flaunting every accepted animal welfare regulation. 

 

Picture credit: Sinopix and Mail Online 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:25

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