Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.
Saturday 23rd March 2013
Keeping my eye on you Edna
During the past CITES meeting in Bangkok, South Africa kept pushing for the legalization of the rhino horn trade. Typical of strategies employed by other countries with vested interests in particular issues, South Africa sent a large delegation and high-ranking politicians in order to persuade other parties to side with them. Edna Molewa, the SA Environment Minister, was much in evidence in Bangkok, as was Pelham Jones, the Chairman of the South African Private Rhino Owners’ Association. Many “side events” on legalization of the trade were organized and SA delegates took full advantage of the furore in the media surrounding the rhino poaching crisis in their country to tout theories about legalizing the trade.
In 2010 333 rhinos were poached, 448 in 2011, 668 in 2012, and perhaps already 170 in 2013. Deviating from previous announcements concerning her determination to take strong measures to stop the poaching, Molewa now says “The reality is that we have done all in our power and doing the same thing every day is not working” according to the SA Mail and Guardian newspaper. One could question Molewa’s resolve to combat poaching in the past, but she now seems resigned that no matter what is being “done” by the police, customs, Army, rangers, security guards, fences, etc – it is a losing battle.
So now Molewa, doubtless guided by the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, decided to push for legalizing the trade. In a coordinated campaign, many in the SA delegation sought interviews and organized events to push the message “more of the same [i.e. more of the same complacency] will not work”.
Pelham Jones even mentioned that “Anti-trade organizations are aiding and abetting illegal trade without a better solution” with typically convoluted reasoning. No mention, of course, was made of the complete shambles SA has made of proper investigations of the trade, catching those involved, adequately prosecuting those caught, and handing out stern and deterrent sentences. And that SA is actually responsible for the wave of poaching by allowing “pseudo-hunting” by Vietnamese and their proxies that created a supply and stimulated more demand.
Remember that rhino poaching was virtually non-existent before 2008. Over the five years 2006-2010 SA exported 394 trophies and horns to Vietnam legally, but this was obviously not enough.
Edna Molewa went on to state “The model that we have is based on pure law of supply and demand. Economics 101”.
But is it really?
The laws of supply and demand of rhino horn, I’m sorry to inform Molewa, are anything but Economics 101 or 201 or 301. The level of demand is not known, and the numbers of people who will be demanding rhino horn if it is legalized is not known. For example, the acting head of Vietnam’s wildlife trade authority said it was “bullshit” that Vietnam was even a consumer. It all goes to China he said, despite significant evidence to the contrary of Vietnam as a major consumer of illegal horn. China says exactly the opposite, mentioning that there is no trade in rhino horn in China as it was made illegal in 2004 – again despite all evidence to the contrary including the existence of several rhino farms engaged in manufacture of pharmaceutical rhino products.
In this environment of denial and counter denial that there is a market for rhino horn in Vietnam and China coupled with an intense demand for “pseudo-hunting”, live rhino trade, and illegal trade in rhino horns, how can any level of demand be established?
Will Vietnam and China, who deny any consumption of horns and in fact say it is illegal to trade in rhino products, now suddenly wish to participate in the legal horn market?
And realistically, given that both China and Vietnam are likely involved up to their necks in the illegal rhino horn trade, how much horn would they demand if it becomes legal? There is no ready answer to that, but one can make some educated guesses. Despite lax enforcement, it is still not really that easy to shoot a rhino and transport the horn to Vietnam. Yet in 2012, in the region of 700 rhinos were poached in Africa to supply the illegal market (from SA, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe etc). Demand is at present kept down because of the difficulty in obtaining the horn, and hence the price of rhino horn in Vietnam is currently estimated to be about $60-65,000/kg. Nevertheless, there is a thriving demand, and that demand will only grow if there is a legal supply. If the demand created by legalizing horn grows as expected in China and Vietnam, the supply from the 4,000 to 5,000 rhinos (of all ages) in SA private hands will not meet the demand, prices will go up, and poaching will climb again.
Next, how will the market be regulated, and what will the sale price of legal horn be?
Certainly nowhere near the current black market price. However, if the legal price stays high it will not stop poaching as there is no incentive for poachers to halt their activities. After all, a poached rhino horn is priced in terms of the cost of obtaining it, which is minimal compared to the profit to be made selling it even if the legal price will be put at half or even 1/3 the current black market price. Elephants are being poached at a great rate even though the price per kilo of raw ivory is perhaps $4,000/kg. Poaching will continue as long as there is a profit to be made, and the legal price will have to remain high if the selling and buying governments can have any hope of limiting the demand. In other words, there is no way at all to undercut the illegal trade by placing legal rhino horn on the market.
I have mentioned elsewhere that the moves made to influence CITES delegates in Bangkok by SA delegates, the offered hosting of the next CITES convention in Cape Town, and the language emanating from SA politicians, highly placed officials and vested interest lobby groups all point to one thing. There will be tremendous lobbying and pressure applied to be able to sell rhino horns in the years to come.
Sadly, statements made by the Private Rhino Owners’ Association are clearly based on expected large profits rather than a well-thought out model to conserve remaining rhinos. What SA needs to do to limit poaching is to stop being complicit and complacent and take strong action. What China and Vietnam need to do is admit they are consuming illegal rhino horn and put real measures in place to stop trading in illegal wildlife products.
Some recent steps in the right direction to close loopholes in the “pseudo” trophy hunting trade were made at CITES. Initially, Ireland, on behalf of the EU and Croatia, supported by Kenya and Israel, proposed excluding all hunting trophies from exemptions for personal and household effects. This worried South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Namibia, Botswana and the Safari Club International. The proposal was watered down but still removes personal and household effects exemptions for rhino horn and elephant ivory and was accepted by the Conference. Since rhino trophy hunting permits are no longer extended by South Africa to citizens of Vietnam, this will also affect proxy hunters employed by Vietnamese in the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Thailand and the USA.
Before SA gets too far down the line with their fanciful proposals to satisfy the “demand” from China and Vietnam, all nations should ban the trade in rhino products. If that means a failed business model for the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, so be it. Legalizing the horn trade will make financial profits for some, but will not profit the rhinos at all.
Picture credit: africajournalismtheworld.com
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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:11
Sunday 10th March 2013
The CITES conference has a few more days to go, and there will be much more to discuss. After failing polar bears, rhinos, and elephants and extending unexpected extra protection to West African manatees (the CITES Secretariat recommended rejection) and many turtles already on the brink of extinction, the next week will see sharks and a few other species on the menu.
In a terrifying show of resolve, CITES slapped trade sanctions on Guinea. Long criticized for not having teeth, CITES now bared them at a small western African country for allegedly ignoring many requests to halt illegal trade in wildlife products – in this case of Great Apes. Hmmm. How about trade sanctions against Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Thailand, Philippines, China among others for long being involved in the illegal ivory trade?
There will also be a number of “housekeeping” issues to attend to, like hopefully removing “personal and household” effects derogations for hunting trophies so they can rightfully be considered as trade. Another tricky issue will be consideration of a proposal by Denmark on behalf of the EU to insist that members of the Animals and Plants Committees declare any “conflicts of interest” before and subsequent to election.
Interesting proposal that one – these Committees are quite powerful, and should not be populated by people with vested interests. But one glaring “housekeeping” issue is not on the agenda.
This is the dubiously legal trading that goes on in plain sight – something CITES would rather hide under the carpet as it reflects right back on the organization itself.
At the start of the conference Secretary General John Scanlon mentioned the following:
Undermining good governance can be placed at the CITES door as well. John Sands, CITES Secretary General in 1980 mentioned a process whereby fraudulent CITES permits were facilitating illegal trade. In 2003 the Earth Journal had this to say:
“Environmentalists have had a long-running battle with the CITES Secretariat over the administrative practices of the treaty organization. For 20 years, according to many critics, the CITES staff have favored commercial exploitation of wildlife over protection. Instead of objectively weighing science and assessing enforcement efforts, the 12-member Secretariat has repeatedly argued against the precautionary principle and ignored flagrant violations of Appendix I and Appendix II regulations.
During the '80s, the Secretariat vehemently opposed banning the ivory trade, despite a poaching crisis that left 100,000 carcasses strewn across the African landscape each year and the utter failure of a hopelessly weak CITES ivory monitoring system. At the 1989 CITES meeting in Switzerland, CITES Secretary-General Eugene Lapointe lobbied fiercely against the proposed Appendix I listing for the African elephant (Asian elephants were already totally protected). He even held press conferences during the meeting to subvert the proposal. Lapointe touched off outrage in leading conservation nations. An inquiry by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) led to Lapointe's removal on grounds of malfeasance.
Unfortunately, little changed at the Secretariat after Lapointe's firing. His replacement was a bumbling UNEP bureaucrat who allowed the CITES staff - all cronies of Lapointe - to continue their anti-protection ways.
A UNEP investigation in 1998 found significant malfeasance throughout the CITES staff, including the sale of export permits. Several top staffers were fired and the Secretary-General, a Bulgarian named Izgrev Topkov, was forced to retire. UNEP has withheld the damning report from the Standing Committee of CITES, which oversees the Secretariat, as well as the public.”
For example, in a deposition to the EU Parliament workshop on wildlife crime we provided the following statistics:
If CITES wants to start wielding a big stick and placing trade sanctions on Guinea, we would suggest they also look within to cease the issuance of false permits, a process ongoing since 1980 at least. Those false permits are no less of a crime than the illegal wildlife trade especially since they greatly undermine the transparency and trustworthiness of CITES itself.
Picture credit : http://bit.ly/YlEem7
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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:25
Sunday 10th March 2013
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.
"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.
3. The odds against success are enormous.
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
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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:32
Wednesday 6th March 2013
There also seems to be a huge furore developing over a rather straightforward proposal by the USA and the Russian Federation to uplist polar bears to CITES appendix I. No more international trade. Canada, the WWF, Denmark, Norway and even the CITES Secretariat oppose for a diversity of reasons. They either say that polar bears are already accurately protected nationally (Norway, Denmark) or they say that the polar bear slaughter must continue (at least 600 “legal” bears per year in Canada and about 200 poached per year in Russia and then laundered through the Canadian system). Canada claims that the Inuit people (Eskimos) have a tradition of hunting polar bears and that these poor communities must not be deprived of their income and traditional practices. Nice that Canada is now paying attention to her indigenous people, long ignored and marginalized in terms of education, health care, integration into society, etc. Actually, what happens is that these Inuits are selling their polar bear quotas to trophy hunters from all over (China is now a big fan of polar bear trophies) and selling skins from bears harvested under “traditional practice” allowances. If the Inuit people want to harvest polar bears as a traditional right let them do so. But entering into international commerce should not be tolerated.
It seems the EU is now proposing a compromise instead of addressing the issue head-on. The EU swing vote defeated the polar bear uplisting at the last Conference of Parties in 2010.
The compromise proposed is this:
Instead of uplisting, let’s delay action until we can have proper polar bear population counts and an assessment of commercial offtake versus conservation needs. This is sounding very familiar. Kenya proposed uplisting the African lion to Appendix I in 2004. The proposal was watered down by CITES – instead, let’s have regional meetings and some sort of population assessment. Kenya agreed, the meetings took place, and nine years later we are still no further in terms of an organized lion conservation programme, but we have lost a lot more lions. It will be the same with polar bears.
How many meetings, conferences, discussions and diversions do we need to finally agree that polar bears are in sharp decline, will decline further due to climate change in the future? But meanwhile let’s hunt another 800 bears per year while CITES dithers? And let Canada fudge their CITES documents to include poached polar bears from Russia into the international trade?
It boggles the mind what is happening at the CITES meeting in Bangkok. It is all smoke and mirrors to be able to continue just as before. The big discussions on rhinos and elephants have yet to take place. But already they have said science is not important, transparency is not important, and every issue on the table can be delayed and obfuscated until the cows come home. And cows are exactly what we will have left in the future instead of our disappearing wildlife heritage.
If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:00
Sunday 10th February 2013
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
1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:03
Tuesday 29th January 2013
Where have all the pridelands gone?
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:
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
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:14
Wednesday 5th December 2012
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.
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:50
Friday 26th October 2012
Kenya recently proposed to CITES to have a trophy hunting moratorium placed on South African white rhinos. The proposal will be considered at the upcoming CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok in March 2013 and if approved, the moratorium will be instituted until 2019.
In the proposal Kenya mentions that despite some progress made by South Africa in instituting more demanding control measures including development of an electronic database for licence applications, mandatory registration of existing rhino horn stockpiles, developing bilateral treaties to improve law enforcement, increasing penalties for those caught, improving intelligence gathering and sharing, better customs control, etc, etc – the rate of rhino poaching continues to increase. In 2010, 333 rhinos were poached, in 2011, 448, and there are predictions that 2012 could end with perhaps 590 rhinos killed. Kenya is of the opinion that such poaching has resonated across borders and that the recent upsurge in rhinos poached in Kenya is directly linked to a problem made in South Africa.
Kenya acknowledges that rhino poaching should jointly be addressed by the implicated consumer states – China and mainly Vietnam – including measures to much more rigorously curtail the activities of criminals involved in the illegal trade. Various reports coming from independent investigators have shown that rhino horn products and horns themselves are widely available and traded in Vietnam. A joint solution seems well over the horizon, hence Kenya’s proposed moratorium.
Kenya has expressed great concern about the very strong possibility that South African hunting trophies offer a legal pathway for criminal networks to obtain rhino horn, to launder illegal rhino horn, and that the trophy hunting loophole stimulates overall demand for a product that should not be involved in any trade in the first place.
It is clear that rhino trophy hunting has been greatly abused, and in many cases falls into the category of “pseudo hunting”. Such hunting only is available for the 25% of white rhinos in South Africa that are in private hands, but has shown a great surge in “popularity” in recent years among Vietnamese “hunters”. Permits are issued by the provincial authorities and many cases have been recorded where “hunters” arrived who did not own guns, had not shot a gun before, and in one famous case were recruited from the ranks of Thai prostitutes working in South Africa.
In addition, while CITES prohibits any commercial use of trophies, this is clearly ignored in Vietnam where the purpose of the hunt is not the trophy but the products that can be derived from the horn. CITES recently asked Vietnam to account for the trophies imported – rather like asking someone to account for their imported caviar long since consumed. Already there seem to be glaring discrepancies – TRAFFIC reports state that 657 horns were exported from South Africa while Vietnamese import numbers only record 170. Also, Vietnamese “hunters” spent an estimated $22 million on rhino hunting permits between 2003 and April this year when South Africa decided not to issue further permits to Vietnamese nationals. Between July 2009 and April 2012 185 Vietnamese came to South Africa to shoot rhinos (and not a single other species), comprising 48% of the total number of rhino hunters from the rest of the world.
It seems impossible for South Africa not to notice this trend and put two and two together – flocks of “hunters” descending from a country known to be predominantly involved in the illegal trade of rhino horn suddenly gaining a great interest in trophy hunting? And then, as the trophy “hunting” by those Vietnamese took off in 2006 also not to notice that there was a possible link to the ever increasing rhino poaching levels 2007/2008?
The Kenya proposal was sent to various parties for review prior to submission. South Africa (not surprisingly) did not support the proposal citing a violation of that its sovereign rights. Namibia also opposed on the basis that the proposed moratorium would not “add value” to the conservation of the species but did not explain further. Those replies are entirely predictable and do not address Kenya’s valid concerns to close a glaring loophole that contributes directly to and stimulates the illegal trade. What was more surprising was that the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (based and perhaps biased in South Africa) also voiced several lines of opposition including that it would cause financial losses to the private owners.
South Africa’s decision to prohibit Vietnamese nationals from gaining rhino hunting permits took time and was openly discussed before it happened. Not surprisingly, those making huge financial gain from the pseudo-trophy hunting business anticipated such restrictions and made alternate plans – and may have had such plans already in place before the restriction. LionAid has frequently commented on the rapidly growing rhino trophy import numbers to other countries that, like Vietnam, seemed to have little or no interest in rhino trophy hunting before 2005. Kenya commented on these as well – the Czech Republic (rhino trophy imports 2000-2004: none, 2005-2010: 21), Poland (2 and 22), and Russia (13 and 118). Denmark is also interested: 2 trophies 2000-2004 and 36 trophies 2005-2010. The South African Department of Environmental Affairs has now seen a rise by 300% of trophy hunting applications from the USA in 2012 compared to 2010.
Making the assumption that the products of pseudo-trophy hunts are ultimately destined for Vietnam, there is a clear circumstantial line of evidence connecting applications for rhino hunting permits by residents in such seemingly disparate countries – their resident Vietnamese communities. The USA has the largest immigrant Vietnamese population numbering well over 1.5 million mostly residing in California and Texas. Poland has the third-largest Vietnamese community in Europe after France and Germany (both those countries also import rhino horn trophies). Russia could have as many as 150,000 Vietnamese residents. The Vietnamese are the largest immigrant community in the Czech Republic with about 83,000 residents – and the Vietnamese lead nationwide drug-related crime statistics. A Polish member of CITES informed us earlier this year that all rhino trophy horns recently imported into Poland have now been reported as “stolen”. Following a number of recent incidents involving rhino horns being pilfered from Czech museums and institutions, the police issued an alert to other European countries to maintain extra vigilance.
While such connections between rhino horn traders in Vietnam and Vietnamese immigrants in other nations can only be alleged, there does seem to be a pattern. It could be further investigated by determining whether those so recently interested in joining the ranks of eager rhino trophy hunters in Russia, Denmark and the Czech Republic are still in possession of their legally acquired CITES trophies? And perhaps this same level of scrutiny could be applied to the USA as well? Or, as seems the case in Poland, have many such trophies disappeared into the mists of unexplained thefts?
1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:50
Monday 23rd April 2012
A sea change of attitude among leading researchers about the importance of FIV infection among lions? Yes it was, and will now perhaps lead to a better investigation of the effects of this pernicious disease that could significantly influence conservation priorities of remaining lion populations.
In a recent article Emerging Viruses in the Felidae: Shifting Paradigms in the journal Viruses (7 Feb 2012, v4, pp 236-257) Steve O’Brien and his colleagues indicated a rather big shift in their previous paradigm about the effect of FIV on lions. For many years, O’Brien had been a foremost proponent of FIV infection being inconsequential among lions – after all, his research group had shown that the virus had most likely infected lions for many thousands of years, and despite high infection rates in places like the Serengeti and the Okavango, lions did not seem to be displaying negative effects. This view ignored some important pathological data gathered from an Italian zoo lion infected with FIV (Poli et al, 1995, J. Wildl. Diseases 31(1): 70-74) and immune system information from lions provided by Kennedy-Stoskopf since 1994. Basically, those studies contested what O’Brien and colleagues had been saying and were repeating, and indicated similar pathologies and consequences of infection to those among domestic cats that should have been taken seriously.
Niels Pedersen, a friend at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, was the first to discover the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in 1986. He was able to isolate this “new” virus from a domestic cat brought in to the Veterinary Hospital presenting symptoms and signs he recognized from monkeys infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. Once the cat immunodeficiency virus was described, it became clear that the infection showed a similar progression of immune system compromise as had been noted among humans affected with HIV. Consequently, with an animal model, a great number of experimental protocols could and were designed with domestic cats to determine outcomes of infection with an immunodeficiency virus. Niels never believed that infection with such a virus could be inconsequential among lions.
Meanwhile, O’Brien and his co-workers (including virologists and veterinarians) seemed unaware of the very many journal articles detailing a great diversity of consequences of infection with FIV among domestic cats. Instead of using such information as a possible model of infection consequence among lions, they felt that lions had worked out some sort of “truce” with the virus. Why did they take this track?
First, O’Brien and his colleagues looked at the divergent genetic sequences of the FIV strains infecting lions, and came to the conclusion that this was an old association between this virus and a big cat (perhaps over 300,000 years?). Making another leap, they decided that all long-term associations between a virus and host inevitably resulted in a compromise – and used examples like measles and smallpox for example. There are of course elements of truth in this, as selection works on host immune systems to become better resistant to viruses and also on viruses to diminish the lethal effects on their hosts so the viruses have the opportunity to spread. But that is not the way immunodeficiency viruses operate – they mutate rapidly, shuffle parts of genomes among co-infecting FIV strains, and are not in themselves immediately lethal. Selection on an immunodeficiency virus has more to do with better avoidance of immune responses than accommodating longevity of the host. That is already built into the virus modus operandi (see below).
Second, O’Brien et al were looking for an immunodeficiency virus/host association that was not greatly negative to the host to perhaps decipher genetic mechanisms for resistance. This would then lead to a better understanding of how HIV infection among human populations could perhaps be mitigated. Direct studies of human populations had already led to an understanding that western Europeans had higher levels of resistance to HIV infection than, say, African populations. O’Brien and colleagues attributed this to possible effects of exposure by Europeans to a great diversity of pathogens in the past – for example the numerous outbreaks of plague in the Middle Ages that perhaps fortuitously selected for a particular genetic makeup among survivors - that then provided a better chance of surviving the future challenge of HIV centuries later. But any hopeful level of accommodation with FIV was not to be found among lions.
Third, researchers wrongly interpreted the way immunodeficiency viruses actually affect their hosts. Proof of infection via antibody analyses proved to be at very high levels in some populations – close to all adult lions in the Okavango and the Serengeti for example. But lions were not dying in huge numbers, and infected individuals seemed perfectly healthy for years after they had been diagnosed positive. Surprise, surprise? Not really, as that is the way the virus works. After an initial illness following infection, the virus then settles down to work slowly (it is after all a lentivirus) but inexorably to erode the immune system. Animals and humans can indeed seem apparently healthy for years after first infection as the immune system remains largely functional and is perhaps supplemented by a variety of secondary defence mechanisms (e.g. hormones, B-cell activation mechanisms independent of T-cells). FIV infection among lion populations thus did not present as an epidemic. This should have been expected, but instead it was used as evidence for co-adaptation and justification for misplaced hypotheses.
In hindsight, it was compromised science. After negating the consequences of FIV infection among lions for many years, and therefore significantly supporting the hopeful view that the infection was inconsequential, O’Brien and his colleagues finally acknowledged some cracks in the façade. In the paper mentioned above, O’Brien admitted that their past conclusions were premature and oversimplified. He refers to a study undertaken by Melody Roelke (a veterinarian in his group) among Botswana lions and added the following remarks:
a) “A marked depletion of CD4 bearing T-lymphocytes was apparent in FIV infected lions, a prelude to immune collapse in well-defined AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome];
While this is good news for a belated recognition of the importance of FIV infections among lions and their resulting fragility, it also places FIV back in the mainstream of concerns for the future survival of lions. There are perhaps five or six populations of lions that number over 1000 individuals of all ages. On these populations rests the hope for the future survival of the species in Africa, and they largely occur in protected areas. Such populations are not protected from disease, and cannot be cured of FIV. Future conservation and management of the species can now move on to incorporate disease components with the brave admission from O’Brien’s research group that what they said in the past about the consequences of FIV infection among lions was “premature and oversimplified”.
We now need to move forward in a united determination to design the best conservation plans for this greatly threatened species. The threat from disease can finally unanimously be taken seriously among FIV compromised populations (basically all the five or six large populations mentioned above), and must be included in all conservation programmes as now there can be no more distractors.
Picture: Science Photo Library
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:49
Monday 28th November 2011
Please click on this link to see a country by country assessment of lion trophy hunting for African nations that permit(ted) the practice. This is the most up-to-date analysis, and includes CITES export numbers, threat assessments for lion populations in each country, a summary statement for each country, and a conclusion on trophy hunting offtake.
Please bring this report to the attention of members of Congress, Senators, Members of Parliaments, and Members of European Parliament who represent you. It is a document that all decision makers need to see to end lion sport hunting. We need your active participation to circulate this report. Thank you.
Picture Credit : Chris Harvey
Tags: wild lions, canned lions, CITES, lion populations, Periodic Review, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Bovine Tuberculosis, Canine Distemper, Thailand, Kenya, Infanticide, Namibia, Cameroon, population trends and threats, eastern, western and central, southern Africa, poaching, snaring, poisoning, trapping, Congo, Cote DIvoire, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Botswana, Tanzania, corrupt practices, extinction
Categories: Lion Trophy Hunting, Science, South Africa, CITES, Wild lions, Canned lions, IUCN, Periodic Review, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Disease, Genetics, sustainability, Canine Distemper, Bovine Tuberculosis
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:45