Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.
Wednesday 15th May 2013
Wonder where our horns went?
In August 2012, TRAFFIC published an exhaustive report (The South Africa-Vietnam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus: A deadly combination of institutional lapses, corrupt wildlife industry professionals and Asian crime syndicates. 2012, TRAFFIC, Johannesburg, South Africa) on the trade, legal and illegal, of rhino products between South Africa and Vietnam. Written by Tom Milliken and others, it contains a great deal of information about the trade, and also allows an evaluation of how the private rhino owners have profited from the legal, pseudo-legal, and illegal aspects. Since many of these owners are pushing hard to have the trade in rhino horn legalized, it is perhaps worth looking at the trade in rhinos over the past years to get a better understanding of how the system works.
A short summary of private rhino ownership
South Africa’s growth in game ranching has been termed a “conservation revolution” in that about 17% of the total land area is now used for wildlife ranching of some description (versus 6% of land set aside as national and provincial protected areas). Such ranching produces considerable economic benefits and game ranches are primarily business ventures engaged in hunting for meat and trophies, wildlife viewing, and live sales domestically and abroad. Indeed, by 2007 it was estimated that about 18.5 million game animals existed to be utilized on about 9,000 ranches.
Private ownership of white rhinos is seen as contributing to the overall conservation success in terms of the great increase in white rhino numbers in South Africa. Indeed, of the estimated total of 18,800 white rhinos in the country, it is estimated that almost 5,000 are in private hands. With a policy of increasing white rhino numbers versus limited state lands on which to house them, the continued growth of the white rhino population is seen to integrally depend on placing rhinos in private hands. Before the poaching crisis began, necessitating significant outlays by private owners to protect their rhinos, white rhino ownership was a very attractive proposition earning considerable revenue via live sales, trophy hunting and some ecotourism ventures.
In fact, the TRAFFIC report indicates that when the Natal Parks Board began sales of rhinos to private owners, it was at a fixed price of about $900. During the same time, a trophy hunt could bring in as much as $15,000 – resulting in the inevitable trend that about 10% of rhinos bought on auction were almost immediately trophy hunted.
Perhaps realizing that wild rhinos captured from the wild were undervalued, the Natal Parks Board then went for auctions, and immediately gained much higher profits. Looking at prices from 1987 to 1991, rhinos were then sold for an average of $15,163. This rose to an average price of $30,307 between 2007-2010. The auction price of a rhino is determined by a number of factors, but largely is influenced by age and the size of the horn. Nevertheless, profits remained very robust for those who bought rhinos and then sold them to hunters – in 2010 the difference between the average auction price and the average hunt price was $29,235. That is still a minimum profit, as it does not include what a hunter would pay for extras like accommodation and daily rates while on the hunt.
The TRAFFIC report does not distinguish between rhinos auctioned by the state and private auctions, but indicates that between 1986 and 2010, a total of 2,982 rhinos went on the block. The report only mentions that between 2005 and 2008 a total of 821 rhinos were auctioned, 581 of which came from wild populations owned by the state, or about 70%. Keeping that formula, the total numbers auctioned between the ten years 2001 to 2010 was 1,976 rhinos, indicating that 1,383 came from the wild. The numbers of rhinos trophy hunted between the ten years 2002 to 2011, judging by trophy and horn exports listed by CITES, amounted to 1,885.
In short, it is a strange way of conserving rhinos in my opinion. The rhino owners presumably compete with each other during auctions, but the hunt price always stays well above the auction price. Whenever the auction price approaches anything near the hunt price, the amount of money demanded to hunt a rhino jumps up again – the TRAFFIC report clearly shows such adjustments in 1989, 2001 and 2008, with that last surge in prices coinciding almost exactly with a surge in demand from Vietnamese and proxy “pseudo-hunters” cynically allowed to hunt rhinos though many had no familiarity with firearms.
With the state willing to sell large numbers of wild rhinos on auction, there is little need for private owners to spend money to raise them – buy them at a low price and arrange trophy hunts soon after (one source says a matter of weeks) the sale is made. While the introduction of auctions rather than fixed-price sales cut into profits for private rhino owners in the short term, the difference of $29,235 in 2010 between average auction price and average hunt price stands at an all-time high. The entire nature of the concept of private rhino ownership seems in fact against conservation as the rhinos are merely commodities always to be traded for the highest profit margins.
Perhaps also important is that the state has willingly entered into this covenant, supposedly selling off “surplus” wild rhinos (largely males) to fund conservation activities, especially in light of less and less money coming from central government. Proponents of these state sales have also said that managing rhino populations by selling off surplus males allows more reproduction to take place in protected areas. This begs the question of why protected areas with rhinos already at a stable level - through natural population regulation - should want intrusive management to make more rhinos? How many rhinos does South Africa want? Or is the state also seeing rhinos as a commodity to be reproductively manipulated for greater profits? It is all seeming like rhino “conservation” is influenced at all levels by commercial formulas. While the TRAFFIC report suggested that few if any rhinos would be sold by Kruger in 2012, the actual number sold is not yet available. It would be highly controversial if Kruger continues to sell rhinos to be shot as trophies considering that between 2011 and today, a total of 906 rhinos have been poached from the park.
How many rhinos are in private hands and how many horns are in private stockpiles?
Strangely, neither number is known. The TRAFFIC report mentions this:
“The carrying out of this survey [of rhinos in private hands] has been fraught with frustration and endless delays. The level of cooperation afforded by many individual owners of white rhinoceroses, their managers, the provincial and national authorities has been disappointing. The professional hunters and individuals involved with hunting were particularly unhelpful. Much of the official co-operation was grudging at best and many owners and management authority officials refused outright to provide information when requested."
That’s pretty surprising for a bunch of people supposedly involved in ensuring conservation of white rhinos? I suppose the excuse could be that private rhino owners did not want to reveal their rhino stocks in fear of poaching, but unless such information is available, how can there ever be an assessment of whether the private rhino owners are actually contributing to rhino conservation or just utilizing rhinos for short-term profit?
The other big gap in information concerns rhino horn stockpiles. Some of these are held by authorities of national and provincial protected areas and represent accumulations of horns resulting from natural mortality, horns confiscated from poachers, horns taken from rhinos that died during immobilization/transport, etc. For that category of rhino custodians, the TRAFFIC report judges that overall, relatively accurate records have been kept.
However, for private stockpiles, the situation is significantly different. Despite a ruling by the CITES Conference of Parties in 2007 that the Secretariat should receive by 2009 assurances that ALL rhino horn stockpiles were enumerated and carefully registered, the South African private sector has remained reluctant to divulge such information. One report stated that there were possibly 1,805 kg of horns in private hands in 2009. Using various other means of assessment based on the rate of natural mortality among rhinos held by private individuals, dehorning of breeding females (remember – males are used for trophy hunting and hunters require rhinos with horns), mortality during transport, etc – the TRAFFIC report indicates estimates ranging from 2,837 kg to 4,750 kg of horns in private hands, a difference of up to 263%. Was the reluctance of private owners to divulge the size of their horn stocks in part related to an active underground trade?
At the 2010 CITES Conference of Parties TRAFFIC presented a diplomatically worded statement:
“Whilst the shortfall between reported and expected horn stocks does not confirm that illegal activity is widespread in South Africa’s private sector, it does strongly suggest that significant volumes of rhino horn still remain outside of the legal control system and are vulnerable to undocumented trade in the hands of unscrupulous individuals. That fact, and the failure of five provinces [out of nine in South Africa] to report private horn stocks, indicates that implementation of South Africa’s control policy for rhino horns is inadequate at a time when illicit trade is escalating.”
Until recently, the sale of rhino horns within South Africa to South Africans was allowed. Such legally acquired horns could be exported as personal effects and then sold into the trade via a gaping loophole. In 2009 the South African government imposed a moratorium on national sales that still remains in effect in an attempt to prevent such illegal flows, but there is considerable evidence that many illegal sales from private stockpiles had already taken place. The TRAFFIC report mentions one case in which privately held horns were sold and ended up in Indonesia as well as buyers openly advertising their desire to purchase horns and tusks in the Game and Hunt magazine. It is highly likely that private rhino owners were deeply involved in the illegal trade of horns for many years.
The report also states “Overall, it is now suspected that at least several hundreds of horns have been illegally sold from private rhino horn collections throughout the country, and this trafficking has been augmented by other horns deriving from a series of rhino horn thefts that have grown increasingly frequent …” According to the TRAFFIC report one “wildlife insider” considered that the 2009 government moratorium on underground sales of rhino horns by private owners greatly reduced the flow of horns onto the international market and thus led to the massive increase in poaching since that date.
Where from here?
South Africa has been credited with a remarkable recovery of white rhino numbers over the past century – up from a small remnant population of 20-50 animals in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in 1895 to about 18,000 rhinos now. South Africa was also relatively immune from the poaching scourges that virtually eliminated black rhinos and white rhinos from large parts of eastern and southern Africa beginning in the 1970’s, but has recently been hit with a vengeance. For the eight years 2000-2007, the total number of rhinos poached in South Africa stood at 120, or about 15 per year. But from 2008 to 2012 this number increased to a total of 1,654, or about 331 per year. As of May 15th this year, already 313 rhinos have been poached.
This recent poaching crisis has been blamed on a number of factors, including a high level of demand from mainly Vietnam but also China; an exponential increase in the price of rhino horn, possibly reaching a level of $65,000/kg in Asian countries; a considerable rise in wealth among Asian consumers of rhino horn leading to ever-higher demand and prices; the emergence of hardened criminal syndicates dealing with the acquisition and trade of rhino horn; and the ability of such syndicates to engage a network of willing and corrupt partners among private rhino owners and managers, wildlife professionals like veterinarians and pilots, professional hunters, and government officials. In addition, it is becoming ever more apparent that those involved in poaching are highly resilient to a variety of anti-poaching measures and are able to counter such measures with increasingly sophisticated and diverse tactics.
It is also becoming obvious that plans to target South Africa’s rhinos could have begun well before the great escalation of poaching in 2008. For example, arrests were made as far back as 2004 of Vietnamese nationals attempting to transport rhino horns by air from South Africa into Vietnam, and in 2003 an arrest was made of an individual carrying rhino horns attempting to enter Vietnam from Laos. The first rhino “pseudo-hunts” by Vietnamese nationals began in 2003 with ten rhinos hunted and then took off in 2005. Arrests were subsequently made in Vietnam of individuals carrying a mixture of rhino horns “covered” by hunting permits and those without permits. Interestingly, all seizures of illegal horns in Vietnam ended in 2008, the same year poaching began to take off in South Africa – likely indicative of the progressive ability of the syndicates to ensure safe passage of this illegal wildlife product into Vietnam by means of bribes and influence.
It should be remembered that before the escalation of poaching began in South Africa, Zimbabwe had been very hard hit. From 1986 to 1993 well over 100 rhinos were poached annually in Zimbabwe compared to only a handful in South Africa. Rhino poaching then declined to very low levels from 1994 to 2001, before growing again in 2002 to present with an increasing shift from Zimbabwe to South Africa (likely because Zimbabwe had fewer and fewer rhinos left to be poached).
1993 and 1994 were important dates in terms of a decrease in rhino poaching due to two major events. In 1994, a civil war erupted in Yemen, a country previously highly involved in the rhino horn trade, mainly used in the manufacture of dagger handles. After the war, the new Islamic regime frowned on such displays of ostentatious wealth and the bottom dropped out of the dagger handle market. Simultaneously, in 1993 it became illegal to sell rhino horn products on the Traditional Chinese Medicine markets of China and Taiwan, followed in 1994 by Japan, Korea and Vietnam. These changes in Yemen and Asia effectively reduced the demand that had been fuelled by poaching. The slow but increasing resurgence after 2002 is attributed to an exhaustion of stockpiles previously established by Asian marketers, the emergence of considerable wealth among a burgeoning Asian middle class, and the huge price increases in rhino horn that allowed greater risks to be taken by poaching rhinos from previously more “secure” areas (prices rose from $4,700/kg in 1994 to $65,000/kg today). Demand surged, initially met by underground sales from stocks available from South African private rhino owners, but then needing to be augmented by other means as demand kept growing.
These other means included “pseudo hunts” arranged by horn traffickers and willing South African rhino owners – not only to Vietnamese clients but also proxy hunters from Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Thailand; horn thefts and “pseudo-thefts” (owners claiming horns were stolen to enable illegal sales) from private stockpiles, museums and zoos; and poaching and “pseudo-poaching” (owners shooting their rhinos and claiming they were poached) of private and state-owned rhinos.
Legalize the trade in horn?
In Vietnam and China, many say that buying ivory and rhino horn and the consequent decimation of animals is not their problem. Rather, they say, the problem lies with the African countries who supply the products to be sold - if these countries want to conserve their wildlife they should not allow it to become marketed, legally or illegally. It would seem South Africa, rather than taking the role of an innocent party suffering from a rhino poaching crisis, should look within for solutions in addition to signing memoranda of understanding with countries like Vietnam. Is it a home-grown problem that facilitated a foreign-grown problem?
Increasingly, there are calls to legalize the rhino horn trade not only by rhino owners with private stockpiles (who would realize a significant windfall profit) but also from members of state institutions, rhino NGOs and the South African government. Beginning with statements made at the recent CITES Conference of Parties in March, South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa seems progressively swayed to consider legalization based on her assessment that nothing that has been done to date seems to be making a difference in stemming the poaching crisis. Such calls might be gaining in popularity but lack rigour in the details of how such a trade would be regulated and controlled. There is no idea about the level of demand, who the trading partners would be and how potential partners like China and Vietnam would change their domestic laws to allow trade in rhino horn. Also, it is uncertain how illegal products would be differentiated from legal horns, a problem that would affect all remaining rhino populations in Africa. In short, such arguments are as yet far from convincing.
Those who claim that providing rhino horns by non-lethal means will control poaching conveniently ignore that such rhino horns have already long been provided from privately-held stocks in the past. As mentioned above, poaching was largely under control from 1994-2001. But the eagerness of those who created a burgeoning demand via supplies from unregistered rhino horn stocks, pseudo-hunts and pseudo-thefts must accept that their actions resulted in a current level of demand that exceeds any means of supply except by renewed poaching. Far from the perceived situation that the trade ban of 1977 limited supply of rhino horn, thereby raising prices and driving poaching, the real situation is that rhino owners in South Africa went around the trade ban by various means to increase a demand that has now exceeded any supply possibilities except by poaching.
South Africa should also realize that the current poaching epidemic has deep roots in misguided policies allowing various forms of commercialization of rhinos under the guise of conservation. These began with sales and auctions to private owners who were quick to cash in on differences between sale prices and hunting prices. Indeed, when considering levels of sales of state-owned rhinos and numbers of rhinos being trophy hunted, it would seem that such sales were merely a conduit to turn a wild rhino into a hunting trophy. State organizations like Ezemvelo (formerly the Natal Parks Board) derive about 75% of their funding from rhino sales and it is not surprising that intensive management is applied to wild rhino populations to stimulate reproduction and boost the possibility of future income. Such practices, coupled with a strong reluctance on the part of private rhino owners to divulge information about the numbers of rhinos in their hands, undermine any claims that this benefits rhino conservation.
With the combination of lax enforcement of laws against domestic sales of rhino horns and products in China and Vietnam, increased wealth allowing more purchases of rhino horn products for whatever reasons, and a ready supply of pseudo-legal and illegal horns by traffickers aided and abetted by South African private rhino owners, it is highly questionable if any level of legal supply will now stem poaching.
The TRAFFIC report mentioned that “… a unique set of circumstances and a new criminal coalescence of players lies behind the carnage … A potent mix of unscrupulous wildlife professionals, some corrupt government officials and hardened Asian criminal syndicates has converged to create the “perfect storm” for wreaking havoc on the country’s rhino populations.”
I agree that while there might be a “perfect storm” now, it is clear with hindsight that the factors that caused this storm have existed for quite some time but went un-noticed or were ignored. South Africa has grabbed a tiger by the tail and must find ways to let go without sacrificing more rhinos in the future, turning more rhinos into commodities by placing them in irresponsible private hands, and, actually, dealing with the consequences of bad decisions and complacency in the past.
Picture credit: www.africanrhino.org/2012/09/01/farming-rhinos-the future
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2 Comments | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:22
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
Saturday 2nd March 2013
A messy scene
On the 27th February, LionAid was invited to present information at a briefing to the EU Parliament about the illegal wildlife trade. Also present were representatives from WWF, IFAW, WCS, the USA Mission to the EU, Interpol, etc. The meeting was organized by Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP (Netherlands) and Kriton Arsenis (Greece) who have taken the lead in establishing the EU scope and extent of illegal wildlife trade, how the EU can effectively prevent such trade, and what measures can be taken to bring better law enforcement to the arena.
The situation is grim, and as of now, the EU is woefully underprepared to effectively deal with illegal trafficking. With over 2,000 points of entry, it is relatively simple for traffickers to identify weak points – the EU is one of the largest and most diverse markets for wildlife products. Also, there is no uniform standard of enforcement within the 27 Member States, and many have weak penalties for those convicted of illegal trafficking. It is therefore somewhat easy to establish operations in countries where enforcement and penalties do not disincentivise the considerable profits that can be made. Remember that once an illegal product enters the EU, the absence of internal border controls means that it can then reach almost all 27 Member States. The illegal trade is a low priority for CITES, there is insufficient coordination and cooperation among EU Member States, there are limited resources for enforcement – all adding to an environment facilitating illegal trade.
In addition, our data show that EU Customs officials will accept “official” CITES documents from the exporting countries without in many cases establishing their authenticity and/or appropriateness under existing CITES and EU Wildlife Trade regulations:
There were a diversity of actions proposed at the meeting, including national action plans for enforcement; risk and intelligence assessments; training and awareness programs for prosecutors and the judiciary; liaising with authorities in source, transit and destination countries, CITES, Interpol and the World Customs Organization; building task forces, enhancing intelligence sharing and information management. In addition, the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations fall far short of the needed rigour in terms of being able to deal with the “grey” wildlife trade discussed above. So a very long list of items “to do”. This will take many years to implement let alone complete.
In contrast, the USA is already much better organized in terms of efficient interagency cooperation and existence of a number of highly applicable Acts like the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the illegal trade funded terrorism and militias and promised US support, a coordinated and efficient response could develop virtually overnight.
Meanwhile, the EU is badly prepared to handle both the illegal trade and the semi-legal “grey” trade in wildlife in the near future. Unless the EU Parliament and the Commission take a very active and indeed pro-active stance from now on, the EU will not effectively deal with the ever-more sophisticated and financially flush criminal networks that run circles around currently feeble contraventions. When a well-organized business is thrown against a slow and cumbersome bureaucracy there is no doubt of the victor.
There are, however, things that can be done both immediately and in the short term. Almost immediately the EU WTR can suspend many legal loopholes. Among the most glaring is the Personal and Household Effects derogation for hunting trophies that currently allows for much fiddling as is seen in the case of both rhino horns and elephant tusks. Closing such legal loopholes will eliminate much of the currently flourishing “grey” trade.
In the short term, the EU can also place a total ban on any number of wildlife products, including ivory, lion skins, lion bones and trophies, polar bear products, snake skins etc. There is precedent for this – in 2009 the EU banned all Canadian Harp Seal products from being traded within the 27 Member States and this came into effect in 2010. Before the ban it was estimated that $5.5 million of products entered the EU from a population of almost 7 million Canadian fur seals. The trade value in elephant, lion and polar bear products is much smaller and comes from a comparatively much smaller source population.
Once a ban on such products is in place, enforcement is much easier as there can be no further “grey” trade and any sale of such items. Given the current levels of concern among EU citizens about elephant and rhino poaching and the continuous steep decline in lion populations, this ban would have great popular support. MEPs at the wildlife crime meeting were indeed reminded by Catherine Bearder MEP (UK) that this concern could well play a part in the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections in June 2014. Cross-party MEP support for measures that put an end to EU trade in species vulnerable because of their high commercial value could pay re-election dividends.
Clearly, the EU needs to act fast and effectively. As the third-largest world market for wildlife products traded illegally this is both a duty and a responsibility. The EU and the Commission can do so within current trade legislation and without years of liaising, training, building, assessing, consulting, deliberating and enhancing. Those measures can come in parallel and will take precious time. But without dedicated action right now customs agents will be well trained in the future to recognize species that went extinct years ago.
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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:17
Tuesday 26th February 2013
Next stop – Thai Skin and Hide
As of today, the number of rhinos poached for their horns in South Africa stands at about 107. Last year it was 668, the year before it was 448 and the year before that 333. Despite all assurances by the SA Department of Environmental Affairs that they are taking stern measures to stem the tide, the projections for 2013 now could achieve another record high.
That is just the illegal trade. Meanwhile, the legal trade in South African rhinos and their products, which could arguably be said to stimulate the illegal trade, continues unabated. Indeed, the South African Private Rhino Owners Association wants to export more in the future, and also wants to sell their stockpile of rhino horns removed as a precaution against poaching. The owners say they are instrumental in conservation of the species as they maintain about 4,500 rhinos in captivity (compared to about 16,000 or so in the wild), and that they have participated in bringing white rhinos back from the brink of extinction. Now they need to sell their horns legally, they say, to offset the enormous costs of keeping their rhinos secure in these days of rampant poaching. In fact, they claim that by “flooding the market” with rhino horns there will be no incentive to poach as the price will be driven down.
Such claims are easily refuted.
First, the private owners are NOT involved in any conservation of the species. They purchased and continue to purchase their rhinos among themselves and from the government as a business venture – they do not breed rhinos to return to the wild but to give them the financial returns on their investment. Much like the captive breeding of lions in South Africa, all animals involved are maintained for commerce.
Second, the private breeders did NOT bring rhinos back from the brink of extinction as they purchased surplus animals from organizations like the Natal Parks Board in the 1980s. In other words, rhinos were already doing well, and there was a supply available for sale.
Third, if you enter into the commercial business of breeding rhinos for sale, you have to accept, like any business, that the commercial environment might change. In the case of rhino breeders, it could even be argued that they participated in changing that environment as they allowed the “pseudo-hunting” of rhinos, fuelling demand from countries like Vietnam. Consequently, the private owners are now stuck with the extra security costs to protect their investments and are complaining that the government is not helping them enough by refusing to allow private owners to sell their horns. This is like a bank complaining that the government is not doing enough to prevent bank robberies and that they have had to invest in better and stronger safes, bulletproof glass in front of tellers, private security guards, surveillance cameras, alarm systems, etc. Basically, if your business environment changes, you, as a commercial enterprise, have to bear the added costs. If such added costs prevent you making adequate returns then you have to reassess the business.
And fourth, the concept of flooding the market with horn, bringing the prices down, and thereby disincentivising poachers assumes that one knows the level of demand. The fact that the illegal traders are willing to take considerable risks and invest substantial sums to obtain their rhino horns (bribes to officials being just one cost) means not only that the illegal traders have a better business model, but that the demand is very high to be able to offset their losses through various interceptions by customs and police agencies. Also, it is well known that rhino horn is seen in many Asian countries as an investment opportunity rather than a commercial commodity immediately placed on the market.
The private owners, in my opinion, thus have no leg to stand on. In addition, they keep fuelling the demand side by continuing to allow trophy hunting by “pseudo-hunters” now coming from a variety of countries besides Vietnam. Remember that it was the government that had to set the new requirements for future clients to show they had any past hunting experience – the private breeders were most happy to receive Thai prostitutes who had never shot a rifle to come and claim their rhinos. Surely the private owners and the professional hunters in their employ are best placed to determine the capabilities of their clients to see whether they fall into the “real” or “pseudo” hunting category? In any business, if you undermine your own sales and those of others in your business by shady trading, you are inevitably heading for trouble. In addition, it was the government that placed a moratorium on domestic rhino horn sales in 2008 to prevent leakage to the international trade – the rhino owners were happy for this domestic trade to continue.
To close this article, I would like to give an example of the ineptitude of the government department handling aspects of the legal trade in rhinos. In May 2012, Mrs S.V. Kalyan of the opposition Democratic Alliance received an answer to her Parliamentary Questions 889 and 1394 on live rhino exports from South Africa to Asia. The Department of Environmental Affairs listed the permit endorsements at the O.R. Tambo (Johannesburg) International Airport.
Below are some tables where I compare the numbers provided by the DEA to Parliament versus the numbers of live exports listed by CITES. It is likely that the CITES numbers for 2011 are likely provisional and still could increase.
Live rhinos to China:
Live rhinos to Vietnam:
Live rhinos to Japan:
As you can see, the numbers do not match, except perhaps in the case of Japan. CITES has to ensure a match between numbers exported and numbers imported, so the constantly higher numbers of exports likely were provided by the importing countries.
There are a number of possibilities that could account for these discrepancies. The most obvious is that the DEA is incompetent: questions in Parliament deserve complete answers. It is also possible that the DEA is withholding information, as live exports of CITES-listed species require adherence to guidelines including that the destination is an approved facility. In the case of live rhino exports it was revealed earlier that many went to rather shady organizations, one of them by the name of Thai Skin and Hide, another by the name of the Kunming Game Reserve (established to protect indigenous elephants – no mention of exotic animals), another to the Bao Son Tourism and Construction Group, and yet another to Sanya Longhui Breeding Co., a rhino “farm” in China with an attached pharmaceutical company dealing in rhino products.
Clearly CITES permits are being extended without due diligence and the responsible Department is reluctant to give good information. That same department has said since 2009 that it was taking a firm stance against rhino poaching and illegal exports. Combine an incompetent national monitoring and licensing agency with maybe less than reputable private rhino owners and it is no wonder that the rhino situation in South Africa has ended up with a toxic outcome.
Picture credit: Idris Ahmed- Indian rhino in crate – animalworks.co.au
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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 20:42
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
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1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:03
Saturday 5th January 2013
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.
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:02
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
Tuesday 20th November 2012
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:
Lemtongthai could not have run the rhino operation on his own, and as an accomplice he found:
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
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?
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:50
Monday 8th October 2012
We all know that the legal and illegal trade in rhino horn (largely emanating from South Africa and destined to Vietnam and China) is highly profitable. Let’s look at some numbers from two different sources (CITES and South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs). The Department mentions that from 2000-2007, an average of 15 rhinos were poached each year. Things then started going badly wrong – 83 poached in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011, and about 430 to date in 2012 (it is estimated that the total at this rate will be over 500 this year – 9 rhinos were poached in a single day on October 1 for example).
2007/2008 seem to be the crucial years when the demand for rhino horn grew to stellar levels. South Africa responded to the demand. CITES records indicate South Africa legally supplied 157 horns to Vietnam 2007-2010, 167 live rhinos to China and 16 to Vietnam 2007-2010, 21 “trophies” to China and 177 “trophies” to Vietnam 2007-2010, etc. A TRAFFIC report (see below) questions the number of rhino horn trophies exported to Vietnam citing a total of 657 horns exported from SA while Vietnam cites an import of about 170. Thus 75% of the trade is being under-reported…
A Vietnamese Cabinet Minister stated a few years ago that rhino horn cured him of cancer resulting in a big surge of rhino horn imports to that country.
The legal trade from South Africa and the hugely increased demand that followed led to the out of control poaching that we see now. Such poaching has resonated across other countries like Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya.
It is well known that one kilo of rhino horn has a “street value” of between $65,000 to $100,000 per kilo. That means that the horns of White Rhino (weighing perhaps 4kg) are worth about $260,000 - $400,000. Let me just show you the hypothetical profits that can be made by the poachers and the wildlife trade syndicates in this enterprise by putting together a budget:
NB – the choice of Maputo as an initial transit point is not just off the top of my head, there is evidence that the airport is becoming a major smuggling nexus. In 2012 a Vietnamese national was arrested there attempting to transport seven rhino horns…
Clearly, the illegal trade is highly profitable. South African rhino owners are now charging around $100,000 for a legal rhino hunt, a source of contention as many Vietnamese arrived for “pseudo” trophy hunts – they were given the permits by the provincial authorities (though many of them had never hunted before and did not know how to use a rifle) – and allowed to take back the horn as a legal CITES trophy. However, a recent TRAFFIC report indicates that South Africa is slowly taking measures to close some glaring loopholes. For example, rhino hunts are now restricted to one hunt per individual hunter in a 12 month period; Government officials must be present at every hunt; rhino horns must be microchipped and cannot be exported in personal baggage; and the importing country must demonstrate effective legislation to ensure that trophy horns will remain as “non-commercial personal effects”. In addition, since 2011 South Africa has belatedly demanded that all live rhino exports go to World Association of Zoos and Aquariums approved facilities to circumvent the animals being sent to Chinese and Vietnamese rhino “breeding” facilities that supply rhino horn products as their main activity.
But poaching meanwhile “saves” about 50% of the legal cost, and the savings will probably grow as the rhino owners raise prices in the future and more loopholes are closed. The TRAFFIC report mentioned above indicates that while there might be a decline in the demand for rhino horn in China, it is growing by leaps and bounds in Vietnam. TRAFFIC mentions that 48 hospitals and medical institutes, 240 departments and 9,000 health centres licensed to practice traditional medicine use rhino horn products. Indeed, there is strong evidence that rhino horn “touts” stroll the corridors of cancer wards to offer desperate terminally ill patients and their families a last resort “cure”. Also, rhino horn is a status symbol, investment opportunity and even a form of currency for down payments on luxury items like expensive automobiles etc.
So what can be done? To some extent South Africa is closing a few glaring loopholes, but the poaching continues unabated. Organizations like the SA Private Rhino Owners’ Association are calling for a legalization of trade, and conservation NGOs like the Endangered Wildlife Trust support continued rhino trophy hunting. South Africa did announce recently that it would not seek CITES support at the upcoming Conference of Parties in 2013 to legalize sales of stockpiled rhino horn, and Kenya has put a proposal to the CoP to impose a zero export quota on hunting trophies until 2019. Meanwhile, strides can be made by soliciting increased political will to counter the trade, increased collaborative law enforcement, and increased penalties and deterrents for those implicated rather than the endlessly delayed court cases that are the norm in South Africa.
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:34