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2012 - The annus horribilis for African wildlife?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

Conservation organizations fail conservation?

Wednesday 5th December 2012

Conservation organizations fail conservation?

Let’s look back over the past twenty years and celebrate the major successes that have made a real difference to the survival of species and world ecosystems. Like you I’m struggling here so let me backtrack while I think on this.

 

One of my favourite authors, V.S. Naipaul (above) hailing from Trinidad, was for a time a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. Famously, according to Paul Theroux, another favourite author, Naipaul was given the responsibility of assessing winners for the Creative Writing prize among his students. Naipaul declined to grant a First or Second prize, and only awarded a Third prize to the contestants. He said nobody was good enough to earn higher prizes.

 

Mr Naipaul was known as a perfectionist and a tough judge. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, and perhaps we can apply the Naipaul Principle to conservation. Sure, there are many individuals who win conservation prizes for their dedicated efforts. You might know their names and they are good people working tirelessly to ensure the species they are concerned with might have a future. In terms of real effectiveness Mr Naipaul would still perhaps give them his Third Prize in terms of overall efficacy.

 

Now let’s consider the NGOs that claim to have made a major contribution to wildlife conservation. There are big ones and small ones, and some are making a difference. But funding, according to the Naipaul Principle, is largely misspent. Leave alone the various president, vice president, assistant president, species presidents, financial officers, lawyers, public relation companies, office rents, meals, travel and sundry expenses, the amount spent on corporate maintenance versus species conservation beggars belief. One major NGO spent $50 million on “conservation grants” according to 2008 tax records, but an analysis indicates that $35 million of that amount was spent on maintaining international offices. Meanwhile they also spent $116 million on their own office and “functional” expenses. In total that organization spent 90% of received funds on their own operations versus conservation programmes.  Conservation has become business, and Mr Naipaul would give no prizes to such well established NGOs.

 

Turning to the international organizations, few have performed well. CITES has not maintained their promise to support the ban on international ivory trade, and that had led to the killing of 25,000 elephants over the past three years in Tanzania alone. CITES allowed South Africa to conduct rhino trophy hunting and the horns disappeared immediately into the illegal trade in Vietnam, home of “pseudo trophy hunters”. CITES allowed trade of hundreds of live rhinos from South Africa to very dubious destinations in Asia. CITES allows captive bred tigers in South Africa to be trophy hunted and live tigers to be exported to China where they are destined for the medicine pots. CITES allows a “personal and household effects” derogation to exempt lion trophies that constitute about 70% of lion offtake from any consideration of trade, meaning that CITES abrogates responsibility. Mr Naipaul will not be handing any prizes to CITES especially given the tragicomic charade at the last Conference of Parties (2010) in Doha and a likely repeat next year in Bangkok.

 

The IUCN does not see fit to consider genetic information to declare African forest elephants critically endangered. Nor do they consider western and central African lions similarly endangered  on the basis of their unique genetics. If the IUCN could be so motivated, they would make a big difference in funding priorities. The IUCN and another major NGO are opposed to the good Kenya initiative to place a moratorium on South African rhino trophy hunting (a major conduit into the illegal trade), mentioning that it will negatively affect income of private rhino owners. A strange decision given conservation and poaching concerns in other African countries – Kenya lost five rhinos poached just over the past weekend. Mr Naipaul would not be impressed with such apparent vested interest influence within organizations entrusted to keep a keen eye on species’ survival.

 

The International Whaling Commission has been somewhat effective in conserving whales. Despite all negative information concerning the impact of whale harvests, the IWC still allows offtake by Japan, Iceland and Norway for “scientific reasons”. But overall, the IWC gets a Naipaul Third Prize for trying hard and recently insisting that all decisions will be based on scientific information transparently made available to the public. 

 

So, who gets a First or Second Prize? Nobody. The failure of all organizations to make a tangible conservation difference over the past 20 years is sadly evident despite many hundreds of millions earned from donors. What is needed is a new formula; much better attention to scientific information, combating illegal offtake and a much better evaluation by the donating public as to the effectiveness of the organizations receiving their money. Mr Naipaul would say that heads need to roll in many organizations based on non-performance and betraying a public trust. But conservation organizations are not (yet) evaluated according to Mr Naipaul’s rules.

 

It is true that conservation of species and ecosystems is being presented with an ever-changing playing field – just look at the impact of commercial poaching on rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and sea horses, for example, to supply a seemingly insatiable demand for ivory and Traditional Medicine products in Asia. But the writing was on the wall for a long time. You can’t shape the future of conservation by relying on past formulas while poachers are using night-vision goggles and helicopters and big bribes for officials. Conservation efforts are due for a sea change if wildlife is to survive, and the Naipaul standard of performance must be applied.

 


Picture credit: thestockholmshelf.com

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:50

Rhino horn trafficking, Vietnam, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Poland - widespread connections?

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?

 

Image: huntinginafrica.co.za

1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:50

India's Response to Rhino Poaching - Pay Attention South Africa!


The number of rhinos being poached in South Africa is both appalling and shameful. Looking at the statistics, from 2000-2007 an average of 15 rhinos were poached each year. Things then started going badly wrong – 83 in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011 and 413 to date in 2012 with three more months left in the year. The number poached in 2012 could easily top 550 at this rate.

 

The Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa publishes lots of information about those arrested (2012: 153 poachers, 16 couriers, 7 exporters) but cases languish in court forever. For example, the Dawie Groenewald “gang” consisting of game ranchers, pilots and veterinarians charged in 2010 have still not been adequately prosecuted. Dawie Groenewald himself was still given permits to trade in rhinos even after being charged with numerous crimes. Also, Thai National Chumlong Lemongthai – a suspected rhino poaching kingpin – has been successful in having his guilty plea and admissions made in court last year disregarded. Lemongthai pleaded guilty to 10 of 52 charges last August, but the magistrate invalidated the guilty plea and now lawyers are asking the case to be thrown out of court due to the long delays by the prosecution. So it goes in South Africa.

 

The South African Minister of Environment, Edna Molewa, said in 2010 that she was taking the threat seriously and was looking into ways to prevent poaching. Meanwhile over one thousand more rhinos have been poached. Perhaps she is still looking?

 

Contrast that with a no-nonsense approach taken by her counterpart in India a few days ago:

“Minister for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, has ordered an immediate probe into Kaziranga rhino poaching.
Natarajan, who has ordered that an immediate investigation be conducted into this incident by a team from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, has desired that the investigation should be completed within one week, and the perpetrators brought to justice.

She has also written to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi asking for all assistance in this regard and to prevent future incidents.
“I am shocked and distressed by the callous exploitation by unscrupulous poachers of the natural disaster of floods and of helpless animals fleeing to find safe shelter. I am determined to ensure that these criminals are brought to justice and that such incidents do not recur in future,” she said."


 

So there you have it. Jayanthi Natarajan in India swings into action and demands immediate achievement, gives investigators one week to come up with a report and is determined to bring those responsible to justice. Edna Molewa looks into the matter for three years and nothing very much happens even to those caught red-handed. Well done Mrs Natarajan, please give Edna a call and explain to her your formula for effectively dealing with rhino poaching incidents…

 

See also Pieter's blog entitled  "Why the Trade in Rhino Horn Should Never Be Legalised"

 

Picture credit : http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/images/Indian-Rhino

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:33

Why the Trade in Rhino Horn Should Never Be Legalised

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

Wednesday 29th August 2012

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


Picture credit: elephantivory.org

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

South Africa, wildlife conservation, and international pressure

South Africa has long had an official policy to place wildlife in private hands. This means kudus, wildebeest, impalas, rhinos, lions etc are traded and bred to supply game ranches, private parks, hunting organisations. Many hunting proponents claim that South Africa “saved” white rhinos by allowing them to be sold to private owners to then be shot by foreign hunters. And South Africa “saved” many other species by allowing them to be ranched and sold for commercial profit. Indeed, some will claim that by allowing private breeders to supply canned lion hunting trophies, we are actually saving the wild lions.

 

But we do need to take an informed step backward from such views. Let’s perhaps give South Africa some credit for the initial idea of allowing wildlife, normally the property of the State, to be placed in private hands. Perhaps there was even some hopeful thought that this would result in a positive benefit for conservation.

 

But this has never happened. Private ownership by necessity involves commercial utilisation, most of which will be consumptive (hunting for meat and trophies, live trade), so by and large there is no conservation component – just having more “wildlife” on game ranches does nothing for wild populations. Indeed, by allowing rhinos to be commercially utilised, South Africa provided an initial supply that seeded massive levels of commercial poaching in the country and beyond. By creating a supply for the Asian Traditional Medicine bone trade of lions, South Africa has created growing levels of lion poaching across Africa, especially involving neighbouring countries like Botswana.

 

South African authorities have denied such connections and absolve themselves of responsibility. They say the trade in rhino and lion products is legal, and therefore will not cease. They do not answer telephone calls or e-mails on these issues.

 

To successfully put pressure on South Africa to cease trade in wildlife products that are conservation negative, we need to look at a bit of history. Apartheid in South Africa did not solely end from within, but needed international pressure to ensure its extinction. The trade in rhino products, lion bones, and captive bred tigers will continue unless South Africa is subjected to appropriate international censure.

 

What is appropriate pressure? A boycott of South Africa by environmentally conscious tourists who clearly state their reasons for not coming. A campaign to make public South Africa’s transgressions in the wildlife trade by the media. An international call to replace the current environment Minister, Edna Molewa, who tolerates rhino poaching and the lion bone trade. An investigation by Interpol into the illegal wildlife trade in South Africa, including identification of the people involved in the very active wildlife Mafia operating in that country… just for a start?

 

 Apartheid picture image credit:http://bit.ly/Nr1QVl

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:48

Head in the sand for South Africa?

Saturday 14th July 2012

Head in the sand for South Africa?

Supposedly, ostriches are supposed to bury their heads in the sand when they don’t like what they see, and then hope it will all blow over. No real ostrich has ever done this, but the image sticks and is entirely appropriate to how a great diversity of problems are “dealt” with in the world today. Newspaper barons and bankers have most recently tried to adopt these means to their ultimate detriment.

 

This is not the way to deal with conservation issues, as only the species will go away, not the problems.

 

I have been writing much about South Africa recently – the Ministry of Environment supports the rhino horn trade, the lion bone trade, the ivory trade and the trade and trophy hunting of captive bred tigers. The politicians, like Edna Molewa, the Environment Minister, do not seem to realize that when she sticks her head in the sand, the largest part of her body is still visible to the rest of us. It should be noted that South African politicians (among those in very many other countries) are good at being ostriches.

 

Perhaps a relevant example is that past South African President Thabo Mbeki and past health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang denied that the HIV virus caused AIDS, a rather curious denial given all scientific proof. A study by Harvard University in the USA estimated that 365,000 people died as anti-retroviral drugs were then no longer supplied in South Africa – the past health Minister urged people to take garlic, lemon juice, and beetroot as remedies. The Minister who replaced Dr Manto apologized…

 

I appeal to President Zuma of South Africa to instruct Edna to get her department in order or replace her. South Africa is increasingly seen as a country with destructive wildlife conservation policies, and such policies are spreading into the destruction of wildlife across the continent. South African Conservation organisations remain silent, but we need to speak out. LionAid has never been shy to address issues head on – and unless the ostrich model changes in South Africa, we would advise all conscientious tourists to stay away.

 

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/ND46bA

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:27

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Tigers are worth more dead than alive

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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