Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.
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
Monday 1st October 2012
A friend of mine, Karl Ammann, has been involved in exposing the “bushmeat” trade for over 20 years and has won many awards for his factual reports. He is absolutely intrepid and travels to places many would fear to tread to get his information. I know this from personal experience as he took me along on a boat trip up the Zaire River from Kinshasa to Kisangani in the late 1980s. This was when Mobutu was still in power, and Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) was a tricky place to be a tourist. In fact, even before we left Kinshasa Karl managed to get us both arrested (all his fault of course) and when the police saw his Swiss passport suspicion deepened as it was well known in Zaire that all spies carried Swiss passports. This was at a time when there was considerable tension in Zaire as the Government was convinced that the Belgians were going to invade at any moment (I’m not making this up) so it took some fancy footwork not to be thrown in jail. It was that boat trip that got Karl interested in the bushmeat trade as we saw first-hand the huge number of crocodiles, antelopes, monkeys and even chimpanzees being traded for consumption.
Back to the tigers and lions. Karl recently sent me a report on some travels he took between 2008 and 2011 to Laos and Vietnam. He has published the full report here: but I can give you a few highlights:
• The tiger trade is doing well and flourishing. Vietnamese traders often cross into Laos across mountain trails to buy whatever is on offer in terms of wildlife products harvested from the Laotian forests.
All in all Karl’s first-hand report fits in very well with what I have been saying for so long. CITES cannot be effective in the very many cases where the officials tasked to control the trade are part and parcel of the trade, whether in South Africa (rhino horn) or Vietnam and Laos (tiger farms, tiger poaching, lion bone trade). CITES regulations are not worth the paper they are written on in countries where the law enforcement agencies and Government officials are themselves complicit in illegal wildlife trade, or where trade regulations are so easily avoided. For South Africa to engage in the lion bone trade with Laos and to allow rhino horn and live rhinos to be sent to Vietnam, Laos and China, and to allow live tigers to be sent to Vietnam is beyond the pale for a nation supposedly concerned about wildlife conservation. South Africa’s actions resonate well beyond their borders. Karl says having CITES administer the trade to guard wildlife is like telling the foxes to guard the hen house and I’m inclined to agree.
So what can be done? On the wildlife trafficker’s side money talks loudly. $65,000 for a kilo of rhino horn, $20,000 for a kilo of tiger bone cake, $15,000 at minimum for a lion skeleton. Even if we spend only a fraction of the money earned by poachers to combat this trade and to make the public aware, we could be more effective. Get to know Karl Ammann and support him. Support LionAid so we can be more effective in preventing the lion bone trade. Only with appropriate funds can we make a difference – the horn weight of a White Rhino is worth $260,000. Just imagine what Karl and LionAid could positively contribute to a cessation of this trade for the price of just one rhino?
Picture credit: http://www.forevertigers.com/tcm.htm
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:58
Friday 28th September 2012
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.
She has also written to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi asking for all assistance in this regard and to prevent future incidents.
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
Thursday 27th September 2012
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.
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:24
Monday 10th September 2012
We have long been alerted to the existence of tiger breeding farms in China. The farms say it is all for conservation – tigers are bred to be released in wild. No chance of that – you cannot take a captive bred tiger and expect it to survive in the wild. China also says they are doing the same with their captive breeding programmes for pandas – it is not happening.
An article in the Mail Online published in 2010 shows what goes on at the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Village, Guilen. Emaciated tigers encouraged to die so their bones can be sold at $14,400/kg. Vats of tiger bone wine are displayed openly. China has 1,500 tigers in captivity, about half of the remaining world tiger population – none of which have any hope to be returned to the wild and are therefore useless to conservation efforts. Recent questions by CITES about these farms were rejected by China as it does not fall under international trade. South African tiger breeders happily provide extra stock to Chinese “zoos” – read tiger mills for consumption.
China was a signatory to what I will term the Great Tiger Hopeful Recovery Programme initiated by now Russian President Vladimir Putin. The World Bank signed up for funding. China probably elected not to pay much attention, as they have likely already lost all wild tigers within their borders.
Tiger concentration camps provide tiger products. China will augment a demand for those products with substitute lion bones. Make no mistake here – the large cat bone trade is growing and will involve a great further challenge to wild tigers and now lions via poaching. Complacency will kill the big cats, and Africa will continue to lose lions. We MUST shut down the tiger and lion breeding farms in China, Vietnam and South Africa as they provide no conservation benefit to the species WHATSOEVER and they are flaunting every accepted animal welfare regulation.
Picture credit: Sinopix and Mail Online
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:25
Wednesday 29th August 2012
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?
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:30