Pieter's Blog

Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.

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

A hypothetical rhino poaching budget - expenditures and profits

Poacher down: Hardlife Nkomo shot by game rangers while attempting to poach a rhino in Zimbabwe.


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:







3 poachers


About 6 months salary, perhaps more needed if poacher is wildlife dept. employee

Bribes for officials


Police, immigration, local officials, wildlife officials –  a bribe could cover more than one operation

Guns & ammunition


Easily acquired on the SA black market

Ground transport


Second hand car – re-use or abandon

Night vision equipment


E-bay price, can be re-used



Must have passports, must be willing take long flights

Return ticket Maputo - Entebbe


Maputo and Entebbe have lax baggage checks, return ticket raises no suspicions

Return ticket Entebbe - Doha


Doha is a major wildlife trafficking hub

Return ticket Doha – Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City via Bangkok


Lax customs inspection



In case of problems – more bribes for example



Expenses could be less, profit greater if more than one set of horns transported



Assuming traders not involved in end sales, otherwise add $100,000 minimum



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.






Picture credit: http://www.beeld.com/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/Zim-renosters-uit-SA-gestroop-20100708









Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:34

Tiger Poaching, Tiger Farms, Lion Bones

Monday 1st October 2012

Tiger Poaching, Tiger Farms, Lion Bones


A friend of mine, Karl Ammann, has been involved in exposing the “bushmeat” trade for over 20 years and has won many awards for his factual reports. He is absolutely intrepid and travels to places many would fear to tread to get his information. I know this from personal experience as he took me along on a boat trip up the Zaire River from Kinshasa to Kisangani in the late 1980s. This was when Mobutu was still in power, and Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) was a tricky place to be a tourist. In fact, even before we left Kinshasa Karl managed to get us both arrested (all his fault of course) and when the police saw his Swiss passport suspicion deepened as it was well known in Zaire that all spies carried Swiss passports. This was at a time when there was considerable tension in Zaire as the Government was convinced that the Belgians were going to invade at any moment (I’m not making this up) so it took some fancy footwork not to be thrown in jail. It was that boat trip that got Karl interested in the bushmeat trade as we saw first-hand the huge number of crocodiles, antelopes, monkeys and even chimpanzees being traded for consumption.


Back to the tigers and lions. Karl recently sent me a report on some travels he took between 2008 and 2011 to Laos and Vietnam. He has published the full report here:  but I can give you a few highlights:


• The tiger trade is doing well and flourishing. Vietnamese traders often cross into Laos across mountain trails to buy whatever is on offer in terms of wildlife products harvested from the Laotian forests.

• Tigers are “harvested” with IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices. Trip lines linked to explosives (sourced from road construction companies in the area) are set up on trails tigers frequent and are set up around carcasses tigers have killed. If a female disposed in this way has cubs, these are captured and taken for the trade.

• There is minimal control as the border between Laos and Vietnam is porous and Karl has evidence the Vietnamese border control is involved in their own version of wildlife trafficking.

• Karl was not able to enter the Vietnamese tiger breeding farms as he was told at the gate that there was an outbreak of a dangerous infection among the tigers. An associate managed to get into a different farm and was told a lung infection was killing many tigers. It shows that these breeding farms are set up for one purpose alone – dead tigers that can then be used for the bone and derivative trade.

• Tiger “cake” is openly on sale all over Vietnam and Laos. The “cake” is made by boiling down tiger bones (with added ingredients like goat bones, herbs and even opium) and sells for about $20,000 per kilo.

• The tiger farms are doing their own trading in tiger bone products and other derivatives to eliminate the middlemen.

• Lion bones only have about 70% of the “strength” of tiger bones. Lion bones from South Africa are now legally traded to Laos in large quantities – approved by CITES.

• Karl concludes, like I do, that the new affluence in Vietnam is a driver of the tiger and lion bone trade. The “show off” factor is hugely important to impress friends and potential business partners, whether it is medicine or not.


All in all Karl’s first-hand report fits in very well with what I have been saying for so long. CITES cannot be effective in the very many cases where the officials tasked to control the trade are part and parcel of the trade, whether in South Africa (rhino horn) or Vietnam and Laos (tiger farms, tiger poaching, lion bone trade). CITES regulations are not worth the paper they are written on in countries where the law enforcement agencies and Government officials are themselves complicit in illegal wildlife trade, or where trade regulations are so easily avoided. For South Africa to engage in the lion bone trade with Laos and to allow rhino horn and live rhinos to be sent to Vietnam, Laos and China, and to allow live tigers to be sent to Vietnam is beyond the pale for a nation supposedly concerned about wildlife conservation. South Africa’s actions resonate well beyond their borders. Karl says having CITES administer the trade to guard wildlife is like telling the foxes to guard the hen house and I’m inclined to agree.


So what can be done? On the wildlife trafficker’s side money talks loudly. $65,000 for a kilo of rhino horn, $20,000 for a kilo of tiger bone cake, $15,000 at minimum for a lion skeleton.  Even if we spend only a fraction of the money earned by poachers to combat this trade and to make the public aware, we could be more effective. Get to know Karl Ammann and support him. Support LionAid so we can be more effective in preventing the lion bone trade. Only with appropriate funds can we make a difference – the horn weight of a White Rhino is worth $260,000. Just imagine what Karl and LionAid could positively contribute to a cessation of this trade for the price of just one rhino?




Picture credit: http://www.forevertigers.com/tcm.htm

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:58

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

Concentration camps for tigers in China

Monday 10th September 2012

Concentration camps for tigers in China

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


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


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


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


Picture credit: Sinopix and Mail Online 

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

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

Wednesday 29th August 2012

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: elephantivory.org

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