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.

    Is this man supporting terrorism, insurgency, regional destabilization or just making a buck?

 

In recent years we have all been advised by a series of pundits that the trade in illegal wildlife products (ivory, rhino horn, lion body parts and cub smuggling, pangolins, shark fins, rosewood, ebony, sandalwood, etc, etc) is driven by criminal syndicates. Organized crime. We have been told the profits benefit terrorist groups, insurgent militias, and unscrupulous dealers and individuals who support them at high levels in government and in the business community. We have been told that wildlife crime contributes to the destabilization not only of governments but entire regions, and also will lead to the destruction of the wildlife populations that are so important to our global heritage. 

 

We are told that campaigns are mounting to stop the trade, including better law enforcement, better intelligence sharing, better customs controls, agreements between source and destination countries to better control supply and demand, more public and private funds being mobilized to control illegal offtake (anti-poaching), more awareness raising campaigns in source and destination countries to educate people about the consequences of buying and selling, etc.  This all sounds positive and encouraging.

 

However, a recent and excellent report from the Institute of Security Studies (The Evolution of Organized Crime in Africa – Towards a New Response; Mark Shaw and Tuesday Reitano, April 2013) shows that organized crime had been well established in many of the countries well before the recent poaching crisis; that organized crime has penetrated deeply into state institutions and private enterprises as a result of long and mutually beneficial associations; and that organized crime is highly flexible, responsive to new opportunities, and moves more quickly than policymakers can respond. States with dysfunctional governments (fragile states) are key areas of operation, but more stable states are key areas of investment of profits and also serve as regional hubs.

 

The ISS report, while not dealing much with wildlife crime, has some very important things to say and I recommend a careful read if you are interested in possible ways of reducing wildlife crime. The report makes these key points:

•Organized crime became established in the 1970’s largely operating from South Africa and Nigeria. At the end of the Cold War, many armed groups involved in local insurgencies sought alliances with foreign criminal groups to fund armed conflict. Increasingly, such criminal groups began to buy collusion at the highest levels in many states. In the new millennium, a consolidation phase started, and there is evidence of greater ownership and initiative of African criminal groups. 

•Nowadays, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Lagos form the core triangle of urban hubs involved in organized crime but cities like Cape Town, Dakar, Kinshasa and Addis Ababa also play distinctive roles.

•The report estimates that by 2010, Africa was linked in some way to 7-10% of the global illicit trade. The global revenue accruing to organized crime is thought to be in the region of $1.3 trillion. By contrast, legal African trade accounts for only 3% of global trade in goods and services and only 2.4% of global GDP in the legal economy. 

•West Africa has emerged as a major transit and repackaging hub for Latin American cocaine. At least 25 tons of cocaine per year is trafficked out of Guinea Bissau to Europe, with a street value of $4.29 billion.

•Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon are ranked among the top world countries in terms of global cybercrime, valued at $600 million annually.

•The US State Department estimates that Kenya’s financial institutions launder over $100 million per year.

•Illicit trafficking of gold and natural resources, principally out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is estimated to be worth $1.2 billion per year.

•Illicit financial outflows alone (money laundering) from Sub-Saharan Africa outpaced development assistance to the area by a ratio of 2:1. 

•Part of the problem in attempting to combat organized crime in Africa is that criminal networks are difficult to disentangle from the activities of warlords, insurgent groups, and even some political, military and community groups. 

•Increased demand for natural resources from Asian economies, most notably China, have led to many African countries becoming increasingly linked to China via the legitimate and illegitimate markets. It is estimated that the global value of the Chinese illegitimate market was $2.18 trillion between 2000 and 2009.

•The port of Mombasa has become notorious for linkages with organized crime. A previous report stated “Mombasa is like a tunnel. All illicit business happens here, and it is controlled by traders supported by customs personnel and powerful people in government. Whoever controls the port controls the illicit business in Kenya.” http://www.ipinst.org/~ipinst/images/pdfs/ipi_epub-kenya-toc.pdf

•Efforts by the international community to combat organized criminality in Africa have had minimal impact as there is minimal activity by the states themselves. There is a great need to combat the underlying reasons for the proliferation of organized crime in all sectors, including targeting income inequality, building a broad base for the rule of law and democratic governance, fighting corruption and increasing community-level participation. 

 

The authors sum up their report as follows:

 

•The traditional way of responding to organized crime has been to view it as a criminal justice or security issue requiring strengthened cross border and domestic law enforcement, border control and intelligence-gathering capability. However, it is clear from organized crime’s evolution across the continent that fighting this phenomenon can no longer be understood in terms of curbing the illicit trade. Given the almost continent-wide interdependence of organized crime and corruption at the highest levels, and the degree of entrenchment within communities, addressing organized crime in the future will also involve preventing and reversing the criminalization of governments and providing sustainable economic alternatives for its citizens. 

 

So where does this leave the efforts to combat wildlife crime, that by all indicators intend to proceed along lines that have not worked in the past? The authors have some suggestions for the overall situation and I combine these with some specific ones of my own:

 

•National ownership of any plan to control organized crime is crucial, and should not largely depend on the will of those in power. Citizens should insist on ownership of their natural resources and require that state institutions do not allow channelling of profits only to elites.  

•Rather than concentrating on combating individual criminal groups, the supply chains need to be closed down, necessitating cross-border and international collaboration. 

•There cannot be any level of impunity for those involved – lack of prosecution undermines citizens’ trust in democratic institutions and encourages new recruitment into illegal activities.

•There should be a strong emphasis on re-establishment of community and social control, and known members of crime networks ostracized rather than tolerated and even celebrated. Rather than expecting control to come from governments, there should be a much larger focus on grassroots initiatives. Key among these will be funding for projects stimulating alternative and sustainable income streams.

•Support to community structures, civil society organizations and independent media can provide momentum against organized crime where state institutions or political will are lacking.  

•Combating organized crime has always been a reactive process, playing into the hands of syndicates that are dynamic, flexible, opportunistic and very good at anticipating control measures, in no small part due to information received from penetrated institutions. Information gathering by international institutions is crucial, but is currently dominated by concerns about terrorism. A much more dedicated approach to specific wildlife crime activities is required.

•Those involved in wildlife crimes are often well-known to national and international agencies. While prosecution nationally could be a difficult issue given levels of immunity, certainly their names should be published (as are those of known drug kingpins) to discourage anyone dealing with them at international levels and international assets frozen?

 

We also need a much better definition of what constitutes wildlife crime. At present, it is accepted that the illegal wildlife trade ranks in the top five of illegal trade activities (after drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting and weapons) and is worth somewhere between $7-$10 billion per year. However, wildlife crime is largely classified as “poaching” in very many African countries, and poaching carries very light penalties and fines. Also, the illegal wildlife trade has only recently been given significant prominence because Hillary Clinton said the profits were used by terrorist groups. 

 

So overall, the whole definition of wildlife crime lingers in a grey area. Is an ivory poacher an illegal wildlife trafficker? Is a middleman caught with hundreds of kilos of ivory supporting terrorism? If the ultimate destination of most of the poached ivory is China, is China therefore funding terrorism? 

 

Certainly, at present, those trading in drugs and arms are given high penalties when caught. But at a local level poaching is still treated as a misdemeanour. Until we know what actually constitutes illegal wildlife trafficking, and until appropriate penalties are assigned for various levels of involvement, we are no further in combating the crime, even though there is plenty of evidence that wildlife trafficking is conducted by organized crime syndicates. Until all those caught up in the rush of needing to combat wildlife crime come up with some much better definitions of what they mean by wildlife crime, and until they learn what they are up against from reports like that of the ISS, it remains a lot of flag waving parades banging drums. 

 

For further reading, see also this article

 

Picture credit: Standard Tribune

 

2 Comments | Posted by Pieter Kat at 10:39

The EU to review regulations on imports of animals as trophies

The European Union has invited LionAid to participate in a review of current regulations concerning the import of hunting trophies of species listed on their Annex B (equivalent to CITES Appendix II). 

 

We feel this review is well overdue and therefore increasingly urgent. It should be noted that a number of EU Member States proposed a comprehensive review of current import practices by all parties at the recent CITES Conference, but this was watered down to only include elephant and rhino trophies. Such trophies belatedly have to be issued with import permits (not required before, an export permit from the country of origin sufficed) – in response to the rampant rhino “pseudo-hunting” scam facilitated by lax controls in South Africa. 

 

“Pseudo-hunting”, as you will remember, took advantage of a glaring loophole in CITES regulations where a “hunter” could legally export a rhino trophy and then quickly take advantage of the significant difference between the hunting price and the street value of the horn to turn a tidy profit. This is against the CITES rules, but to date there have been few successful prosecutions outside South Africa we are aware of (though arrests have been made in the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Such horns initially were collected by droves of Vietnamese hunters, but as eyes in South Africa slowly began to open (largely due to NGOs and the media raising questions), the syndicates began to recruit numbers of proxy hunters from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, Poland, Russia and the USA (countries, it might be added, with significant Vietnamese communities). 

 

Trophy horns imported by such “proxy hunters” have since not surprisingly been conveniently declared as “stolen”, “lost”, cut up and given to relatives and friends, etc.  

 

It is suspected that the same scenario applies to ivory collected by “hunters” in Africa – “cut-rate” hunts are offered by many agents and operators, the ivory is legally exported, and the tusks then “disappear”. Again, the EU is involved – CITES records indicate substantial increases in numbers of Danes and Portuguese, for example, showing a sudden interest in elephant hunting and significant discrepancies between numbers of exports versus imports. Ivory from hunts often seems to vanish into thin air.

 

The EU is proposing to “address” the issue by contemplating a requirement for import permits in addition to export permits for hunting trophies.

 

Lions fall in a different category, in that there does not appear to be an illegal trade in hunting trophies per se. However, we will advocate a complete ban on the import of lion trophies from South Africa. Such trophies virtually all originate from the captive breeding industry (“canned hunting”), are mislabelled as “wild” by South African authorities to allow hunters to place them in record books maintained by hunting organizations like SCI, and are hunted by very cruel techniques. In fact, the entire captive breeding for trophy hunting concept should have come under much greater scrutiny and sanctions in the past, but such was the attention given to rhinos, elephants and tigers that the industry was allowed to blossom and bloom. 

 

If the EU prohibits import of seal skins from Namibia and Canada on the basis that this industry is based on cruel practices, why not similarly ban imports of lion trophies emanating from the canned hunting industry? Since South Africa only exports captive raised lion trophies, a blanket ban would not be difficult to enforce as the issue of truly wild versus captive raised animals would not need to be considered. While over 60% of canned lion trophies go to the USA, significant numbers end up in Germany, France, Spain, etc in the EU. 

 

The necessity of an import permit for lion trophies from countries other than South Africa would also give the EU, under existing Wildlife Trade Regulations, greater latitude of ensuring that lion trophy hunting is indeed sustainable. This sustainability is currently claimed by the trophy hunting community but is increasingly being challenged by published information, surveys, and indeed the governments of Botswana and Zambia.

 

We will seek backing from our supporting organizations like IFAW, HSI, EIA and others to ensure that lions are not once again swept under the carpet in the exclusive stampede to conserve African elephants and rhinos. Desperate though the status of such species might be, concern needs to be spread to all species suffering from unsustainable commercial offtake whether it is poaching, “pseudo-hunting” or legalized trophy hunting.

 

 

 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. - See more at: http://www.lionaid.org/blog/#sthash.FDoAV1Yr.dpuf

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:49

Rhino poaching in South Africa - a recipe with home-grown ingredients

               

                                                              Wonder where our horns went?

 

In August 2012, TRAFFIC published an exhaustive report (The South Africa-Vietnam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus: A deadly combination of institutional lapses, corrupt wildlife industry professionals and Asian crime syndicates. 2012, TRAFFIC, Johannesburg, South Africa) on the trade, legal and illegal, of rhino products between South Africa and Vietnam. Written by Tom Milliken and others, it contains a great deal of information about the trade, and also allows an evaluation of how the private rhino owners have profited from the legal, pseudo-legal, and illegal aspects. Since many of these owners are pushing hard to have the trade in rhino horn legalized, it is perhaps worth looking at the trade in rhinos over the past years to get a better understanding of how the system works. 

 

A short summary of private rhino ownership

 

South Africa’s growth in game ranching has been termed a “conservation revolution” in that about 17% of the total land area is now used for wildlife ranching of some description (versus 6% of land set aside as national and provincial protected areas). Such ranching produces considerable economic benefits and game ranches are primarily business ventures engaged in hunting for meat and trophies, wildlife viewing, and live sales domestically and abroad. Indeed, by 2007 it was estimated that about 18.5 million game animals existed to be utilized on about 9,000 ranches. 

 

Private ownership of white rhinos is seen as contributing to the overall conservation success in terms of the great increase in white rhino numbers in South Africa. Indeed, of the estimated total of 18,800 white rhinos in the country, it is estimated that almost 5,000 are in private hands. With a policy of increasing white rhino numbers versus limited state lands on which to house them, the continued growth of the white rhino population is seen to integrally depend on placing rhinos in private hands. Before the poaching crisis began, necessitating significant outlays by private owners to protect their rhinos, white rhino ownership was a very attractive proposition earning considerable revenue via live sales, trophy hunting and some ecotourism ventures. 

 

In fact, the TRAFFIC report indicates that when the Natal Parks Board began sales of rhinos to private owners, it was at a fixed price of about $900. During the same time, a trophy hunt could bring in as much as $15,000 – resulting in the inevitable trend that about 10% of rhinos bought on auction were almost immediately trophy hunted. 

 

Perhaps realizing that wild rhinos captured from the wild were undervalued, the Natal Parks Board then went for auctions, and immediately gained much higher profits. Looking at prices from 1987 to 1991, rhinos were then sold for an average of $15,163. This rose to an average price of $30,307 between 2007-2010. The auction price of a rhino is determined by a number of factors, but largely is influenced by age and the size of the horn. Nevertheless, profits remained very robust for those who bought rhinos and then sold them to hunters – in 2010 the difference between the average auction price and the average hunt price was $29,235.  That is still a minimum profit, as it does not include what a hunter would pay for extras like accommodation and daily rates while on the hunt. 

 

The TRAFFIC report does not distinguish between rhinos auctioned by the state and private auctions, but indicates that between 1986 and 2010, a total of 2,982 rhinos went on the block. The report only mentions that between 2005 and 2008 a total of 821 rhinos were auctioned, 581 of which came from wild populations owned by the state, or about 70%. Keeping that formula, the total numbers auctioned between the ten years 2001 to 2010 was 1,976 rhinos, indicating that 1,383 came from the wild. The numbers of rhinos trophy hunted between the ten years 2002 to 2011, judging by trophy and horn exports listed by CITES, amounted to 1,885.

 

In short, it is a strange way of conserving rhinos in my opinion. The rhino owners presumably compete with each other during auctions, but the hunt price always stays well above the auction price. Whenever the auction price approaches anything near the hunt price, the amount of money demanded to hunt a rhino jumps up again – the TRAFFIC report clearly shows such adjustments in 1989, 2001 and 2008, with that last surge in prices coinciding almost exactly with a surge in demand from Vietnamese and proxy “pseudo-hunters” cynically allowed to hunt rhinos though many had no familiarity with firearms. 

 

With the state willing to sell large numbers of wild rhinos on auction, there is little need for private owners to spend money to raise them – buy them at a low price and arrange trophy hunts soon after (one source says a matter of weeks) the sale is made. While the introduction of auctions rather than fixed-price sales cut into profits for private rhino owners in the short term, the difference of $29,235 in 2010 between average auction price and average hunt price stands at an all-time high. The entire nature of the concept of private rhino ownership seems in fact against conservation as the rhinos are merely commodities always to be traded for the highest profit margins.

 

Perhaps also important is that the state has willingly entered into this covenant, supposedly selling off “surplus” wild rhinos (largely males) to fund conservation activities, especially in light of less and less money coming from central government. Proponents of these state sales have also said that managing rhino populations by selling off surplus males allows more reproduction to take place in protected areas. This begs the question of why protected areas with rhinos already at a stable level -  through natural population regulation -  should want intrusive management to make more rhinos? How many rhinos does South Africa want? Or is the state also seeing rhinos as a commodity to be reproductively manipulated for greater profits? It is all seeming like rhino “conservation” is influenced at all levels by commercial formulas. While the TRAFFIC report suggested that few if any rhinos would be sold by Kruger in 2012, the actual number sold is not yet available. It would be highly controversial if Kruger continues to sell rhinos to be shot as trophies considering that between 2011 and today, a total of 906 rhinos have been poached from the park.  

 

How many rhinos are in private hands and how many horns are in private stockpiles?

 

Strangely, neither number is known. The TRAFFIC report mentions this:

“The carrying out of this survey [of rhinos in private hands] has been fraught with frustration and endless delays. The level of cooperation afforded by many individual owners of white rhinoceroses, their managers, the provincial and national authorities has been disappointing. The professional hunters and individuals involved with hunting were particularly unhelpful. Much of the official co-operation was grudging at best and many owners and management authority officials refused outright to provide information when requested."

 

That’s pretty surprising for a bunch of people supposedly involved in ensuring conservation of white rhinos? I suppose the excuse could be that private rhino owners did not want to reveal their rhino stocks in fear of poaching, but unless such information is available, how can there ever be an assessment of whether the private rhino owners are actually contributing to rhino conservation or just utilizing rhinos for short-term profit? 

 

The other big gap in information concerns rhino horn stockpiles. Some of these are held by authorities of national and provincial protected areas and represent accumulations of horns resulting from natural mortality, horns confiscated from poachers, horns taken from rhinos that died during immobilization/transport, etc. For that category of rhino custodians, the TRAFFIC report judges that overall, relatively accurate records have been kept. 

 

However, for private stockpiles, the situation is significantly different. Despite a ruling by the CITES Conference of Parties in 2007 that the Secretariat should receive by 2009 assurances that ALL rhino horn stockpiles were enumerated and carefully registered, the South African private sector has remained reluctant to divulge such information. One report stated that there were possibly 1,805 kg of horns in private hands in 2009. Using various other means of assessment based on the rate of natural mortality among rhinos held by private individuals, dehorning of breeding females (remember – males are used for trophy hunting and hunters require rhinos with horns), mortality during transport, etc – the TRAFFIC report indicates estimates ranging from 2,837 kg to 4,750 kg of horns in private hands, a difference of up to 263%. Was the reluctance of private owners to divulge the size of their horn stocks in part related to an active underground trade?

 

At the 2010 CITES Conference of Parties TRAFFIC presented a diplomatically worded statement:

“Whilst the shortfall between reported and expected horn stocks does not confirm that illegal activity is widespread in South Africa’s private sector, it does strongly suggest that significant volumes of rhino horn still remain outside of the legal control system and are vulnerable to undocumented trade in the hands of unscrupulous individuals. That fact, and the failure of five provinces [out of nine in South Africa] to report private horn stocks, indicates that implementation of South Africa’s control policy for rhino horns is inadequate at a time when illicit trade is escalating.”

 

Until recently, the sale of rhino horns within South Africa to South Africans was allowed. Such legally acquired horns could be exported as personal effects and then sold into the trade via a gaping loophole. In 2009 the South African government imposed a moratorium on national sales that still remains in effect in an attempt to prevent such illegal flows, but there is considerable evidence that many illegal sales from private stockpiles had already taken place. The TRAFFIC report mentions one case in which privately held horns were sold and ended up in Indonesia as well as buyers openly advertising their desire to purchase horns and tusks in the Game and Hunt magazine. It is highly likely that private rhino owners were deeply involved in the illegal trade of horns for many years.

 

The report also states “Overall, it is now suspected that at least several hundreds of horns have been illegally sold from private rhino horn collections throughout the country, and this trafficking has been augmented by other horns deriving from a series of rhino horn thefts that have grown increasingly frequent …” According to the TRAFFIC report one “wildlife insider” considered that the 2009  government moratorium on underground sales of rhino horns by private owners greatly reduced the flow of horns onto the international market and thus led to the massive increase in poaching since that date. 

 

Where from here?

 

South Africa has been credited with a remarkable recovery of white rhino numbers over the past century – up from a small remnant population of 20-50 animals in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in 1895 to about 18,000 rhinos now. South Africa was also relatively immune from the poaching scourges that virtually eliminated black rhinos and white rhinos from large parts of eastern and southern Africa beginning in the 1970’s, but has recently been hit with a vengeance. For the eight years 2000-2007, the total number of rhinos poached in South Africa stood at 120, or about 15 per year. But from 2008 to 2012 this number increased to a total of 1,654, or about 331 per year. As of May 15th  this year, already 313 rhinos have been poached. 

 

This recent poaching crisis has been blamed on a number of factors, including a high level of demand from mainly Vietnam but also China; an exponential increase in the price of rhino horn, possibly reaching a level of $65,000/kg in Asian countries; a considerable rise in wealth among Asian consumers of rhino horn leading to ever-higher demand and prices; the emergence of hardened criminal syndicates dealing with the acquisition and trade of rhino horn; and the ability of such syndicates to engage a network of willing and corrupt partners among private rhino owners and managers, wildlife professionals like veterinarians and pilots, professional hunters, and government officials. In addition, it is becoming ever more apparent that those involved in poaching are highly resilient to a variety of anti-poaching measures and are able to counter such measures with increasingly sophisticated and diverse tactics.     

 

It is also becoming obvious that plans to target South Africa’s rhinos could have begun well before the great escalation of poaching in 2008. For example, arrests were made as far back as 2004 of Vietnamese nationals attempting to transport rhino horns by air from South Africa into Vietnam, and in 2003 an arrest was made of an individual carrying rhino horns attempting to enter Vietnam from Laos. The first rhino “pseudo-hunts” by Vietnamese nationals began in 2003 with ten rhinos hunted and then took off in 2005. Arrests were subsequently made in Vietnam of individuals carrying a mixture of rhino horns “covered” by hunting permits and those without permits. Interestingly, all seizures of illegal horns in Vietnam ended in 2008, the same year poaching began to take off in South Africa – likely indicative of the progressive ability of the syndicates to ensure safe passage of this illegal wildlife product into Vietnam by means of bribes and influence. 

 

It should be remembered that before the escalation of poaching began in South Africa, Zimbabwe had been very hard hit. From 1986 to 1993 well over 100 rhinos were poached annually in Zimbabwe compared to only a handful in South Africa. Rhino poaching then declined to very low levels from 1994 to 2001, before growing again in 2002 to present with an increasing shift from Zimbabwe to South Africa (likely because Zimbabwe had fewer and fewer rhinos left to be poached). 

 

1993 and 1994 were important dates in terms of a decrease in rhino poaching due to two major events. In 1994, a civil war erupted in Yemen, a country previously highly involved in the rhino horn trade, mainly used in the manufacture of dagger handles. After the war, the new Islamic regime frowned on such displays of ostentatious wealth and the bottom dropped out of the dagger handle market. Simultaneously, in 1993 it became illegal to sell rhino horn products on the Traditional Chinese Medicine markets of China and Taiwan, followed in 1994 by Japan, Korea and Vietnam. These changes in Yemen and Asia effectively reduced the demand that had been fuelled by poaching. The slow but increasing resurgence after 2002 is attributed to an exhaustion of stockpiles previously established by Asian marketers, the emergence of considerable wealth among a burgeoning Asian middle class, and the huge price increases in rhino horn that allowed greater risks to be taken by poaching rhinos from previously more “secure” areas (prices rose from $4,700/kg in 1994 to $65,000/kg today). Demand surged, initially met by underground sales from stocks available from South African private rhino owners, but then needing to be augmented by other means as demand kept growing. 

 

These other means included “pseudo hunts” arranged by horn traffickers and willing South African rhino owners – not only to Vietnamese clients but also proxy hunters from Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Thailand; horn thefts and “pseudo-thefts” (owners claiming horns were stolen to enable illegal sales) from private stockpiles, museums and zoos; and poaching and “pseudo-poaching” (owners shooting their rhinos and claiming they were poached) of private and state-owned rhinos. 

 

Legalize the trade in horn?

 

In Vietnam and China, many say that buying ivory and rhino horn and the consequent decimation of animals is not their problem. Rather, they say, the problem lies with the African countries who supply the products to be sold - if these countries want to conserve their wildlife they should not allow it to become marketed, legally or illegally. It would seem South Africa, rather than taking the role of an innocent party suffering from a rhino poaching crisis, should look within for solutions in addition to signing memoranda of understanding with countries like Vietnam. Is it a home-grown problem that facilitated a foreign-grown problem?

 

Increasingly, there are calls to legalize the rhino horn trade not only by rhino owners with private stockpiles (who would realize a significant windfall profit) but also from members of state institutions, rhino NGOs and the South African government. Beginning with statements made at the recent CITES Conference of Parties in March, South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa seems progressively swayed to consider legalization based on her assessment that nothing that has been done to date seems to be making a difference in stemming the poaching crisis. Such calls might be gaining in popularity but lack rigour in the details of how such a trade would be regulated and controlled. There is no idea about the level of demand, who the trading partners would be and how potential partners like China and Vietnam would change their domestic laws to allow trade in rhino horn. Also, it is uncertain how illegal products would be differentiated from legal horns, a problem that would affect all remaining rhino populations in Africa. In short, such arguments are as yet far from convincing.

 

Those who claim that providing rhino horns by non-lethal means will control poaching conveniently ignore that such rhino horns have already long been provided from privately-held stocks in the past. As mentioned above, poaching was largely under control from 1994-2001. But the eagerness of those who created a burgeoning demand via supplies from unregistered rhino horn stocks, pseudo-hunts and pseudo-thefts must accept that their actions resulted in a current level of demand that exceeds any means of supply except by renewed poaching. Far from the perceived situation that the trade ban of 1977 limited supply of rhino horn, thereby raising prices and driving poaching, the real situation is that rhino owners in South Africa went around the trade ban by various means to increase a demand that has now exceeded any supply possibilities except by poaching.

 

South Africa should also realize that the current poaching epidemic has deep roots in misguided policies allowing various forms of commercialization of rhinos under the guise of conservation. These began with sales and auctions to private owners who were quick to cash in on differences between sale prices and hunting prices. Indeed, when considering levels of sales of state-owned rhinos and numbers of rhinos being trophy hunted, it would seem that such sales were merely a conduit to turn a wild rhino into a hunting trophy. State organizations like Ezemvelo (formerly the Natal Parks Board) derive about 75% of their funding from rhino sales and it is not surprising that intensive management is applied to wild rhino populations to stimulate reproduction and boost the possibility of future income. Such practices, coupled with a strong reluctance on the part of private rhino owners to divulge information about the numbers of rhinos in their hands, undermine any claims that this benefits rhino conservation. 

 

With the combination of lax enforcement of laws against domestic sales of rhino horns and products in China and Vietnam, increased wealth allowing more purchases of rhino horn products for whatever reasons, and a ready supply of pseudo-legal and illegal horns by traffickers aided and abetted by South African private rhino owners, it is highly questionable if any level of legal supply will now stem poaching. 

 

Conclusion 

 

The TRAFFIC report mentioned that “… a unique set of circumstances and a new criminal coalescence of players lies behind the carnage … A potent mix of unscrupulous wildlife professionals, some corrupt government officials and hardened Asian criminal syndicates has converged to create the “perfect storm” for wreaking havoc on the country’s rhino populations.”

 

I agree that while there might be a “perfect storm” now, it is clear with hindsight that the factors that caused this storm have existed for quite some time but went un-noticed or were ignored. South Africa has grabbed a tiger by the tail and must find ways to let go without sacrificing more rhinos in the future, turning more rhinos into commodities by placing them in irresponsible private hands, and,  actually, dealing with the consequences of bad decisions and complacency in the past. 

 

Picture credit: www.africanrhino.org/2012/09/01/farming-rhinos-the future

 

 

 

 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. 
 

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2 Comments | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:22

Thumbing their noses at CITES - Zimbabwe's ivory trade

                                                     It has been going on for a while.....

 


Few people realize that it is perfectly legal to buy ivory carvings in a number of countries – like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, China, Thailand and Japan. The problem is, once you have bought it, you cannot export it. Well, except if you buy it in Zimbabwe or Namibia, where you can buy ivory carvings “for non-commercial purposes” (whatever that means, it probably makes sense to CITES?). Ivory carvings are also described as “worked ivory”, but there is no clear definition of what “worked” means – it could, for example, mean that it was “worked” into a chopstick, a simple bracelet, or even a bit of ivory with some “artistic” scratches on it.

 

After the Conference of Parties in Doha (2010) where such non-commercial trade in ivory carvings was authorised, CITES made a small change in the regulations. Before, Zimbabwe’s licenced domestic dealers were issuing “Short Export Permits” supplied as blank forms by the Zimbabwe CITES Management Authority, and only needed to be filled in and then endorsed by a Customs officer to permit the buyer to take ivory home. Acknowledging that that practice was a bit out of the ordinary, CITES decided to do away with permits issued by dealers and told customers to get a “real” export permit from one of the three Management Authority offices in Zimbabwe before being allowed to export their carvings. Not a big change really, and one probably ignored. In a corrupt country like Zimbabwe, CITES permits for practically anything can probably be bought with ease.

 

Zimbabwe is desperate to sell the ivory they have stockpiled. They were allowed to do so by CITES in 1999 when Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia were given permission to sell a total of 49 tons to Japan, and again in 2008 when Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa sold a total of 101 tons to China and Japan. However, the Zimbabwe National Parks & Wildlife Management Authority now seems to be $10 million in arrears and would like to sell the current stockpile for $8 million or so. Proceeds would go to antipoaching, enforcement, and Quelea control (Queleas are small seed-eating birds that join in huge flocks and can devastate crops). There was no proposal to CITES in 2013, but the Minister is eager to have one on the table in 2016.

 

Meanwhile, CITES trade records show that Zimbabwe has been doing quite well in ivory sales, thank you very much. CITES trade records only go up to 2011, and can only be considered partial for that year. Nevertheless, in 2010 and 2011 alone, Zimbabwe exported 101,651 grams of ivory carvings (83,256 grams to China and 12,670 grams to Slovakia as the major consumers); 3,141 kilos of ivory carvings (3,080 kilos to China); and 2,927 individual carvings (2,547 to China). That’s a lot of carvings in two years, all for non-commercial purposes of course, and doubtless all bought by hordes of Chinese tourists travelling to Zimbabwe.

 

Also, and this is where things get a bit shady as CITES only allows trade in “carvings”, Zimbabwe exported 1,207 kilos of ivory “pieces” to Japan in 2009; 10,910 kilos of tusks from 2009-2011 (2,798 kilos to China and surprisingly, 4,156 kilos to USA as major destinations; others include Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Poland, Russia and Slovakia); and 515 individual tusks from 2009-2011 (128 to South Africa and 75 to China as major destinations; others include Germany, Spain, Ireland and Romania). All duly issued with export permits by the Zimbabwe CITES Management Authority and all duly registered in the CITES trade database. But what about the legality of those sales? These are not hunting trophies but an entirely different category of exports.

 

These ivory exports seemed to raise no eyebrows at the CITES Secretariat.

 

The way CITES operates is that member states (the Parties) are “requested” to abide by the rules set by the Secretariat and the Conferences of Parties, and that no Party trades with another in wildlife products that are not approved. CITES permits are however issued locally, and can create a shambles for CITES rules and regulations until such “irregularities” are detected and the Secretariat issues a warning. Being a rather secretive organization (maintained with our taxes) we are not allowed to know what Parties have been issued warnings and whether these were heeded.

 

Meanwhile Zimbabwe continues to trade in tons of ivory, seemingly ignoring the fact they are not allowed to sell any under current rules. In 2008 CITES allowed Zimbabwe to sell 3,700 kg of ivory legally. Since then and up to 2011, Zimbabwe has exported on the order of 19,842 kilos of ivory that are not “carvings”. To me, at current minimal prices of about $500 per kilo, it seems that would supply lots of funds to battle those pesky Queleas?

 

Picture credit: US Library of Congress: cph.3c02973

 

 

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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:20

Legalizing the trade in rhino horn  - ongoing moves

                                                          Keeping my eye on you Edna

 

During the past CITES meeting in Bangkok, South Africa kept pushing for the legalization of the rhino horn trade. Typical of strategies employed by other countries with vested interests in particular issues, South Africa sent a large delegation and high-ranking politicians in order to persuade other parties to side with them. Edna Molewa, the SA Environment Minister, was much in evidence in Bangkok, as was Pelham Jones, the Chairman of the South African Private Rhino Owners’ Association. Many “side events” on legalization of the trade were organized and SA delegates took full advantage of the furore in the media surrounding the rhino poaching crisis in their country to tout theories about legalizing the trade.

 

In 2010 333 rhinos were poached, 448 in 2011, 668 in 2012, and perhaps already 170 in 2013. Deviating from previous announcements concerning her determination to take strong measures to stop the poaching, Molewa now says “The reality is that we have done all in our power and doing the same thing every day is not working” according to the SA Mail and Guardian newspaper. One could question Molewa’s resolve to combat poaching in the past, but she now seems resigned that no matter what is being “done” by the police, customs, Army, rangers, security guards, fences, etc – it is a losing battle.

 

So now Molewa, doubtless guided by the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, decided to push for legalizing the trade. In a coordinated campaign, many in the SA delegation sought interviews and organized events to push the message “more of the same [i.e. more of the same complacency] will not work”.

Pelham Jones even mentioned that “Anti-trade organizations are aiding and abetting illegal trade without a better solution” with typically convoluted reasoning. No mention, of course, was made of the complete shambles SA has made of proper investigations of the trade, catching those involved, adequately prosecuting those caught, and handing out stern and deterrent sentences. And that SA is actually responsible for the wave of poaching by allowing “pseudo-hunting” by Vietnamese and their proxies that created a supply and stimulated more demand.

Remember that rhino poaching was virtually non-existent before 2008. Over the five years 2006-2010 SA exported 394 trophies and horns to Vietnam legally, but this was obviously not enough.

Edna Molewa went on to state “The model that we have is based on pure law of supply and demand. Economics 101”.

 

But is it really?

 The laws of supply and demand of rhino horn, I’m sorry to inform Molewa, are anything but Economics 101 or 201 or 301. The level of demand is not known, and the numbers of people who will be demanding rhino horn if it is legalized is not known. For example, the acting head of Vietnam’s wildlife trade authority said it was “bullshit” that Vietnam was even a consumer. It all goes to China he said, despite significant evidence to the contrary of Vietnam as a major consumer of illegal horn. China says exactly the opposite, mentioning that there is no trade in rhino horn in China as it was made illegal in 2004 – again despite all evidence to the contrary including the existence of several rhino farms engaged in manufacture of pharmaceutical rhino products.

 

In this environment of denial and counter denial that there is a market for rhino horn in Vietnam and China coupled with an intense demand for “pseudo-hunting”, live rhino trade, and illegal trade in rhino horns, how can any level of demand be established?

Will Vietnam and China, who deny any consumption of horns and in fact say it is illegal to trade in rhino products, now suddenly wish to participate in the legal horn market?

 

And realistically, given that both China and Vietnam are likely involved up to their necks in the illegal rhino horn trade, how much horn would they demand if it becomes legal? There is no ready answer to that, but one can make some educated guesses. Despite lax enforcement, it is still not really that easy to shoot a rhino and transport the horn to Vietnam. Yet in 2012, in the region of 700 rhinos were poached in Africa to supply the illegal market (from SA, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe etc). Demand is at present kept down because of the difficulty in obtaining the horn, and hence the price of rhino horn in Vietnam is currently estimated to be about $60-65,000/kg. Nevertheless, there is a thriving demand, and that demand will only grow if there is a legal supply. If the demand created by legalizing horn grows as expected in China and Vietnam, the supply from the 4,000 to 5,000 rhinos (of all ages) in SA private hands will not meet the demand, prices will go up, and poaching will climb again. 

 

Next, how will the market be regulated, and what will the sale price of legal horn be?

Certainly nowhere near the current black market price. However, if the legal price stays high it will not stop poaching as there is no incentive for poachers to halt their activities. After all, a poached rhino horn is priced in terms of the cost of obtaining it, which is minimal compared to the profit to be made selling it even if the legal price will be put at half or even 1/3 the current black market price. Elephants are being poached at a great rate even though the price per kilo of raw ivory is perhaps $4,000/kg. Poaching will continue as long as there is a profit to be made, and the legal price will have to remain high if the selling and buying governments can have any hope of limiting the demand. In other words, there is no way at all to undercut the illegal trade by placing legal rhino horn on the market.

 

I have mentioned elsewhere that the moves made to influence CITES delegates in Bangkok by SA delegates, the offered hosting of the next CITES convention in Cape Town, and the language emanating from SA politicians, highly placed officials and vested interest lobby groups all point to one thing. There will be tremendous lobbying and pressure applied to be able to sell rhino horns in the years to come.

 

Sadly, statements made by the Private Rhino Owners’ Association are clearly based on expected large profits rather than a well-thought out model to conserve remaining rhinos. What SA needs to do to limit poaching is to stop being complicit and complacent and take strong action. What China and Vietnam need to do is admit they are consuming illegal rhino horn and put real measures in place to stop trading in illegal wildlife products.

 

Some recent steps in the right direction to close loopholes in the “pseudo” trophy hunting trade were made at CITES. Initially, Ireland, on behalf of the EU and Croatia, supported by Kenya and Israel, proposed excluding all hunting trophies from exemptions for personal and household effects. This worried South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Namibia, Botswana and the Safari Club International. The proposal was watered down but still removes personal and household effects exemptions for rhino horn and elephant ivory and was accepted by the Conference. Since rhino trophy hunting permits are no longer extended by South Africa to citizens of Vietnam, this will also affect proxy hunters employed by Vietnamese in the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Thailand and the USA.

 

Before SA gets too far down the line with their fanciful proposals to satisfy the “demand” from China and Vietnam, all nations should ban the trade in rhino products. If that means a failed business model for the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, so be it.  Legalizing the horn trade will make financial profits for some, but will not profit the rhinos at all.

 

Picture credit: africajournalismtheworld.com

 

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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:11

Hiding in plain sight

Sunday 10th March 2013

Hiding in plain sight

                                                                              Outfoxed?

The CITES conference has a few more days to go, and there will be much more to discuss. After failing polar bears, rhinos, and elephants and extending unexpected extra protection to West African manatees (the CITES Secretariat recommended rejection) and many turtles already on the brink of extinction, the next week will see sharks and a few other species on the menu.

 

In a terrifying show of resolve, CITES slapped trade sanctions on Guinea. Long criticized for not having teeth, CITES now bared them at a small western African country for allegedly ignoring many requests to halt illegal trade in wildlife products – in this case of Great Apes. Hmmm. How about trade sanctions against Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Thailand, Philippines, China among others for long being involved in the illegal ivory trade?

 

There will also be a number of “housekeeping” issues to attend to, like hopefully removing “personal and household” effects derogations for hunting trophies so they can rightfully be considered as trade. Another tricky issue will be consideration of a proposal by Denmark on behalf of the EU to insist that members of the Animals and Plants Committees declare any “conflicts of interest” before and subsequent to election.

 Interesting proposal that one – these Committees are quite powerful, and should not be populated by people with vested interests. But one glaring “housekeeping” issue is not on the agenda.

 

This is the dubiously legal trading that goes on in plain sight – something CITES would rather hide under the carpet as it reflects right back on the organization itself.

 

At the start of the conference Secretary General John Scanlon mentioned the following:


“…criminal activity can pose a serious threat… it also robs countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage, and it undermines good governance and the rule of law.
These criminals must be stopped and we need to better deploy the sorts of techniques used to combat illicit trade in narcotics to do so.”

Undermining good governance can be placed at the CITES door as well. John Sands, CITES Secretary General  in 1980 mentioned a process whereby fraudulent CITES permits were facilitating illegal trade. In 2003 the Earth Journal had this to say:

 

“Environmentalists have had a long-running battle with the CITES Secretariat over the administrative practices of the treaty organization. For 20 years, according to many critics, the CITES staff have favored commercial exploitation of wildlife over protection. Instead of objectively weighing science and assessing enforcement efforts, the 12-member Secretariat has repeatedly argued against the precautionary principle and ignored flagrant violations of Appendix I and Appendix II regulations.

During the '80s, the Secretariat vehemently opposed banning the ivory trade, despite a poaching crisis that left 100,000 carcasses strewn across the African landscape each year and the utter failure of a hopelessly weak CITES ivory monitoring system. At the 1989 CITES meeting in Switzerland, CITES Secretary-General Eugene Lapointe lobbied fiercely against the proposed Appendix I listing for the African elephant (Asian elephants were already totally protected). He even held press conferences during the meeting to subvert the proposal. Lapointe touched off outrage in leading conservation nations. An inquiry by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) led to Lapointe's removal on grounds of malfeasance.

Unfortunately, little changed at the Secretariat after Lapointe's firing. His replacement was a bumbling UNEP bureaucrat who allowed the CITES staff - all cronies of Lapointe - to continue their anti-protection ways.

A UNEP investigation in 1998 found significant malfeasance throughout the CITES staff, including the sale of export permits. Several top staffers were fired and the Secretary-General, a Bulgarian named Izgrev Topkov, was forced to retire. UNEP has withheld the damning report from the Standing Committee of CITES, which oversees the Secretariat, as well as the public.”

 


CITES permits are issued by “authorities” in individual nations, and as you will see below, strange practices remain evident.

 

For example, in a deposition to the EU Parliament workshop on wildlife crime we provided the following statistics:


1. From 2005-2008, Denmark imported an average of about 6 elephant trophies annually. But then in 2009 this rose to 118 and in 2010 88 were imported. Most came from Zimbabwe. We do not believe that a small country like Denmark would have such a tremendous surge in elephant trophy hunters, and propose that tusks were imported via dubious means with all correct CITES paperwork.


2. From 2005-2009 Qatar imported no elephant trophies. But then in 2010, 185 trophies were imported, virtually all from Zimbabwe. We again do not believe that Qatar could have had such a tremendous surge in  elephant hunters and propose that tusks were imported via dubious means with all correct CITES paperwork.


3. For many years, CITES authorities allowed the export of trophy rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam in large numbers, knowing full-well that this was a loophole. In 2012 CITES requested the Vietnamese authorities to check on the status of these trophy horns that are not allowed to be entered into commercial trade. Forty homes of trophy hunters were visited. Eleven hunters were not home. Twenty-two admitted they had lost the horns, cut them into pieces, given them to relatives. Only seven still had the horns intact. Despite 83% evidence that CITES regulations had been trounced, the CITES Secretariat praised Vietnam for their efforts and took no action.


4. South Africa has exported 187 live rhinos to China with CITES permits from 2006-2011. Sent to dubious destinations, CITES has not checked on the whereabouts or current existence of these rhinos.


5. CITES has allowed South Africa to send enormous quantities of lion bones, skeletons, bodies and “trophies” to Laos, knowing full well that these were to be used as substitutes for tiger bones in various Chinese Traditional Medicine products. We have said repeatedly that such supplies would stimulate demand and lion poaching. CITES sees no connections.


 We are preparing many more similar statistics on other species for presentation to the EU Parliament.

 

If CITES wants to start wielding a big stick and placing trade sanctions on Guinea, we would suggest they also look within to cease the issuance of false permits, a process ongoing since 1980 at least. Those false permits are no less of a crime than the illegal wildlife trade especially since they greatly undermine the transparency and trustworthiness of CITES itself.

 

Picture credit : http://bit.ly/YlEem7

 

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:25

CITES and the Red Queen

Sunday 10th March 2013

 CITES and the Red Queen

                                                                   Alice in CITESland

 

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” there is a famous encounter between Alice and the Red Queen in a running race. They have been running for some time, but have remained in the same place.


"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

 

It is an apt analogy when we look at the ongoing CITES Convention in Bangkok.

 

Look at a report entitled “Combating the trade in endangered species through CITES” written in 1980 by then Secretary General Peter Sand.

 

Some excerpts:


1. The illegal trade in furs, trophies and protected animals now has higher profit margins than the drug traffic.


2. The aim of the Convention is to establish world-wide controls over trade in endangered wildlife and wildlife products in recognition of the fact that unrestricted commercial exploitation is one of the major threats to the survival of many species.

3. The odds against success are enormous.

 
4. Significantly, recent Australian investigations into bird smuggling revealed connections with organized crime in the United States. When member governments began to exchange export and import documents and to compare their national trade statistics, they discovered curious discrepancies. These, in some cases, were traced back to forgeries and corruption.


5. The committee works in liaison with Interpol and the Brussels-based Customs Cooperation Council (CCC).


6. The Convention seeks to draw a clear line between illegal traffic and black markets on one side and legitimate trade in renewable natural resources on the other.

 
7. Not surprisingly, the decisions of the CITES Conference are taken under a considerable amount of pressure, both from private conservation groups and from economic lobby groups ranging from the luxury fur and leather industries to pet dealers, safari parks and biomedical research establishments.

 
8. Enforcement of the CITES Convention is improving in many countries, as can be seen by an impressive confiscation record. But a number of problems and "loopholes" remain. One of these is the level of sanctions and penalties for violation of the Convention.


9. Western Europe's official 1977 imports of raw ivory may be estimated to represent at least 10 000 dead elephants. Heavy poaching because of this good market is resulting in a rapid decline in large tusked elephants. Furthermore, this means that poachers will kill more elephants to achieve their ivory goal.


10. Contrary to industry claims, only a small fraction of crocodiles originate from "crocodile farms." Once again, Western Europe, together with Japan, is the principal market. Of the estimated two million crocodilian hides traded annually in international commerce, approximately 1.2 million (60 percent) are consumed by tanners in Western Europe: France 500 000, Italy 400 000 and the Federal Republic of Germany 250 000 (4). The European share is equally high as regards snake skins, marine turtles and other reptilian products.


11. Commercial dealers from CITES countries circumvent the Convention either by way of subsidiaries and affiliates in non-member countries or by "transit" operations through free-port areas outside the reach of national customs controls. Furthermore, under pressure from local luxury leather industries, four European countries - Federal Republic of Germany. France, Italy and Switzerland-jointly refused in 1979 to grant full CITES protection to the valuable saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), and, in the case of France and Italy, to other endangered crocodilians and marine turtles. Although the Convention's "opting-out" clause has previously been used by other member countries (e.g., for certain whale species), this was the first time global protection of a highly endangered species was virtually undermined by industrial lobbyists in importing countries.

 

Do you see the same problems almost a quarter century later? Do repeated terms like “the drug traffic”, “loopholes”, “circumvention”, “undermining by industrial lobbyists”, “crime cartels”, “lack of enforcement”, “working with Interpol” sound familiar?  Just substitute the names of a few countries above with China and Vietnam and you have exactly the same scenario. CITES might keep passing more and more resolutions, but lack of progress is palpable.

 

Through the looking glass of history, CITES remains in the same place despite much running in terms of money spent, conventions and meetings organized, motions passed and rejected. CITES could take advice from the Red Queen and maybe now run twice as fast to make a difference? 

 

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/YU94SN

 

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.
 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:32

The EU and the illegal wildlife trade

Saturday 2nd March 2013

The EU and the illegal wildlife trade

                                                                   A messy scene

 

On the 27th February, LionAid was invited to present information at a briefing to the EU Parliament about the illegal wildlife trade. Also present were representatives from WWF, IFAW, WCS, the USA Mission to the EU, Interpol, etc. The meeting was organized by Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP (Netherlands) and Kriton Arsenis (Greece) who have taken the lead in establishing the EU scope and extent of illegal wildlife trade, how the EU can effectively prevent such trade, and what measures can be taken to bring better law enforcement to the arena.

 

The situation is grim, and as of now, the EU is woefully underprepared to effectively deal with illegal trafficking. With over 2,000 points of entry, it is relatively simple for traffickers to identify weak points – the EU is one of the largest and most diverse markets for wildlife products. Also, there is no uniform standard of enforcement within the 27 Member States, and many have weak penalties for those convicted of illegal trafficking. It is therefore somewhat easy to establish operations in countries where enforcement and penalties do not disincentivise the considerable profits that can be made. Remember that once an illegal product enters the EU, the absence of internal border controls means that it can then reach almost all 27 Member States. The illegal trade is a low priority for CITES, there is insufficient coordination and cooperation among EU Member States, there are limited resources for enforcement – all adding to an environment facilitating illegal trade.

 

In addition, our data show that EU Customs officials will accept “official” CITES documents from the exporting countries without in many cases establishing their authenticity and/or appropriateness under existing CITES and EU Wildlife Trade regulations:


• Significant numbers of elephant hunting trophies from South Africa have been allowed entry without establishing whether that country has sufficient “huntable” elephants. From 2006-2011 South Africa exported about 750 hunting trophies yet virtually all elephants are in nationally protected areas.


• From 2005-2008 Denmark imported about 6 elephant hunting trophies per year. But then in 2009 and 2010 Denmark suddenly imported a total of 206 elephant hunting trophies, mostly from Zimbabwe. Was that small country suddenly gripped by elephant hunting fever or were these tusks illegal ivory imports disguised as trophies?


• During 2009 and 2010, Portugal, Austria Denmark, Poland, Italy, France and Germany together imported close to one ton of tusks, mainly from Zimbabwe, and all with “permits”. These were not listed as hunting trophies but tusks by the kilo on the CITES database. Unless citizens from those EU countries all decided within two years to export one ton of heirloom tusks from Zimbabwe under derogations this constitutes illegal trade.


• Rhino horn “proxy hunters”, replacing the “pseudo hunters” from Vietnam, are increasingly importing trophies to Russia, Denmark, Poland, and Czech Republic. We would challenge the authorities in those countries to ascertain the presence of any rhino trophies still in the possession of the “hunters”. Most probably they are all in Vietnam by now, and perhaps the original owners lost them, misplaced them, gave them away, or declared them as “stolen”. 

 

There were a diversity of actions proposed at the meeting, including national action plans for enforcement; risk and intelligence assessments; training and awareness programs for prosecutors and the judiciary; liaising with authorities in source, transit and destination countries, CITES, Interpol and the World Customs Organization; building task forces, enhancing intelligence sharing and information management. In addition, the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations fall far short of the needed rigour in terms of being able to deal with the “grey” wildlife trade discussed above. So a very long list of items “to do”. This will take many years to implement let alone complete.

 

In contrast, the USA is already much better organized in terms of efficient interagency cooperation and existence of a number of highly applicable Acts like the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the illegal trade funded terrorism and militias and promised US support, a coordinated and efficient response could develop virtually overnight.

 

Meanwhile, the EU is badly prepared to handle both the illegal trade and the semi-legal “grey” trade in wildlife in the near future. Unless the EU Parliament and the Commission take a very active and indeed pro-active stance from now on, the EU will not effectively deal with the ever-more sophisticated and financially flush criminal networks that run circles around currently feeble contraventions. When a well-organized business is thrown against a slow and cumbersome bureaucracy there is no doubt of the victor. 

 

There are, however, things that can be done both immediately and in the short term. Almost immediately the EU WTR can suspend many legal loopholes. Among the most glaring is the Personal and Household Effects derogation for hunting trophies that currently allows for much fiddling as is seen in the case of both rhino horns and elephant tusks. Closing such legal loopholes will eliminate much of the currently flourishing “grey” trade.

 

In the short term, the EU can also place a total ban on any number of wildlife products, including ivory, lion skins, lion bones and trophies, polar bear products, snake skins etc. There is precedent for this – in 2009 the EU banned all Canadian Harp Seal products from being traded within the 27 Member States and this came into effect in 2010. Before the ban it was estimated that $5.5 million of products entered the EU from a population of almost 7 million Canadian fur seals. The trade value in elephant, lion and polar bear products is much smaller and comes from a comparatively much smaller source population. 

 

Once a ban on such products is in place, enforcement is much easier as there can be no further “grey” trade and any sale of such items. Given the current levels of concern among EU citizens about elephant and rhino poaching and the continuous steep decline in lion populations, this ban would have great popular support. MEPs at the wildlife crime meeting were indeed reminded by Catherine Bearder MEP (UK) that this concern could well play a part in the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections in June 2014. Cross-party MEP support for measures that put an end to EU trade in species vulnerable because of their high commercial value could pay re-election dividends.

 

Clearly, the EU needs to act fast and effectively. As the third-largest world market for wildlife products traded illegally this is both a duty and a responsibility. The EU and the Commission can do so within current trade legislation and without years of liaising, training, building, assessing, consulting, deliberating and enhancing. Those measures can come in parallel and will take precious time. But without dedicated action right now customs agents will be well trained in the future to recognize species that went extinct years ago.  

 
 
Picture credit: www.stargazerpuj.wordpress.com

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. -

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:17