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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

 

 

 

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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

CITES Travesty Part 2: The grey trade in ivory - how legal is it?

                                                              No Chinese involved?

 


In 1989 the trade in ivory became illegal, and a ban was imposed. No more trade, no more sales.

 

CITES decided to overturn that ivory ban by allowing two sales of stockpiled ivory. In 1999 (ten years after Kenya burned ivory stocks in a protest against sales of ivory decimating elephants) CITES allowed the first legal sale to Japan, and in 2008 allowed stockpiles from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to be sold to only two nations - Japan and China.

 

Those sales have been criticized as contributing to elephant poaching as there was now confusion as to whether ivory was legal or illegal. China still claims today that all in-country ivory sales from hundreds of ivory carving factories come from the 62 tons of “legal” ivory received in 2008. Others say that 90% of ivory sold in China comes from poaching.

 

Now comes another twist to this CITES story. After those two “one off” sales, CITES is still approving ivory to be exported to a number of countries. Trophy hunters successfully lobbied to have elephant trophies exempted as part of the CITES “personal and household effects” derogation, meaning that trophy hunted ivory had a special exemption from trade. Trophy hunters are not allowed to sell their tusks, but it is increasingly becoming apparent that this is exactly what is happening. After all, with a street value of $4,000/kg in China, who could resist making a quick profit?

 

Looking at the CITES trade database, it appears that in addition to such trophy hunted ivory, elephant tusks have been exported by the kilogram and individually – with no indication that such tusks fall under any exemptions.

 

For example, CITES numbers show the following:


1. Tanzania – 2005-2010 - 720 tusks exported (in addition to hunting trophies).


2. Namibia – 2005-2010- 437 tusks exported (in addition to hunting trophies).


3. South Africa – 2005-2010 – 90kg tusks to Portugal and 1100 tusks exported (in addition to hunting trophies).


4. Zimbabwe – 2005-2010 – 234 kg tusks to Austria, 17 kg tusks to Belgium, 90 kg tusks to Canada, 196 kg tusks to Germany, 2772 kg tusks to China, 51 kg tusks to Denmark, 22 kg tusks to Spain, 83 kg tusks to France, 33 kg tusks to UK, 32 kg tusks to Hong Kong, 150 kg tusks to Italy, 106 kg to Poland, 52 kg to New Zealand, 38 kg to Portugal, 124 kg to Qatar, 1834 kg to USA. Read those numbers carefully – those are all tusks sent by the kilo. In addition Zimbabwe exported 2446 tusks (in addition to hunting trophies).

 

So just those four countries have somehow managed to export 4704 tusks and at least 5924 kg of tusks in addition to their trophy hunting ivory exempted by the personal and household effects derogations?

 

Adding in the trophies, I would estimate that amounts to 6,800 elephants exported 2005-2010 from just four range states. You might say that’s not much compared to the 25,000 elephants poached in Tanzania over the past three years, but the difference is that these 6,800 elephants were all killed with some veneer of legality.

 

How is this allowed by CITES? Perhaps the recent and very controversial export of elephant calves to China by Zimbabwe can provide some indication. In that instance, Zimbabwe CITES authorities approved the export permits, approved the destination zoos, and stamped all necessary documents. The CITES Secretariat had nothing to say about the terms and conditions of this very dubious export and were in all likelihood not consulted. In other words, local CITES authorities are a power unto themselves and with their stamps can approve all manner of transactions that can at best be called very loose interpretations of CITES guidelines. Add some possible corruption to the mix and you end up with a poisonous recipe.

 

We perhaps see CITES as an organization setting rules so wildlife trade can be monitored and regulated. But the Achilles heel of this organization seems the local offices with their rubber stamps. As seen with the pseudo–hunting loophole provided by South Africa for rhinos and the subsequent stream of “legal” rhino horns to Vietnamese consumers, there is a lot wrong with this formula of devolved authority. 

 

We clearly identify poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking as crimes. Perhaps we should also be looking much closer at how the rubber stamps are abused. If CITES cannot control their own local authorities, how can they be expected to have any measure of success in preventing international trade abuse? 


 
Picture credit – Wikimedia Commons

 

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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:04

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