14/07/0215 | The following article was sent to me by the CEO of SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association, Fred Campher, for comment:
NEWS24 | R440m spent but rhinos still slaughtered
Furious Kruger Park officials say a mountain of money has done little to fight rhino poaching because efforts are failing on the ground, writes Pearlie Joubert
Almost half a billion rand in donor funds pumped into the Kruger National Park has done little to slow the slaughter of its rhinos.
In the 2014/15 financial year, national parks authority SANParks – with the department of environmental affairs (DEA), the Green Scorpions and other organisations concerned with rhino protection – received more than R437.7 million to halt the devastating rhino-poaching scourge in the country. The Kruger Park, where most rhino poaching occurs, received most of the money.
Yet SANParks is losing on average three rhinos a day in the park, home to 82% of Africa’s remaining rhino population. Between 2013 and last year, poaching in the park increased by 21%.
Where the cash came from
SANParks, the DEA, Ezemvelo in KwaZulu-Natal and the Peace Parks Foundation received:
- R175.9 million from the Dutch postcode lottery;
- R134.4 million – including R129.6 million from Howard Buffett’s foundation – ring-fenced for the Kruger Park. Buffett is an American businessman, farmer, philanthropist and conservationist, and the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett;
- R110 million from the US department of state, which was given to SANParks for equipment;
- R46.9 million from the Global Environment Facility, a partnership between 183 countries to address global environmental issues;
- R31.7 million in private donations;
- R27.5 million from the US department of state to nongovernmental organisations to run anti-rhino-poaching programmes;
- R12.7 million from the Swedish postcode lottery; and
- R3.1 million from Bavaria Breweries, the Adopt a Rhino campaign and other small donors.
This amount excludes R21.38 million worth of “in kind” donations – usually goods and services instead of money – which was made to various institutions, including the DEA, the Green Scorpions, the World Wide Fund for Nature and research body the CSIR.
36 rhinos poached in one weekend
Despite creating a security cordon, called the “Berlin wall of security”, around the Kruger Park’s intensive protection zone in the south of the reserve, the park is still losing record numbers of rhinos to poachers – who feed highly lucrative markets mainly in Vietnam and China.
On Monday last week, 10 rhino carcasses were found in the park, and two weeks ago 36 were found after a particularly bloody weekend.
Officially, the country lost 1 215 rhinos last year – 827 in the Kruger Park.
In April, Environment Minister Edna Molewa told a press briefing the country had lost 212 Kruger rhinos and a further 331 countrywide in the first four months of this year. SANParks is no longer releasing weekly rhino poaching figures.
“Criminals … are also consumers of the information we release,” Molewa said at the time. Figures should not be given as “fodder to organised criminal syndicates”.
However, City Press was told by two senior SANParks officials, who asked not to be named, that Molewa’s figures were “inaccurate” and the “real figure is closer to 500 [Kruger] rhinos shot and killed this year already”.
Despite the minister claiming that the birth rates of rhinos have increased, the rhino population runs a real risk of not surviving the relentless poaching despite the millions of rands being thrown at the problem.
Two years ago, scientists warned that the Kruger’s black rhinos would reach a “tipping point” – when the death rate exceeded the birth rate – next year and white rhinos would face the same in 2020 given the current poaching trajectory.
Molewa said in April that there were between 8 000 and 9 000 white rhinos left in the Kruger Park. But a senior scientist working for SANParks told City Press this figure “is the best-case scenario and likely inflated by about 2 000 rhinos”.
Rhino expert, biologist and wildlife veterinarian Kobus du Toit said Molewa’s count was “impossible”, telling investigative wildlife site Oxpeckers there were only between 1 500 and 3 000 white rhinos left in the Kruger Park.
Losing the war on poachers
A year ago, rhino poaching was declared a national priority crime when Molewa, national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega and head of detectives Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo announced a range of measures, including targeting syndicates, relocating rhinos to safer areas in the Kruger Park and other parks, selling rhinos for their own safety to private owners to develop other growth nodes, and training prosecutors and making magistrates aware of the problem.
By that time, a joint task force of rangers and a large group of defence force soldiers had been trained and deployed in the park under command of retired Major General Johan Jooste.
The national rhino operations centre in the Kruger Park was built and set up to centralise and strengthen the coordination of antipoaching operations and activities.
In February this year, the Hawks’ new head, Major General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, told the parliamentary portfolio committee on police that he had sent a team of investigators – the national intervention unit – to the Kruger Park. “We are going after the kingpins … and to break the backs of syndicates,” he said at the time.
However, City Press was told by three officials working directly on poaching in the Kruger that not a single rhino-horn poaching syndicate had been uncovered in which the poachers were convicted and jailed.
A police operation on a Chinese syndicate working in Johannesburg, dubbed Operation Shotgun, ended with one Chinese national having charges withdrawn against him and the other two, Gongchen Chen and Hunghai Ma, paying fines of R30 000. All three were arrested when they bought rhino horn from the police at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg during a sting operation in May last year.
Three cellphones, R60 000 in cash, a scanner for microchips, a camera as well as a VW Polo were seized.
The Chinese embassy did not respond to emails or telephone calls requesting comment.
‘We’re fighting blind’
Last month, Molewa hailed Phiyega “for the vital role the SA Police Service is playing to combat rhino poaching”.
But a national task team of top police officers and officials from crime intelligence, state security, the national prosecuting authority (NPA), the defence force and specially trained rangers and dogs, helicopters and drones have been unable in more than a year to give rangers sufficient actionable intelligence on poachers.
A furious SANParks official told City Press: “We’re fighting blind. Every day, about 15 poachers climb over the fence with high-calibre rifles and silencers and pangas. Every day we’re losing rhinos … where’s the intelligence?
“The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers in the park are worth nothing. They’re uninterested. They’re undisciplined and are leaving a massive human footprint [in the park]. The police running the operational room in Skukuza are doing what they can but we’re getting no intelligence,” he said. “We’re losing rhinos … in front of our very eyes.”
SANDF troops inside the park has been “disastrous” say scores of SANParks personnel City Press interviewed. Last year, a poacher who was shot and injured inside the park told this journalist “the poachers laugh at the SANDF troops”.
NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said by email “no offence-specific statistics” were kept regarding prosecution rates in rhino-poaching cases.
Mfaku sent a long list of cases, saying the NPA had a 51% conviction rate of rhino-related cases; 106 people were in court at present in various cases; four poachers had been acquitted and 34 cases withdrawn. He said 45 cases had been finalised, meaning either there were convictions, people were sentenced or acquitted or cases had been withdrawn or struck off the roll.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale did not respond to questions.
I refer to the above article and ask myself one question – why am I not surprised? Firstly, the amount, which is closer to R460 million if donations in kind are taken into account, was mostly given to South African government entities. These are the same kinds of bodies that are unable to supply electricity on a reliable basis, spent R230 million on the president’s private dwellings, presided over the demise of our education system, were unable to provide school text books timeously for almost 20 years and whose police killed 37 citizens at Marikana, to name but a few instances of their hopeless decision-making.
Secondly, the government minister responsible for the parks in which most of the rhinos have been poached at an ever increasing rate – up 21% from 2013 to 2014 – Minister Molewa, seems woefully uninformed. She says:
- 212 rhino were killed in KNP in the first four months of the year while KNP staff say the number is closer to 500;
- There are between 8000 and 9000 rhino left in KNP while scientists say the number is much lower – between 1500 and 4600.
- Thank you to the police – “for the vital role the SA Police Service is playing to combat rhino poaching” while City Press was told by three officials working directly on poaching in KNP that not a single rhino horn poaching syndicate has been uncovered in which the poachers were convicted and jailed.
And now she is refusing to provide weekly statistics of the number of rhinos poached because it highlights her woeful performance in combatting this scourge.
And what about other senior government representatives who are involved?
- General Riah Phiyega – Head of the Police
- Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo – Head of Detectives
- Major General Mthandazo Ntlemeza – Head of the Hawks
- Major General Johan Jooste – Head of the KNP anti-poaching forces
- Lieutenant general Solomon Makgale – Head of Police PR
What have they achieved? Collectively, little or nothing. Rhino are being poached at an ever increasing rate. Why are they achieving little or nothing? There are only three possible answers – they are incompetent, corrupt or a combination of the two.
Wildlife and wildlife habitat is, without doubt, Africa’s most valuable natural resource. More valuable than any mineral or metal for the simple reason that, once a mineral or metal has been mined out there is no more. To state the obvious, God put it there once, he will not do so again.
Wildlife and wildlife habitat are renewable resources and, provided they are used on a sustainable basis, can be used ad infinitum. We know that the revenue from just one group who uses these resources sustainably, i.e. hunters, contribute over R9 billion per annum to the country’s GDP and this amount grows every year. And yet the history of Africa is replete with examples of these precious natural resources being consumed as rapidly as possible until they are finished or are on the verge of becoming so.
At the risk of being labelled a racist, two difficult questions must be asked. Firstly, who are the people responsible for such unsustainable consumption? Difficult as it is to understand, in the vast majority of cases they are the very people who, if the resources were used sustainably, could benefit from them in perpetuity and who, once they have been used up, will often be reduced to the status of beggars or refugees. And secondly, who are the people trying to prevent this from happening? In the vast majority of cases, for the last 30 years at least, they are people from outside of Africa who have the least to gain should their efforts be successful and the consumption of wildlife and wildlife habitats be reduced to sustainable levels. This is not a model that can work over the long term. Donor fatigue, especially when there is continued failure to see any meaningful reward over the medium to long term, is but one of the many basic reasons. The other is that more and more donors have begun to realise that, unless African governments are prepared to conserve their own resources, any outside attempts are likely to fail.
Reading the book, Operation Lock and the War on Rhino Poaching by Dr John Hanks, it is apparent how long and hard people from outside Africa have fought – on a variety of different fronts – for decades to convince African governments to curtail the unsustainable use of their own precious natural resources, in general, and their wildlife (of which rhinoceroses have been near the forefront), in particular. They have expended massive amounts of time, effort and money and, with the possible exception of Kenneth Kaunda for a short while, were barely able to motivate a single head of state or cabinet minister to move beyond lip service to conservation efforts. Certainly, none of them was persuaded to commit government resources of any substance to conservation of rhinos for any length of time. The proof of the pudding is there for all to see. There are either no rhino or only a miniscule fraction of ones there once were anywhere in Africa outside South Africa and then for how much longer?
For example, in Zimbabwe the government could not even provide the services of a single helicopter to patrol the most exposed areas. Their Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management held up a private donation of £1 million for rhino protection and conservation for nearly two years in attempts to get their hands on the money. They sacrificed dozens of animals for the basest of reasons.
The attitudes of presidents, cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, police and military heads are absolutely incomprehensible unless the underlying reasons are factored in – they were more often than not the very people behind the raping and pillaging of the natural resources of their own people – Amin, Banda, Bokassa, Dos Santos, Mobuto and Mugabe were the most disgusting and obvious examples but, in reality, one of the shortest books in the world is “Honest African Leaders I Have Known”. The very shortest is “Honest and Competent African Leaders I Have Known”.
And just look around. Tanzania presided over the poaching of some 60 000 elephant in the Selous game reserve over the last six years or so and yet could not even fund the costs of counting the numbers that were left. Mocambique has seen elephant poaching on a similar scale and is yet to do anything of consequence to arrest this problem or the avalanche of poachers which daily pour over their borders to kill rhino in KNP. In Botswana, the president has cancelled hunting despite the positive conservation results that this has empirically demonstrated for conservation in both Namibia and South Africa. Instead he has chosen to follow the Kenyan example where, by their own admission, since banning hunting they have lost over 80% of their game. It is no surprise that the president who presided over much of this period has gone down in the annals of Kenyan corruption as the most egregiously greedy of all his many terminally corrupt predecessors.
And in the 21 years since the ANC took control and expropriated hundreds of game ranches, what has happened to them? What has happened to the game with which they were once stocked? By the South African governments own admission, 90 % of these ranches are no longer viable entities and yet we have discouraged foreign investment in land. We have allowed further land claims which, in turn, has discouraged local investment in land. And yet it is precisely these game ranchers that have driven the quiet conservation revolution across the country for some 60 years, which has resulted in land under game and game numbers making the dramatic recovery that it has from a mere three game ranches in the 1960s to over 12 000 today; from 557 000 head of game to over 19 million over the same period.
All the private game ranchers I know who owned rhinos have had some or all poached. All of them have sold their remaining rhinos.
If we cannot conserve our own rhino, how can we ask or expect others to do it for us. Ask yourself a few simple questions. Have we put sufficient pressure on Mocambique to stop their citizens from killing our rhinos? No. Have we started a strategic campaign to lobby member states of CITES to approve the legalisation of trade in rhino products – the only possible solution to the problem? No. We do not even have a presentation to give them. In fact, yet again, the only presentation of its kind has been prepared by private sources.
Realistic logic dictates that the rhinoceros is doomed to extinction within the next few years with elephant destined to follow hot on its heels. Only governments on this continent can change this and they demonstrably lack the will and ability to do so.
In situations like this, it is good to remember Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I include the paper below from Dr John Hanks on the pros and cons of legalising the trade in rhinoceros horn, with his kind permission. Dr Hanks is eminently qualified to write on this subject. Very briefly, he has a Zoology PhD from Cambridge; became Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Natal University and the Chief Professional Officer of Natal Parks Board which, under Dr Ian Player, almost singlehandedly saved the white rhino from extinction; and then went on to become Head of the Africa Programme for WWF, CEO of WWF Southern Africa and the first executive director of the Peace Parks Foundation. As I wrote in my email to him, “ It is the most comprehensive and compelling document on this issue that I have read to date. Of course, you do not go far enough. But then I suppose you can’t. The very sad fact is that, if none of the countries with rhino are able to look after their own people, how do we imagine they will look after their rhinoceroses, particularly when their gross incompetence is matched only by their rampant and unbridled, short-sighted greed and corruption and where the example is set by those in the highest positions in government. I have come to the depressingly sad conclusion that wildlife and wildlife habitat is doomed throughout Africa. All we are talking about now is how long we can stave off the inevitable.” His response was, “Yes, there was lots more I could have said but I certainly did this in my book which was published last month… It is on sale in Exclusive Books and most major bookshops and I would be delighted to hear what you think!” And, just as soon as I fight off a nasty bout of flu, I will go out and buy, Operation Lock and the War on Rhino Poaching.
Hardly a single day goes by without the media presenting gruesome images and depressing accounts of the brutal slaughter of the two species of rhinos in Africa, and quite understandably everyone wants to know what realistic and sustainable options are open for action. Poachers killed 1,215 rhinos in South Africa in 2014, and international attention has been directed towards what the popular press has referred to as “the killing fields of Africa”. This is perhaps not surprising with the country hosting 40% of Africa’s remaining black rhino and 93% of the continent’s total white rhino population.
It should by now be evident that there is no single solution to addressing the growing illegal trade rhino horn, in spite of some of the simplistic options promoted by genuinely concerned individuals sickened by the reports of appalling suffering by rhinos at the hand of poachers. Unfortunately, the strong case that is being presented for a legal trade in rhino horn is being seriously undermined by individuals and NGOs who are against any form of wildlife utilisation, including hunting and trade in animal parts, even if both are run to the highest standards of sustainability. Their arguments and criticisms come at a time when representatives of Africa’s range states should be showing a much more unified approach to recommending solutions to rhino poaching, particularly at a time when the continent’s biodiversity is facing an unprecedented level of losses and threats from widespread land transformation, all too often linked to increasing poverty and unemployment, declining food security, and totally inadequate budgets for virtually every conservation agency and protected area in the continent.
Three key issues for the Panel of Experts to consider in their deliberations and final recommendations are (i) the insecurity of Africa’s designated protected areas, with no solutions in sight in the foreseeable future for securing the substantial increase of funding and adequately trained staff, (ii) the vital importance of community-led solutions to tackling wildlife crime, and (iii) the role of the private land-owner in contributing to rhino conservation in particular and conservation of the continent’s biodiversity, landscapes and ecosystem services in general. All three issues have significant social and financial implications, which should not be ignored in the final recommendations made by the Panel.
Insecurity of Africa’s designated protected areas
The continent’s national parks and game reserves should be at the forefront in efforts to guarantee the long-term security of species and landscapes, particularly threatened species such as black and white rhino, but their ability to do so is being seriously compromised by a major shortfall in financial support for virtually all of those designated and listed by IUCN . This highly unsatisfactory situation is compounded by a lack of a political commitment to biodiversity conservation, inadequate law enforcement and the continued alienation of adjacent rural communities by punitive measures to protect wildlife, which in too many cases make little or no attempt to help these people develop alternative sustainable livelihoods.
Regrettably too many environmental NGOs are reluctant to address the subject of exploding human population numbers. The consequences of the impact of another four billion people on the planet since the inception of WWF in 1961 are there for all to see (in the early part of the nineteenth century the population was one billion), yet most surprisingly WWF’s recently published Living Planet Report, which gave detailed accounts of the accelerating loss of species and their habitats, ignored the necessity of reducing human population growth rates. Even IUCN’s latest publication celebrating the 50th anniversary of its well-known Red List of threatened species (highlighting that of the 76,199 assessed species a staggering 22,413 are threatened with extinction), makes no mention whatsoever of the unsustainability of increasing human numbers and the need to reduce this growth.
Never before have so many animals of one species, and with such a destructive impact, inhabited the planet. Vast areas have been transformed through an unprecedented rate of deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, agricultural expansion and urbanisation, condemning to extinction thousands of species far less charismatic than the black rhino, and impacting directly and indirectly on the security of the protected areas.
The majority of the adjacent rural communities are living in poverty, and residents cannot comprehend that the protected areas have such an emphasis on the aesthetics of species, with no benefits coming back to the communities. For example, Mozambique ranks 185 out of 187 countries on the UN Development Programme’s 2013 Human Development Index, with Zambia ranking 163 and Zimbabwe 172. With the black-market price of rhino horn being so high, Mozambique has become a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cross- border Mozambican poachers, who have not been deterred by the significant and growing risk of death (over 220 killed since 2008) or lengthy jail sentences (343 were arrested in 2013 alone) when they cross into the Kruger National Park.
Against this background there remains a disproportionate concern for animals when people’s basic needs are not being met. As Varun Vira and Thomas Ewing put it: ‘At the strategic level, elevating animal welfare over human welfare is likely a sure path to failure, breeding resentment and exacerbating underlying drivers of poaching.’ This might seem a harsh comment, but as this perception undoubtedly exists, it should not be ignored.
Equally important today for many African countries is the fact that rapid population growth is typically associated with a large number of poorly educated young men with few job opportunities – a recipe for violence and conflict. This should be a wake-up call to South Africa, which at the start of 2014 was home to over 90 per cent of all of Africa’s rhinos, and at least five million illegal human immigrants from the rest of the continent. Will these rhinos have a secure future if African countries do not have the courage to address the consequences of high rates of human population growth?
Importance of community-led solutions
The real value of genuine community involvement in the conservation of biodiversity and the key role played by the communal conservancies has been captured in Garth Owen-Smith’s superb account of conservation in the Kaokoveld in Namibia . At the start of 2015, the country had 82 registered communal conservancies covering 161,900 km2, embracing the principle of the sustainable use of wildlife, and ensuring that people living within or close to conservation areas will embrace the security of wildlife as an integral part of their future survival and economic development.
Early in March 2015, a set of recommendations on engaging communities in combating the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) at the source was issued by a group of more than 70 researchers, community representatives, government officials, UN agencies and NGOs from five continents. The report recognised the central role of the communities that live close to wildlife in addressing and combating IWT, and made the important point of the paramount importance of responding to community rights, recognising the distinction between IWT and legitimate, sustainable use and trade of wild resources. The lesson here for all concerned with rhino poaching is that the engagement of communities is crucial for success in reducing poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
Despite the global attention on wildlife crime, the international responses to date have largely focussed on strengthening law enforcement efforts and reducing consumer demand for illegally sourced wildlife commodities. Much more emphasis must now be placed on the role of indigenous and local communities, and this needs to be included as an important issue in the context of wider discussions around sustainable development. People should be able to profit from activities such as wildlife tourism and sustainable use while protecting species targeted by illegal trade.
Summary of present and proposed options to reduce rhino poaching with particular reference to the realism of these options and their sustainability
Nobody can deny that the trade ban, which has been in place since the 1970s, has not stopped poaching, nor can anyone deny that the demand for rhino horn is higher than it has ever been, with prices rising all the time – an indication that the product is becoming increasingly scarce and more difficult to obtain. With rising prices, we must expect poaching to continue increasing as poachers take much greater risks for their financial return. What then are the options in place or proposed to reduce poaching?
(i) Enhancing field security
Increased field protection of rhinos must be top of the list, with every effort being made to ensure the survival of as many rhinos as possible in those areas that are most likely to be successful. This is a strategy that intensified when rhino poaching in South Africa started to increase in 2010. Of the 1,215 rhinos killed in South Africa in 2014, poaching has been particularly severe in the Kruger National Park, where 59 per cent of all the country’s losses have occurred. There is no doubt about the regular incursions of poachers from adjacent areas in Mozambique, with mounting evidence of the involvement of former RENAMO and FRELIMO militias. A further complication has been the involvement of conservation staff in rhino poaching, the growth of ‘chemical poaching’ using the opiate M99 , and widespread corruption in government agencies linked to law enforcement . As a result, state-managed protected areas as well as private landowners have been forced to engage in more aggressive and costly law enforcement to the detriment of other conservation activities, resulting in a loss of focus and funding for what are more important programmes for long-term environmental stability.
Even the Kruger National Park, which receives over a million visitors each year, cannot manage to stop rhino poaching without external aid. Ideally, this land area of 19,485 km2 should have one equipped and trained ranger per 10 km2. The number of field staff in the park has been increased from some 200 in 2009 to 280 in 2010/11, 330 in 2012 and 400 in 2013. In December 2012, SANParks announced the appointment of Major General Johan Jooste to oversee the overall anti-poaching operations in the KNP. His main task has been to integrate the role of the South African Army, which in 2009 had been brought in to assist with anti-poaching activities, concentrating on patrolling the eastern border with Mozambique. In March 2013, the army deployed 180 military personnel to the park, including well-trained and equipped men from the Special Forces with helicopter support. Even then, the ground coverage was only about a third of what it should be. One year later, US philanthropist Howard Buffett pledged nearly $24 million for protecting rhinos in the KNP, earmarking the money for ranger teams, sniffer dogs and other security measures to help counteract the regular incursions into the park from Mozambique. The three-year programme will employ some of the methods used by the US to monitor its border with Mexico, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and tethered balloons with infrared cameras that can scan the landscape for 24 hours at a time and detect cross-border incursions by poachers, recording and transmitting photo images to the ground control station. Additional interventions will include the creation of at least one intensive protection zone, where a number of technologically advanced methods to help anti-poaching teams will be concentrated.
If South Africa, with a GNP per capita 10 times higher than Zambia, has to turn to substantial international assistance to maintain its protected areas and conserve its rhino populations, what hope do other countries have without similar massive injections of cash? Enhanced field security means more, better-trained and better-equipped staff, as well as access to the new generation of advanced surveillance techniques such as UAVs, which are not cheap. All of these come at a massive cost, which drains already limited resources available to state protected areas and private landowners. These demands are unlikely to be reduced in the foreseeable future, and unless commitments are made to sustain enhanced security at this new level, the loss of rhinos will continue. In other words, with growing donor fatigue this is not a sustainable option, as there is no guaranteed source of income for rhino populations in most of the state and private land areas.
(ii) Enable the continued expansion of rhino range and numbers
An option linked to field protection is to move rhinos to other more secure areas. In 2003 WWF South Africa initiated its Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) as a major initiative to help conserve the species. The plan was to find suitable large tracts of land with adequate habitat for black rhino conservation in secure areas, giving additional attention to increasing the numbers of stakeholders in black rhino conservation, especially rural communities. An evaluation of this project completed in 2012 concluded that BRREP had built up a deserved reputation for the excellence of its technical field activities, with the small team widely regarded and respected for its high level of professionalism and efficiency. At the time of the evaluation, BRREP had established seven new populations, six of which were increasing and were well managed. All were relatively secure, and black rhino range land had increased by over 150,000 hectares, adding new areas for general conservation use, thereby protecting a broad range of other species and habitats. Employment opportunities had also been stimulated through new job openings or through the consolidation of existing posts directly and indirectly linked to such diverse disciplines as tourism, field rangers, game guards, vehicle and pump maintenance staff, research and monitoring, security operations, veterinary activities, fence construction and maintenance, and communications to the general public. These are significant contributions and must be welcomed in a country where just over 25 per cent of the population are unemployed. The project has since continued, and there are now nine new populations, based on 142 successfully translocated animals and 59 new-borns. Three of the project sites are on community-owned land, and five communities are involved through different mechanisms. Although BRREP has not been able to escape the wave of poaching, not many black rhinos have been killed.
(iii) Improve law enforcement, prosecutions and gathering of forensic evidence, and identify and prosecute the middle-men – the “drivers” of the trade
Although efforts are underway to increase penalties and tighten up implementation of existing laws, including training for law-enforcement officers and prosecutors, much more still needs to be done. Logically this goes hand in hand with the first option of increased field protection, and a prerequisite for this component to succeed is the implementation of much stronger national laws and their enforcement. It is a cause of intense frustration all over the continent that when poachers or the middlemen driving the trade are arrested, they are frequently released because cases against them were poorly prepared. More often than not, the penalties for poaching amount to no more than a slap on the wrist, and in the absence of a significant deterrent, the same individuals continue their activities as if nothing has happened.
Further attention should be given to promote the required level of regional cooperation in law enforcement in Africa through the growing network of Transfrontier Conservation Areas, making the maximum use possible of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement. The 15 member countries of SADC have taken the lead in the formal designation, establishment and political recognition of TFCAs in Africa. This is a significant conservation initiative that may well bring together a complex and diverse mosaic of land uses under one shared or joint management structure, including national parks and game reserves, forest reserves, wildlife and game management areas, communal land and private land. Ideally, these areas should work towards the harmonisation of wildlife legislation and associated penalties for transgressions, concentrating initially on the member countries within a TFCA, but evolving eventually to harmonisation within SADC.
There is general agreement among governments and international organisations that the commitments made and the actions taken to slow or halt illicit wildlife trafficking are uncoordinated and fail to effectively address the issues. Nobody doubts the necessity of expanding this work and it is encouraging to see what is being done in certain quarters. TRAFFIC, for example, maintains a database to track illegal trade in rhino horns through the collection, compilation and analysis of data on rhino numbers, illegal killings, horn stockpiles and law-enforcement efforts, but there is still a need for a better exchange of information between officials and law enforcement authorities of stakeholder countries. The University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory based in Onderstepoort has developed new techniques for the DNA-based identification of rhino horn, which has great potential to establish whether a rhino horn that is the subject of a forensic investigation was obtained from a particular source, including from a registered stockpile, from a legally hunted animal, or from a rhino killed illegally. Rhino horn samples are used to build up the Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS), which intends building up a database of rhino samples from all of the range states.
The criminal enterprises involved in the illegal wildlife trade are far better organised today than they were when rhino poaching started to increase significantly in South Africa in 2011. International NGOs and their donors need to understand that apprehending poachers in the field will not stop rhino poaching unless there is a simultaneous effort to strike at, disrupt and eventually destroy the central nervous system of the criminal networks that supply the weapons and ammunition, bribe the police, customs officials and wildlife authorities, and then transport and sell rhino horns to end-users. Conventional approaches to intelligence gathering are likely to fail when corrupt government officials learn that their complicity will be exposed. Options for unconventional methods of disrupting the criminal networks, which avoid government departments and their parastatals, need to be developed and implemented. With the extent of corruption in the majority of countries that still have rhino populations, there is no alternative.
(iv) Dehorn all the rhinos in vulnerable areas
Dehorning rhinos as a deterrent to poachers was first practised in Namibia from 1989 until 1995, and in the early 1990s in many areas in Zimbabwe and on a smaller scale in Swaziland. It is currently being done on a small scale in Kenya in order to reduce the risks of losing vulnerable animals. In South Africa it is practised to an extent in the private sector, and has also been undertaken in some provincial parks. This option is more suited for use in smaller reserves with few rhino, and is somewhat unrealistic for larger and widely dispersed populations. It is an expensive exercise, often requiring the use of helicopters to locate the animals in remote areas and then darting them from the air. Depending on the size of the area and the terrain, costs are between $500 and $750 per rhino, and it should ideally be repeated annually if it is to prove a real deterrent. The permitting system for possessing, transporting and storing the horns is considered by private rhino owners to be onerous and imposes security risks by providing opportunities for information to be leaked, particularly on the location of horns or on the planned transportation of horns. Although dehorning has been carried out in some of the bigger protected areas, it has not been worth the expenditure or effort. There are many cases on record that even when rhinos have been dehorned, poachers have still tracked them down and killed them to recover the small amount of horn remaining, or simply killed and left them to avoid tracking the same dehorned rhino another day.
(v) Poison the horns as a deterrent to the end-users
A more recent development has been the infusion of toxins and dyes into rhino horn in order to deter poachers by rendering the horns unacceptable to end-users. Unfortunately, the toxins and dyes do not spread evenly throughout the horn and the infused substances stay at the injection site, rendering these methods insufficient as a stand-alone deterrent. Furthermore, with the horn’s continual growth, a ‘once-off’ infusion would only be a relatively short-term option. Serious concerns have also been raised of the legal aspects of this practice, which could of course lead to the deaths of the end-users, but this seems unlikely considering the small quantities of horn used in traditional Chinese medicine prescriptions.
(vi) Campaigns in China and Vietnam to discourage use
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an element of indigenous culture that is well established, having existed for hundreds and even thousands of years, and there are today ‘universities’ for TCM studies, such as the Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. More recently, the use of rhino horn has increased dramatically in Vietnam, a country of some 89 million people experiencing rapid economic growth with increasing disposable income. There it is used as a supposed cure for cancer and as a status symbol for the country’s business elite, who mix rhino horn powder with water as a cure for a hangover.
It is easy to criticise TCM, but some cures do undoubtedly work. Should we assume that rhino horn has no medicinal qualities? Surprisingly, there have been remarkably few studies done on the effects of rhino horn, although recent work has looked at the potentially active ingredients in rhino horn compared with yak and water buffalo horn to see whether it could reduce dependence on rhino horn in Chinese medicine. Analysing horn on its own overlooks the way it is actually used in TCM, where it is prescribed with a combination of herbs, sometimes as many as eight, and mainly as a treatment for fevers and inflammatory disorders based on hundreds of years of ancestral experience. Until these combinations are subjected to rigorous analysis at the dosages specified by Chinese Pharmacopoeia, paying particular attention to the enhancing or synergistic functions resulting from the various ‘cocktails’ in which the horn is used, the critics should reserve judgement.
Any campaign to close down rhino horn use in TCM cannot afford to ignore that in China, traditional medicine is widely accepted as a legitimate field of medicine. The fact is that the Chinese banned the use of rhino horn in traditional medicine in 1993 and TCM practitioners have shown a high regard for conserving endangered species. Furthermore, the latest editions of Chinese Pharmacopoeia no longer have any medicines whose ingredients are derived from endangered wild animals, including rhinos. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that rhino horn is still used and is in demand. The likelihood of completely stopping its use is very small for two main reasons. Firstly, China is a country of over 1.3 billion people, with 56 different languages. It would be a formidable task to contact even 1 per cent of that total spread across such linguistic diversity. Secondly, TCM is so well entrenched in China that it would take at least two or three generations to wean people away from some of the products they believe have genuine therapeutic and medicinal properties, an unrealistic timeframe at present rates of poaching. Much work has gone into demand reduction, and we are learning that successful campaigns must be carefully crafted and culturally relevant. To tell China that TCM does not work is cultural arrogance of the first order.
(vii) A legal trade in rhino horn
Could a strictly controlled legal trade in rhino horn offer a viable alternative to the existing policy thrust? A massive effort has gone into closing down the trade and discouraging rhino horn use, but the time surely has come to accept and recognise that this has failed and there is no reason to believe that this will change in the short-term. No matter what punitive or prohibitive measures we introduce, rhinos and many other wildlife species will continue to dwindle unless we have a fundamental rethink on the way forward. A legal trade in rhino horn deserves serious consideration as a new approach. South Africa can and should present a very strong case to CITES for a legal trade that will benefit agencies responsible for protected areas, the private land-owners with rhinos and the communities living adjacent to areas with rhinos, but can expect serious opposition from animal rights bodies and NGOs who have no responsibility for wildlife management.
The world should look at the failure of the US’s alcohol prohibition legislation for some 13 years, from 1920 to 1933, and the ongoing global efforts to eliminate the international drug trade. Both are examples of trade bans that have not worked. In fact, illegal markets expanded dramatically, enriching criminals, who have enjoyed greater incentives to trade with anyone and everyone.
Any legal trade in rhino horn will have to be agreed by a two-thirds majority at the next CITES CoP in 2016, and South Africa should be well-prepared for this by initiating an international advocacy campaign on the benefits of a legal trade as soon as possible.
South Africa needs to stress that the purpose of CITES is not to ban such trade, as CITES made abundantly clear in its strategic vision with the following wording:
Conserve biodiversity and contribute to its sustainable use by ensuring that no species of wild fauna or flora becomes or remains subject to unsustainable exploitation through international trade, thereby contributing to the significant reduction of the rate of biodiversity loss.
Thus CITES recognises that a trade in wildlife species is indeed an option for its conservation.
Keeping a species on CITES Appendix 1 in the belief that it will guarantee its long-term survival ignores the realities of African conditions, allowing the criminals to continue to profit from and control the market until no more rhinos are left. In contrast a controlled legal trade should have a significant impact on helping to increase rhino numbers, an approach strongly advocated by the late Ian Player, who has done more than any other individual to ensure rhinos have a realistic and sustainable future in Africa. Much will depend on how the legal trade would be established, and it would have to be accompanied by enhanced field security, improved law enforcement, prosecutions and gathering of forensic evidence, and the identification and prosecution of the middle-men, the “drivers” of the illegal trade.
When it comes to South Africa, we need to appreciate that state-owned game reserves cannot effectively conserve all the wildlife in the country. For example, a quarter of South Africa’s 20,900 rhinos are on private land, where the first white rhino was introduced in 1967. Today, these lands hold more rhinos than the combined rhino population in the rest of Africa. Game farms in South Africa have increased from less than 5,000 in 2002 to over 12,000 in 2013. It is a diverse sector that combines ecotourism, the sale of live animals, several forms of hunting and, as a by-product, meat production. As already highlighted in this submission, field protection costs continue to increase each year with no sign of abating, and governments simply do not have the funds to allocate for the required level of security. Even the private sector is finding that many landowners are now reluctant to pay exorbitant costs when they receive virtually no benefits from keeping rhinos on their land. This has already resulted in some private rhino owners de-stocking, and will almost certainly lead to a substantial decrease in live-sale prices of rhinos and reduce the incentive to protect them.
It is important to consider a recent expert-based risk-benefit analysis of five different rhino management strategies undertaken to assess their potential for reducing the high levels of loss of the species. The outcomes indicated that benefits may exceed risks for those strategies that, in some or other format, legally provided horn for meeting demand.
In summary, what would be the advantages of a strictly controlled legal trade?
- Rhino horn could be supplied without killing a single animal, as horns regrow and produce about one kilogram per year in males and 600 grams a year in females. As an alternative to an annual cut, horn can be shaved off in much smaller quantities throughout the year. More importantly, live rhinos would be more valuable than dead rhinos, which is not the case at present.
- The trade in horns would be brought out into the open, with transparency on horn prices. Linked to this would be the ongoing monitoring of consumer demand relative to supply, enabling the rhino ‘owners’ to respond immediately to changing market conditions related directly to consumer demand.
- Those who have rhinos on their land urgently need mechanisms for funding that are likely to be financially sustainable, and not having to rely on donations which are fickle and unreliable. By becoming active market participants, those responsible for rhino conservation would be able to generate a substantial income from these animals that could be 100 times higher than that generated from domestic stock.
- Rhino horn stockpiles held by conservation agencies and private landowners could be fed into the market, removing the high costs and security risks associated with maintaining them. (More attention needs to be given now to managing these stockpiles to ensure that the horns do not deteriorate but remain acceptable to end-users.)
- A significantly increased and potentially ongoing source of supply should greatly reduce the incentives for speculative stockpiling by criminals, because a legal supply would deliver rhino horn more reliably and cost-effectively than the illegal trade.
- A controlled legal trade should encourage other private landowners and, importantly, local communities to obtain and maintain their own rhino populations, and to start breeding from them, which should have a significant impact on helping to increase rhino numbers. The management requirements for a community-based rhino horn farm were explored in some detail at a workshop held in the KNP in September 2013, and the meeting certainly stimulated a great deal of interest. With supplementary feed, a farm of 16 km2 could hold at least 60 rhinos, and could create over 100 full-time jobs and generate at least R12 million a year in areas where at present there are virtually no opportunities for sustainable employment. Just as with the protected areas, rhinos on these farms would require intensive protection around the clock at a cost for this relatively small area of about R4 million per year. These guards would be recruited from the community and the income from the farm would easily cover their costs. No form of agriculture will produce the same yield per hectare as rhino farming.
Several recent studies have discussed the case for a legal trade in rhino horn and these are readily available and will not be repeated here. It is important to stress however, that most proponents of the legal trade have drawn attention to the following:
- If the legal trade led to an increase in poaching, which is unlikely for reasons presented in some of the references listed under endnote #xxviii, the legal trade could be either closed down or restructured. Serious proponents of the trade have never suggested that a legal trade would put a stop to poaching.
- Much of course will depend on how the legal market is established, because it will be essential to try to eliminate the laundering of illegal stocks, as legalising trade could simply create two parallel markets – legal and illegal – which will operate alongside each other.
- A related criticism here is that there would be a serious lack of enforcement capacity to control laundering of illegal stock, and this would indeed have to be addressed.
- No pro-trade motivations state that if there is a legal trade it would be promoted by the producers for its therapeutic properties – in other words, those promoting the trade have not said that they are doing so because they believe that rhino horn has medicinal properties.
- Furthermore, nobody from the pro-trade lobby has suggested that all remaining rhinos be ‘farmed like cattle’. With the anticipated increase in the number of rhinos on private land and in communal areas, much of the regular harvesting could occur there, with some being added from state-protected areas where animals might still be vulnerable to ongoing poaching threats, and ideally away from those parts most regularly visited by tourists.
Clearly, we do not live in an ideal world. There is not enough money available to conserve all species and their habitats, a situation that will not change in the years ahead. Conservationists are already confronted with the unenviable task of having to prioritise which species or protected areas are more deserving of attention than others, focusing attention on the priorities and leaving the others to make do as best they can. This is reminiscent of the practice of ‘triage’, a word that comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sift or select. It describes a practice that originated in World War I when French doctors were treating battlefield wounded at the aid stations behind the front line. Patients who would die anyway, whether they received medical attention or not, were moved to the bottom of the list and were sometimes given no help whatsoever. This may seem callous, but with so many demands for help and such limited resources, triage was extremely important for maximising the number of lives saved. An increasing number of conservationists are recognising that it is time to consider triage in their sphere too, focusing the limited resources available on species and habitats that can realistically be saved and giving up on the rest. In reality, this is happening already. When faced with all the consequences of human encroachment and land transformation, and the inevitable serious threats to species and habitats, exacerbated by funding for conservation being totally inadequate in all African countries, conservation managers have no alternative but to apply triage in their decision-making.
Triage is not about abandoning difficult-to-save species, but rather about prioritising actions given finite resources, and I anticipate that priority attention will have to be given to the conservation of areas that provide key ecosystem services, such as the main water catchments. Literally millions of dollars are being directed towards the protection of rhinos despite growing uncertainties about the long-term success or sustainability of many of these programmes, and despite the fact that we know these efforts will not secure every individual of the species. We really have no alternative but to focus the limited funds available on carefully selected priority sites and species, admitting that not every threatened species in Africa can be saved.
Linked to this there will have to be a much wider acceptance that the future of the continent’s wildlife will be decided by Africa’s people, specifically those who live with these species on a daily basis, and not by conservationists far removed from the daily struggles for survival, increasing poverty and declining food security. Too many of the rural communities are being alienated by punitive measures to protect wildlife, which make no attempt whatsoever to help these people develop alternative sustainable livelihoods. Nelson Mandela encapsulated this concern when in 1992 he said: ‘It is important for conservation and rural development to be combined. We must act now to ensure that our wild places are protected for all generations to come. But, I see no place for protected areas unless they take the needs of local communities into consideration.’
Persisting with the present range of options will only be possible with substantial ongoing financial support (not just for Kruger but for other areas too), and in the interim we will have to witness the further mutilation and killing of rhinos, the loss of life of game guards and poachers, and scarce human and financial resources being moved away from other priority conservation concerns. Surely the legal trade option deserves a resolute and more dispassionate and tolerant consideration as a sustainable solution if rhinos are to survive?
By Dr John Hanks
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