I attended the Cape Town premiere of the 90 minute documentary, “Rhino in Crisis – Blueprint for Survival” produced by the Conservation Imperative, a group of conservationists primarily from KwaZulu-Natal. In the documentary, a number of people, both black and white, male and female, including university professors, economists, game wardens (both past and present), businessmen and tribal chiefs were interviewed against the backdrop of much rhino footage. Their consensus of opinion was that the legalisation of trade in rhinoceros horn was essential to curtail or stop the poaching of rhinoceroses which, last year, amounted to nearly 1200 animals, primarily in Kruger National Park.
The well reasoned argument looked at a variety of alternatives and concluded that none of them were capable of being instituted, let alone becoming effective, before rhinoceroses became extinct given the escalating levels of poaching and the current incentives for poachers, middlemen and end user sellers. The previous head of the De Beers Central Selling Organization (CSO), Gary Ralfe, explained how this system worked and how effective it had been in curtailing the sale of blood diamonds. He saw no reason why this could not be applied to the sale of rhinoceros horns and have a similar effect.
The basic premise of the documentary rested on the by now well proven fact that, if local communities were given ownership of the natural resources and/or benefited from the natural resources on their land, they would look after those natural resources. This was complemented by evidence from a commercial game rancher showing that revenue in an amount of R9 million per annum could be derived by local communities farming 40 rhinoceroses and harvesting the annual horn growth at a conservative average rate of 1 kg per animal per year. While this would lead to the domestication of a substantial number of rhinoceroses – the documentary worked on some 1000 – it would take the pressure off the remaining animals as this number, together with the gradual sale from government stockpiles, would be enough to satisfy the current market while retaining the current price at approximately $60,000 per kilogram.
The revenue generated by the state would not only make their parks and reserves financially self-sufficient but also fund additional manpower and equipment to strengthen the fight against poaching.
While admittedly a system like this has never been applied to wildlife or wildlife products, they were three factors that immediately appealed to me, namely:
- If nothing was done, rhinoceroses in Africa would become extinct within the next few years.
- If, after a few years, it appeared as if the system was not helping to stop or curtail rhinoceros poaching, it could be done away with and no one, not even the rhinoceroses, would be worse off.
- If, on the other hand, it was proving to be a success, it could be applied to other wildlife products, in particular, elephant tusks.
After the documentary was shown, a number of people interviewed in the documentary, including two professors, two economists and two senior managers previously active in managing protected areas, agreed to answer questions from the audience. The evening was marred by a number of animal rightists immediately standing up, trying to take over the meeting, aggressively badgering the panel, talking over and interrupting their answers and repeating their rhetorical questions only louder and more frequently as if they thought this might lend more weight to their non-existent arguments. When questioned as to why, if they were so opposed to the proposed solution, they did not go and produce their own documentary with their own proposed solution, the questioner was asked to put up the funds.
As per normal, not once did they put forward an alternative solution, let alone a well-researched and workable one based on the experience of a broad cross-section of highly skilled and experienced men and women based on a tried and tested system that has worked well, worldwide, for many decades in respect of an equally valuable commodity.
I question the attempt to involve animal rightists in such initiatives. I have previously attempted to debate issues with them like this on radio, TV, in public and private and it is always the same. The exchanges – because they are not debates or discussions – consist of them ignoring whatever you have to say, especially the empirically established facts that support your point of view, repeating themselves ad nauseam, usually only louder, ruder and more frequently as was the case last night – and repeatedly trotting out their tired, preconceived emotional criticisms, self-generated “statistics”, supposed “facts”, which cannot stand any form of examination, and other unscientific ideas. I have yet to see anyone make the slightest dent in any of their opinions and believe it is a waste of time dealing with them. In addition, the next one that comes up with a well-researched, workable suggestion for conservation in Africa and which they themselves successfully implement, with their funding, over an extended period of time, is going to be the first one.