Fewer stories will be appearing on Africa – News and Analysis over the next week as the editor is on a press trip to South Africa and Swaziland, looking at the debate over legalising the rhino horn trade.
The impetus for the new interest in rhino horn – beyond the catastrophic poaching problem in southern Africa – is Swaziland’s proposal to CITES to have a legal trade in natural m,ortality, deforned and seized rhino horn.
This is the Swazi proposal as outlined by Michael Eustace in The Conservation Imperative:
SWAZILAND’S CITES PROPOSAL TO SELL WHITE RHINO HORN.
A Letter from Michael Eustace.
Swaziland has submitted a proposal to sell their horn stocks of 330 kg and also to sell, in the future, 20 kg annually from natural deaths (8 kg) and harvesting horn from about 4 of their 73 white rhino (12 kg). Harvesting will be done on a rotational basis. The horn re-grows.
The proceeds from the sale of the stocks will amount to $9.9 million at a wholesale price of $30,000 per kg. That amount will be placed in an investment fund to earn about $600,000 p.a. The annual sale of 20 kg will also produce $600,000, for total funding of $1.2 million p.a.
Swaziland’s law enforcement has been effective with only 3 rhino having been poached over the past 24 years. This low level of poaching is due to dedicated staff, severe sentences, a good and well rewarded information network and because the King champions wildlife conservation in Swaziland.
There is a risk that as law enforcement in South Africa becomes more intense, so will the risk of poaching in Swaziland increase. Mitigating that risk will need funding.
The King allows all income from wildlife to be retained by the parks.
The current cost of managing the three parks (Mlilwane, Hlane, and Mkhaya) is $2 million p.a. which is generated from tourism, trading and unsolicited donations. These parks receive no government funding. Current funding is inadequate: vehicles are old and need to be replaced, fencing is in need of repair, rangers’ salaries need to be increased and there needs to be sufficient funding to pay for supplementary feed in times of drought. Donor funding cannot be relied upon.
The purpose of CITES is to ensure that international (legal) trade in rhino does not threaten their survival but by extension, one assumes, CITES has the responsibility to approve trade if that would be to the advantage of rhino. The Swaziland proposal will test the sincerity of that purpose as there are other factors at play that have little to do with the welfare of rhino but are entrenched sentiments that are opposed to trade…sentiments that are not well supported by logic.
The main factor is that any horn trade will send a message to the market that suddenly all trade in horn is acceptable while the NGOs and others have, for years, been promoting a view that all trade and use of horn is unacceptable and that demand reduction along with law enforcement is the solution to poaching.
Swaziland intends selling its horn to a small number of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hospitals. Markets are astute and unlikely to accept false messages. They will understand the difference between the sale of legal horn and poached horn and that difference will be reinforced by publicity.
The 39-year-old CITES ban on trade in horn has not been effective. The current trade out of Africa is all illegal and amounts to about 1,300 horns p.a. or 5,200 kg. If consumers use 5 grams for a course of treatment, then the total supply satisfies about 1 million people. There are about 1,000 million people in the Far East who use TCM and maybe half of those would buy horn if the price was low enough to be acceptable.
For demand reduction to work all 500 million will need to be persuaded that either buying horn is immoral or they will need to be persuaded, after centuries of belief in it, that horn does not work. Persuading 499 million is not good enough. Relying on demand reduction would seem a futile and dangerous policy on which to risk thousands of rhino lives. Even if it were possible to eliminate demand it would take too long…longer than rhino can withstand the current onslaught.
The sale of Swaziland’s stocks of 330 kg will amount to a once off 6% of the annual market and the on-going sales of 20 kg p.a. will amount to 0.4% of the total market.
Parties need to consider whether their votes are going to support the environment for rhino in Swaziland or the interests of the NGOs.
A possible concern may be that if the Swaziland proposal is approved it may encourage a proposal for legal trade from South Africa who will argue that at the current high price they can satisfy, sustainably, the entire market for horn without the need to kill one rhino. The Parties can consider South Africa’s arguments (which may be compelling) if and when South Africa submits a trade proposal for consideration. It would seem wrong for a possible trade proposal in the future from South Africa to undermine Swaziland’s current proposal.
The entire international trade in horn is currently in contravention of CITES rules and that illegal trade threatens the survival of rhino. Swaziland has chosen to follow the correct route and to ask for permission to sell a small amount of horn to finance their parks. If care for rhino is valued and ethical behaviour is valued and the fundamental purpose of CITES is valued, the Swaziland proposal would seem worthy of support.
The Kingdom of Swaziland has submitted a proposal to CITES CoP17 to allow a controlled trade in rhino horn accruing from natural deaths, harvesting, and her own poached rhinos.
It is appropriate here to mention what can be described as one of – if not the greatest African conservation success story of all time – the saving of the Southern White Rhino by Ezemvelo KZN, formerly known as the Natal Parks Board. In the early 20th century, this species had been reduced to less than 50 animals. At the instance of the likes of Col Peter Potter and a few others, this small isolated population (some state it to have been as few as 12 individuals) remained discretely located at the junction of the White and Black Umfolozi Rivers in Zululand. When Ian Player arrived on the scene as a young game ranger, this population had grown to some 600-odd animals, protected under what was to become one of the finest conservation agencies in Africa, if not the world – the Natal Parks Board (previously termed the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board) under the direction of Colonel Jack Vincent.
It was Ian Player whose vision it was in the early 1960s to distribute the species widely – even to other countries – to spread the risk against extinction, and safeguard white rhinos for posterity.
It is less than likely that the small nucleus of rhinos, whose numbers were finitely limited to the carrying capacity of the Mfolozi Game Reserve at the time, could possibly have withstood the current onslaught in rhino poaching which now annually equates to approximately twice the original number of animals in the nucleus Player started with. So, had it not been for Ian Player’s vision to spread rhinos far and wide, the world would not have been privileged with the white rhino legacy he left us.
Ian Player died in 2014. Before he died, he was distraught at the escalating plight of rhinos and advocated strongly for the ban in trade in horn to be lifted in time to save them. Though Player was a strongly spiritual man, he was also pragmatic and strongly believed in the commercialization of game to enhance its material value in order to attract financial investment in it. He had seen this work over 40 years in southern Africa where, in that time wild animals had more than trebled in number, while in East Africa they had declined by 80% over the same period of time after consumptive utilization had been outlawed. There is more game in South Africa today than there was in 1960, and this can be attributed to its commercialisation. There is, in fact, more game in private ownership in southern Africa now than there is collectively in all national and provincial parks, for no other reason than its legal commercialization. Dr Anton Rupert once said “the government will not get up at 2 in the morning to tend a sick cow, but its owner will!” And there is nothing like ownership to protect what one owns and recover what is stolen from one, especially if it has added commercial value.
After 39 years of the futile ban in rhino horn trade being in place, it is time to try something new. Open the Trade! Farm rhinos! Explore all options. No domestic animal has ever gone extinct!
Rhinos are now no longer considered an asset. They are a liability. It is simply too costly and too risky for custodians to continue conserving rhinos without the material returns which rhino horn sales could bring. Privately owned habitats in South Africa currently support approximately 30% of all white rhinos, which would, without any doubt, grow with a legal trade. We simply cannot afford the loss of any more rhino habitat, and opening the trade would likely expand rhino range 10 fold.
Measures to control rhino poaching on a continental scale are clearly not working. We have seen 70 of the 300 rhino owners in South Africa disinvest in rhinos last year, withdrawing some 200 000ha of habitat from rhino conservation. 200 000ha equates to a carrying capacity of some 2 000 white rhinos, plus a variety of other grazing species. (Reference: Rhino Owners’ Association).
South Africa has always been a strong proponent for lifting the ban, and several countries fully expected her to submit a proposal to CITES CoP17 to do so. Swaziland was standing by to support such a proposal. For whatever reason South Africa didn’t submit the expected proposal, the deadline was upon us, so Swaziland, to keep a foot in the door and keep options open, worked through the night to produce its proposal and submitted it with only hours to spare in the late afternoon of the last day.
If between now and the CITES CoP17, there is insufficient support and encouragement for it, the proposal can always be withdrawn. To be successful, such a proposal to CITES requires a 66% – 2/3 majority vote in favour of it. It is almost certain that this will NOT be achieved because custodians have been preoccupied defending their rhinos and themselves at the poaching coalface while donor dependent animal rights activists have been targeting Hollywood and other international iconic figureheads to continue with the ban in trade. The world follows Hollywood, so the marketing skills of these donor dependant activists have totally outclassed those of the custodians, and they have built up an international stigma against the legal trade and those who support it. At least Swaziland’s proposal will provide the first step to a much needed platform for debate at CoP17 where the majority of African rhino custodians and their supporters will be afforded the opportunity to voice their views on an international forum. CITES happens every 3 years. Had this proposal not materialized now, we would have had to wait another 3 years before taking the first step, and at the current rate of plunder, rhinos may not have the time to survive further delays in trying something new. At least now, at CoP18 in three years time, the second step at advocating the lifting of the ban can be taken when the pro consumptive message can be fortified and lobbied for at international level.
Currently criminals take 100% of the profits, and custodians pay all the costs of protection. This disparity will lessen with a legal trade. It is common sense that a legal trade will immediately compete with the illegal trade and any revenue it attracts will not be available to the black market criminals. This is the rationale around the Swazi proposal which hopefully will gain momentum. Ian Player said before he died that the iconic figures of the world, had been misinformed by the animal rights activists who advocate for the continuation of a 39 year old ban which is still not working for the rhinos. The ban is, however, working for the criminals and for those activists who raise donor money by supporting it. The question has to be asked: “Is it in the financial interests of donor dependant animal rights activists to find a solution to the plight of the rhinos when finding one would remove a very fertile platform for raising donor funding?”! In this respect, we hastily acknowledge that some activists are sincere and cannot be placed in this bracket.
The other question to be asked is, Is there one single ban with a lucrative commercial black market alternative, which has ever worked?
And for how much longer than 39 years do we need, to realize that the current ban is not working?
Ted Reilly. Big Game Parks, Swaziland.