Horn trade debate to hot up this week

2016-09-18 06:00
Picture of dead rhino. (Supplied)

Picture of dead rhino. (Supplied)

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With illegal wildlife trade threatening to spiral out of control, delegates at next week’s contentious meeting in Sandton on regulating the wildlife trade will grapple with how to stop the devastation caused by the borderless $20 billion (R284 billion) illicit trade in wildlife per year.

While no firm decision is expected on the fate of rhinos and horns, the rhino debate is one of the most anticipated at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which will see 183 countries converge in South Africa to debate the fate of the world’s most endangered wildlife species.

Countries are expected to ensure that endangered species are on the right lists for trading, or nontrading.

But the conference is fraught with internal politics, with pro-trade lobbyists and animal rights often in direct opposition to what they believe is best for the sustainable conservation of species.

Any decision made at the conference has to be enforced by each member state.

The two-week conference is widely expected be one of the most critical meetings in the convention’s 43-year history, with a record number of 62 proposals that will be voted on.

These include the tough scrutiny of current trade status of five most endangered animal species namely elephants, rhinos, tigers, sharks and pangolins.

South Africa was widely expected to submit some form of a trade proposal to Cites to legalise the trade in rhino horn after appointing a committee to investigate the issue earlier this year.

But after the country balked at submitting a formal proposal, Swaziland submitted a last-minute pitch to allow an experimental “pilot project” to sell off the kingdom’s stockpiles.

However, the Cites secretariat recommended that the Swazi proposal be rejected.

In its bid, Swaziland asks permission to sell nearly 330kg of rhino horn from its existing stockpiles to an unnamed number of “licensed retailers” in “the Far East” for $9.9 million. After this initial sale, the country then wants to sell 20kg a year, harvested from natural deaths.

Ted Reilly, the 78-year-old head of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks, is the main author of the Swazi proposal. He said protecting rhinos cost a lot of money, and conservation desperately needed money.

“We are facing donor fatigue. Selling off stockpiles will give us much-needed revenue to fight poachers and improve wildlife conservation,” he said.

Pelham Jones, chairperson of the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, said he was disappointed with the secretariat’s decision not to support the proposal. Although it was a long shot, he believed that it would still open the door to a more even-handed debate.

Jones believes Cites has been hijacked by animal activists, who strongly opposed a trade in horns. Pro-trade lobbyists also allege that the activists bullied South Africa into holding back its rhino-horn trade proposal this time round.

South Africa, which has lost nearly 6 000 rhinos to poachers since 2007, and more than 700 so far this year, is in the eye of the storm and holds much bigger influence than Swaziland, which has only 73 rhinos in its parks.

While there has been a 17.8% decline in the number of rhino carcasses found in hot spot Kruger National Park this year, there has been a 27.87% increase in the number of illegal incursions into the park – a staggering 2 115 for the first eight months of this year.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said there might be indications that the success of anti-poaching efforts in the Kruger had led to poaching syndicates shifting operations to other provinces.

Animal rights movements have warned that any nation supporting rhino-horn trade would face political isolation at the conference. Opponents to trade believe that legalising the trade would create opportunities to launder illegal wildlife products under the guise of legality.

Groups such as the WWF believe that legalising the trade will not stop poaching, but that closing down the market is the better option.

This week, the WWF called for Cites to show its teeth by forcing Vietnam to either tackle its rhino-horn trade or face sanctions. Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, found that consumption in Vietnam was at roughly 7% of the population.

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Read more on:    cites  |  sandton  |  poaching

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