Sprinkles late. More sun than clouds. Mild.
Africa is witnessing a growing trend in the commercialisation of its indigenous
wild animals. In the past, the main motivation for preserving wildlife was saving
species from extinction. Today, an influential new paradigm is promoting a market-based
model for conservation which is turning non-domestic animals into commodities
to be raised, bought and sold for profit.
Changing the policy landscape
the doctrine of ‘sustainable use’ is enshrined in the South African
constitution, its interpretation is being shaped by a series of regulatory and
legislative initiatives which include wildlife conservation measures alongside
provisions that promote commodification. A brief analysis of some of the more
prominent recent policy documents illustrates the contours of an emerging
1. While the National
Norms and Standards for the Sustainable Use of Large Predators
appears to prohibit the controversial practice of canned hunting, particularly
of lions, it does, in fact, allow for the legal hunting of lions bred in
captivity, provided that “they have been certified as rehabilitated to wild
status”. Today, more than 99% all lions that are killed by trophy hunters in
South Africa were raised in commercial breeding facilities specifically for
2. The Biodiversity
Management Plan for African Lion (Panthera
that the captive lion “industry” offers protection to wild lions, promotes the
“sustainable trade in lions and lion products”, identifies opportunities
associated with a “growth in lion-based economic outputs” and paves the way for
the officially-sanctioned and wholesale commodification of lions and lion body
parts through trophy hunting of captive-bred lions and the international trade
in lion products.
3. The stated purpose
of the National
Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa
is “to ensure that elephants are managed in [...] a way that [...] ensures the
sustainable use of hair, skin, meat and ivory products”.
4. The Biodiversity
Management Plan for the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros
bicornis) in South Africa includes clauses calling for an “encouragement
of the sustained 'consumptive' and 'non-consumptive' use of rhinos" to “develop
the means by which rhinos help pay for the cost of their conservation” and the
investigation of “measures aimed at possibly facilitating a better
understanding for any possible future regulated and controlled international
trade in the species, and any associated by-products”.
5. The draft
Biodiversity Management Plan for the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in South Africa suggests that while
“the significant value of the rhino horn trade is currently captured entirely
by organised crime”, it is time that “rhinos need to start paying more for themselves”.
It argues that a legal market in rhino horn would reduce poaching and generate
“significant revenue” for rhino protection and conservation.
6. A report entitled “The
viability of legalising trade in rhino horn in South Africa”, which
was commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs, proposes that
“South Africa should start seriously investigating the viability of a legal
international trade in rhino horn” and “must construct convincing arguments for
a legal international trade in rhino horn (if international trade is indeed
viable) and then begin lobbying CITES [the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] parties for support”. Equating
rhinos to domesticated animals, the authors explain that the “management of
rhino populations should be approached differently – i.e. as for any other
valuable terrestrial agricultural livestock species that is effectively owner
7. Environment Minister
Edna Molewa has declared her intention to
publish so-called non-detrimental findings for several species of
wild animals that are listed on CITES appendices I (Cape mountain zebra and
leopard) and II (bontebok and African lion). Provided that certain conservation
and management measures are implemented and these findings are formally
published, this clears the way for the legal, CITES-sanctioned export of live
animals and hunting trophies of these species. Non-detrimental findings imply
that such actions will not endanger the survival of the species.
Interpreting ‘sustainable use’
past, Africa’s wildlife was part of a collectively managed and conserved
commons which was used for subsistence by communities without wild animals
being owned by anyone in particular. Undomesticated animals were not
commodities traded in markets for their ‘exchange value’, but free resources that
belonged to everyone and were prized for their ‘use value’. The community as a
whole was the custodian of this wildlife commons.
the spread of capitalism came the tendency to ‘enclose’ the commons – to
privatise them and to turn wild animals into commodities to be sold for
financial profit. This was supposedly necessary as protection against the
‘tragedy of the commons’, the tendency for individuals to exploit common
property resources unsustainably.
recent history, this trend has seen a global escalation with the rise to
dominance of so-called neoliberal economic policies that present free-market
strategies as the panacea to all challenges. When applied to wildlife
conservation policies, they are part of what geographer David Harvey describes
as the “wholesale commodification of nature in all its forms” in which “the
market is presumed to work as an appropriate guide – an ethic – to all human
number of people have articulated, justified and promoted this
neoliberalisation process, particularly in the context of the rhino poaching
crisis. Conservation economist Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, for instance, considers a
privatised rhino industry regulated by a legal and competitive international
market as “the
most sensible model for rhino conservation in Africa”. He questions
whether live rhinos have any “intrinsic
and other completely non-use related existence values”, emphasises
“the rights of humans to the use of rhinos” and considers competitive markets
to the biological maxim of “survival of the fittest””.
environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan notes in the acclaimed documentary ‘Blood Lions’, “when one defines
everything that is not a human being or a corporation as property, that
inevitably leads to the commercialisation of nature and its exploitation”.
Ian Michler believes that “we need to understand that what is taking place in
South Africa’s wildlife industry has very little to do with biodiversity
conservation. While it is true that the numbers of certain wild species have
increased on private farms, this needs to be contextualised. Farmers and
businessmen are mostly selecting high-value species such as sable, rhino, lion
and buffalo, while others are creating a range of colour mutants, and the sole
basis for their decisions is financial in order to boost returns on what they
view as an investment. Barring a few examples, there are no ecological or
conservation considerations involved in the breeding and hunting component of
these industries. It’s become a frenzied free-for-all where species are being
subjected to intensive agricultural-type breeding practices”.
The model: lions
can we expect as the eventual outcome of the policies that are being enacted? The
current situation of lions in South Africa suggests the outlines of what nature
conservation may look like in years to come.
model involves thousands of lions bred in captivity and representing a variety
of economic opportunities and revenue streams, predominantly by being sold to trophy
hunters, but also through the export of lion bones and other body parts, as
well as commercial tourist venues that offer lion cup petting, walking with
juvenile lions and volunteer internships.
to a report
published by the international wildlife trade monitoring organisation TRAFFIC,
“the purpose of most captive facilities in South Africa is to breed lions
commercially for consumptive purposes such as trophy hunting – thus animals are
‘produced’ rather than ‘protected’”.
some imagination, similar scenarios can be envisaged for other valuable
is no doubt that around the world, wild species are under threat as a result of
human activities such as habitat destruction, changes in land use, climate
change, pollution, the trade in bush meats and poaching.
it may be anathema to fans of the neoliberal dogma, the idea of a wildlife
commons that is managed collectively by local communities remains a viable
alternative vision. This approach sees conservation as an ethical and moral
duty. It considers it our joint responsibility to save endangered species, not
for profit, but for their own sake.
to Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation, “the
industrial-scale, commercial exploitation of wildlife under the ‘it pays, it
stays’ paradigm is a relatively recent concept. It doesn’t really take into
account the human condition based on greed and avarice or the massive growth in
human population. There are simply too many of us and too few of them for us to
continue to try and create an economic model that allows us to treat wildlife
as a commodity”.
suggests a more benign approach: “in the same way that we value the great human
works of art and are willing to put state, corporate and private funding into
their preservation, why don’t we do the same for wildlife by thinking of it as
a natural work of art in which we invest for our own sanity as much as for
protection and conservation”.
Send your comments to Andreas
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