2 plus 2 equals 4, unless the answer is actually 5.

2015-02-22 06:44

Several celebrities, heads of non-governmental organizations, and politicians (mostly UK-based) signed a letter last week, addressed to the President of China, calling for an end to domestic trade in ivory within that country. They all believe that banning such commerce will stop the poaching of elephants. Human rights’ groups might find some of the language in the letter, for example “the international community looks increasingly to China for leadership in many areas”, as sickeningly fawning. But let’s leave that aside; it probably makes sense to avoid mentioning any negative aspects of China’s political system when one is trying to win over its country’s leader. The letter ignores the concerns of many people ( I am one of them) that outlawing trade in ivory will have limited impact upon those organized crime networks which may currently be stockpiling some of the tusks from the magnificent creatures that have been slaughtered in their tens of thousands in recent years. Indeed, outright prohibition is actually likely to make the return from their investments, in poachers, bullets and smugglers, increase substantially. Don’t believe it? When Prohibition – the banning of manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks – was introduced in the USA in 1919, the post-ban price of booze became ten times what it had been before. New York’s 16,000 legal saloons were replaced by 32,000 ‘speakeasies’. But we maybe are not comparing like with like. Okay, what about drugs then? More and more people, and highly-regarded institutions, are suggesting that the decades-long prohibition on trafficking in and consumption of narcotics has not only failed to stem the flow (across borders and into veins) but has been a waste of millions and millions of dollars. And it has filled jails with people who need help, not incarceration. Legalize and regulate is a call heard more and more. Some proponents add that taxing a legal drug trade would also bring useful revenue into government coffers. The trouble is, neither regulation nor prohibition seem, in themselves, to be the answer some would have us believe. For instance, those who want to make a trade in cannabis lawful do not add the proviso that some of the taxes ought to probably be allocated to mental health services, since research seems to show a close link between use of cannabis, especially in its ‘skunk’ form, and psychosis. One approach, of course, is to simply ignore any unfortunate side-effects or implications that don’t help the case you are trying to make. The Netherlands, for example, seems to have enjoyed success following its decision to tolerate (as opposed to legalize) the sale of cannabis in some cafes. But if you ask any Dutch person where the cannabis comes from, given that its import remains illegal, they simply smile and shrug their shoulders. The worry that Holland is increasingly being used as a transit and supply point for countries elsewhere in Europe is seldom mentioned by the pro-trade lobby. It seems appropriate, therefore, that South Africa has recently established a 21-member panel to examine the technical and strategic aspects of legal trade in rhino horn, which a not-inconsiderable body of opinion thinks will resolve the current dreadful poaching of that species, before its government decides the way forward. One of the first things the panel might be well-advised to reflect upon is: Who is going to buy the horns? Particularly as domestic trade is illegal in the two countries where illicit consumption is mainly occurring at the moment; China and Vietnam. Maybe the chairperson of the panel could draft a letter to Xi Jinping, suggesting that China lift its existing prohibition on domestic trade in rhino horn? It may be best, however, not to approach the ivory letter writers for their signatures of endorsement. Economists claim that a legal trade in rhino horn will help conservation. Well, some do. Others claim that it won’t. A third group claim that it is impossible to predict the outcome. It is probably prudent to listen to those economists who seemingly did not get a crystal ball along with their college or university degree. If life teaches us anything, it is that life isn’t simple. Outright prohibition probably isn’t the solution. But then legalization and regulation have their own drawbacks. What is downright illogical is to ignore these facts and make unrealistic claims for whatever position you adopt. It is also wrong, for the sake of expediency, to overlook circumstances that deserve to be taken account of. Japan used to be the world’s major destination for illegal trade in ivory. It still has a legal domestic trade in ivory. But the contraband shipments of ivory heading in that direction in recent years have been next-to-zero. Does this mean the signatories of the letter to China regard Japan’s trade as of no significance and, therefore, acceptable? The lack of any reference to the land of the rising sun would seem to indicate so. Or is a letter to Tokyo being prepared at the moment? Thailand appears, behind China, to be the world’s second most important illegal ivory trade destination. The country is in the process of changing how it regulates its internal (currently legal) ivory markets. This would seem to involve banning any use of African elephant ivory, but permitting ivory obtained from domesticated elephants in Thailand. Unless the Royal Thai Police is establishing a very large DNA profiling section within its forensic science laboratory, what is planned seems a recipe for disaster. China’s efforts to regulate its ivory trade have, quite properly, been called into question. Why haven’t Thailand’s? Or is the ink on the missive to Bangkok not dry yet? The United States of America, acknowledging that some of its citizens acquire ivory illegally, is tying itself in knots at the moment, introducing federal regulations and State legislation that will somehow exclude ivory from poached elephants but not make unlawful the possession of antique carvings or musical instruments with small pieces of the substance. One would almost need a specific college or university degree to understand some of the regulations. Forget elephants. Why does the letter to the Chinese President make no mention of great apes, rhinos or tigers? It appears questionable whether some of the imports of many chimpanzees to the country in the mid-2000s complied with the relevant international law, or at least its spirit. There seems to be growing suspicion that some of the live rhinos which China has imported, apparently legally, from South Africa are being ‘farmed’ for their horns. (Maybe a letter from the panel wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.) Despite assurances that it had banned domestic trade in tiger products in 1993, it now seems that, behind-the-scenes, one government department with its headquarters in Beijing was licensing commerce from some captive-breeding facilities. None of this adds up very well, does it? Is China the devil incarnate when it comes to wildlife? Of course not. Its law enforcement agencies and courts have done commendable work. They could do better. But then so could the authorities in almost every nation around the globe. World Wildlife Day, 3 March, is approaching. The theme for 2015 is ‘Wildlife Crime is serious, let’s get serious about wildlife crime.’ Being simplistic and selective probably won’t help. And neither will any group dogmatically claiming it has the answer. Collaborating and reaching consensus might, no matter how hard that may be. But bring a calculator. Or an abacus.   News24 Voices Terms & Conditions.

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