Have you got a light?

2016-05-01 01:50

We all know, don’t we, that nothing puts a criminal behind bars quicker than a get-together of ‘world leaders’?

Anyone on LinkedIn, or probably any other form of social media, is surely aware by now that Kenya intends to set fire to a humongous amount of ivory on 30 April. A not-insignificant number of rhino horns will also apparently be thrown on the bonfire.

Depending upon which media report you read, one, two or three Presidents of African nations will witness the conflagration. One President, for sure, will seemingly be there, as it is said that Kenya’s Head of State will set the whole bundle alight. This promises to be larger than any of the beacons which recently were torched across Great Britain and Northern Ireland to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday.

I’d hate to be the person in charge of protocol and seating for this event. Presidents aside, it seems that almost countless numbers of politicians, diplomats and heads of international agencies will also attend. And then there are the celebrities, including some of the Hollywood-famous, entrepreneurs, oligarchs and business leaders. I imagine the jockeying for position, introductions, hand-shaking and selfie-taking will need to be seen to be believed. Nairobi National Park is definitely the place to be this Saturday. If you are not on the guest list, then sorry but you simply are not someone of importance when it comes to speaking out against wildlife crime.

Yes, you’ve guessed it already; I will not be warming my backside in Africa this weekend. Oh well, I will, somehow, manage to keep going and struggle on despite this terrible and deeply insulting snub.

It has been said, and is being said, by numerous persons of seeming importance that this event will ‘send a message to the world’. The message being that wildlife crime is bad and is adversely affecting several species of conservation concern. Many of the message-deliverers have said, more or less, the very same thing on umpteen previous occasions. But surely this cannot be said often enough? Okay, believe that if you want. Calls to action are also being made. Seems I have heard that somewhere before too .

I was bewildered this week to see comments by the head of a major international, inter-governmental, body who referred to UN-adopted commitments regarding combating wildlife trafficking in a manner that might be interpreted as giving less importance to them and greater significance to the coming blaze and its accompanying ‘summit’. But, hey, if you’re one of the invited, I guess you have to justify your attendance.

I am not, per se, opposed to ivory destructions but I have yet to be convinced that they achieve what the torch-bearers claim for them.

I don’t, for instance, understand to whom they send a message. It is regularly asserted that such public obliterations of legal and confiscated stocks convey to poachers and illicit traders that such behaviour will not be tolerated by the governments whose leaders are striking the matches. For the sake of this argument, let’s ignore the terrible levels of corruption infesting several of the cremating countries. Do those warming their hands in front of the pyres truly believe that organized crime groups and networks are operating under some illusion that slaughtering endangered species, and trading in their body parts, is actually acceptable?

I suspect, instead, leaders of those groups and networks probably raise their glasses to toast (pun intended) what is occurring, in the hope (albeit maybe in vain) that this reduction in the commodity on which they focus will lead to price increases. Given that I have suggested, for many years, that speculation, illicit stockpiling and money-laundering plays a significant role in elephant poaching, this aspect troubles me greatly. After all, unlike narcotics which can be manufactured and replaced no matter how much seized heroin and cocaine is fed into incinerators, elephant ivory and rhino horn are finite commodities.

Neither am I convinced that purchasers of ivory products need to watch burning piles of tusks on television news reports to be educated about the fact that some of the products available in Asian markets are of illegal origin.

A considerable number of commentators and NGOs publicize the ever-growing number of nations which have engaged in ivory destruction; as if the more that happen somehow proves the effectiveness of the approach. But I have yet to see any study or research which has evaluated the success, or otherwise, of what is happening.

I am conscious that some opponents criticize what they view as reckless disposals of a potentially very valuable natural resource which might, at some future time, contribute significantly to conservation. Forgive me; I am not going down that road today and have no opinion to offer for the moment.

All of the above aside, what also troubles me about the fire in Kenya is that it offers potential for the feel-good factor, when what we should be doing is focussing upon what really needs to be done. I am concerned that the great and the good may stand around congratulating themselves on either organizing or participating in a massive public relations exercise; to what end?

Yes, a ‘message’ will be sent. And sent in an incredibly impressive fashion. I predict the event will attract massive media coverage. It will absolutely and undoubtedly raise the profile of wildlife crime. But will it raise the profile meaningfully further, higher or more effectively? What will it actually achieve?

I wrote recently , as I have done repeatedly before, about the lack of basic law enforcement responses. I saw another example this week of important intelligence, relating to ivory trafficking, being disclosed to the media. Why don’t more message-deliverers speak directly to law enforcement leaders? A fire deserves to be lit beneath some Customs and Police command staff.

I read this week an acknowledgement that ivory does not burn. It was said that 10 tonnes of firewood and 10,000 litres of fuel have been set aside to ensure the demolition of the tusks and horns in Kenya. How many miles of anti-poaching patrols could be achieved with 10,000 litres of fuel? If nothing else, surely Kenya might have chosen a more environmentally-friendly destruction process?

It’s probably too late, but allow me to suggest something to those who have received an invitation to Saturday’s ivory-destruction jamboree. I predict many of you will travel to Nairobi in business-class airline cabins and will stay in the best of Kenya’s capital’s hotels. I would be very surprised if the invite you received did not include, alongside a marshmallow-roasting opportunity, receptions, dinners or cocktail evenings. Although it is last-minute, please write to the organizers and say, rather than attend, you will donate the money you would have spent to law enforcement activities instead. I suspect the rangers, wardens and game scouts who daily risk their lives guarding elephants and rhinoceroses would rather you did so.

Three rangers died this week in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Garamba National Park. It seems they were murdered by poachers. Two other persons were wounded.

If I really thought that what Kenya is about to do would help stop any more anti-poaching personnel from being gunned down, I’d be the first to offer my congratulations and my lighter.

I trust those who stand around the flaming piles will reflect carefully upon what their presence is achieving. I think the widows and children of the DRC dead deserve that.

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AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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