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About MKM

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    St Andrews, Scotland
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    Zambezi teak Forests, Zambia Conservation Issues, Miombo ecology and conservation, Miombo Botanical Field guides.
  1. There is already a catastrophic increase in demand. I wonder if the situation could get any worse than it already is?
  2. I have written about African wilderness and the myths associated with this concept here. It's extremely subjective. Goats, cats and horses go feral within one generation if they are released. The change from domestic to feral or semi-wild is quite clear but when do they do they change from feral to wild? Or semi-wild to wild? It's all in the eye of the beholder. Its one of those concepts that can be defined according to whatever argument you wish to make. Wild animals are subject to the laws of natural selection, but this takes place over many generations and hundreds or even thousands of years. The extent to which we are removing rhinos from the laws of natural selection by ranching is very difficult (i would argue impossible) to test. Ideas about wild versus farmed have more to do with concepts of wilderness than any biological characteristic we can measure. I would suggest that as soon as animal becomes feral it is subject to the laws of natural selection and therefore is wild, the status of feral only indicating that it was once domestic. Interestingly, many people have the perception that camels are wild. The truth is that there have not been any wild dromedary camels for at least 2000 years. There are a few Bactrian camels left in the wild but no Dromedary camels. A dromedary camel is a domestic animal. A few years ago Muhammar Gaddafi donated 6 dromedary camels to President Mwanawasa of Zambia. Initially they were kept in pens at Munda Wanga, a sort of zoo which used to be run by ZAWA. As a result of these misconceptions about wild camels these animals were released this year in the newly created Lusaka National Park where they will probably die as they are not adapted to the various tick born diseases in Zambia. In this case ideas about wildness have been distorted through ignorance. I guess this one allegory sums up the expertise associated with wildlife management in Zambia!
  3. This trade discussion ranges too widely, searching for solutions to hypothetical problems and erecting hypothetical solutions to real world problems. As everyone knows, there has been a detailed study and proposals have been put forward by very experienced and well qualified people, all of whom want to see rhino conserved just as much as anyone who opposes trade. The unforeseen circumstances of starting to trade rhino horn cannot all be envisioned on paper. Governance and policy is as much an exercise in epistemology as it is an exercise in implementation. Simply put, we learn when we try new things and if we don't try we will never know for sure what the outcome will be. Lets try everything, anything and see what works best. It doesn't have to be complicated. No one knows what the exact outcome will be about any policy. But if you do nothing - then nothing will change.
  4. Unfortunately @Towleronsafari it seems you have an ideological position on trading wildlife products and that you regard this a morally wrong. If this is the case there is nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. Of course you are entitled to have any moral position you like, but moral positions, like religious beliefs, are not subject to persuasion by evidence. There is no evidence anyone could bring to this argument that would persuade you to change what you already beleive. They are articles of faith. Unfortunately the anti-trade conservationists all seem to argue from this position. Personally, I couldn't care care less what we do to save rhino - I would support any plan that could work. However, I would ask only one thing of you and others who are determined to change nothing and go on as before - would you be prepared to pin a sign to your chest that says "I Take Responsibility if Rhino Go Extinct in the Wild in the Next 20 Years."? If you truly believe that we are on the right track with conserving rhino then a sign that is the Christian equivalent of "Jesus Lives" would not be too hard a statement to make. Would it? If we change nothing, then nothing will change. Like all the people whose job it is to save the rhino, who are paid a salary to save the rhino, I suspect you will dodge this bullet. If only the rhino could dodge bullets the same way anti-trade conservationists routinely do.
  5. Yes this a factor to consider. I would guess that the economists would say that you raise the price higher to reduce demand so that you harvest less. But if the growth rate is known then you can easily calculate a sustainable yield. Just like a forest with slow growing trees. I'm not sure to be honest - I'm not a rhino expert.
  6. CITES banned trade in 1976. So that's 39 years of failure. I'm not sure anyone has figures for rhino or populations of any African mammal for 200 years so not sure where those figures come from. But there has never been a decline in rhino numbers as rapid as the last 30 years. While CITES was in charge. And Save the Rhino. And other conservation organisations. I'm not a necessarily a huge advocate of trade. I'm advocating trying something different. Anything. From what I see when I look at crocodiles and ostriches, they are traded widely and they are not poached anywhere and the wild populations are safe. If demand can be reduced to zero then I'd fully support that approach. But eliminating a demand for a product that is in demand at very high prices seems highly unlikely. And we don't have a lot of time. But let's give it a go within a defined timeframe, with clear objectives. I'm afraid I don't consider the wider conservation community as particularly innovative or original when it comes to solving these problems. They have a position which they stick to despite the evidence for failure and that is disconcerting to me. I feel the future of these animals in the hands of incompetent people who will not change the way things are done. That is my considered opinion and I know many people would take offence at this - some of them are friends of mine. I don't want to offend anyone but we need to face the facts.
  7. @Towleronsafari it seems only the recent poaching in South Africa is what you are referring to. However, its a well established fact that rhino populations have decreased under a rhino horn trade ban over the last 30 years. The Black Rhino in the Luangwa valley were poached to extinction in the 1980s. The Black Rhino in the Zambezi valley were poached to extinction in the 1990s. The mostly White Rhino in South Africa will be poached to extinction in the next 20 years or less, all under the watchful eye of Save the Rhino, CITES and other organisations. That is a failure in any one's language. If the demand can be stopped so that rhino populations start increasing over say, the next 5 to 7 years then I would be just as happy with this as anyone else. As it stands now I wouldn't hire the people who are supposed to be saving the rhino to organise a children's birthday party, let alone a plot a successful strategy for saving a species. I'm afraid my comments on failure are not mischievous at all. They are a serious comment on the state of rhino conservation. Anti trade conservation organisations and CITES have sold the public a story. This story says that we need to ban the trade in rhino horn in order to save the species from being poached to extinction. They take money from the wildlife loving public to achieve this purpose and CITES is ultimately a branch of the United Nations which is funded by member countries who use tax payers money to pay their dues to the UN. Conservationists are paid good salaries to work for these organisations. They are not all selfless volunteers. They have failed. With a capital F. I'm sure you wear leather shoes or a leather belt - well that's what crocodiles and ostriches are sold for - their leather. Just like cows. And you can eat them too. The meat is really good. I see no difference between domestic livestock and trading wildlife products that are sustainably harvested. I know a lot of people do make this distinction but that is usually so that they don't have to admit to being part of the horrific cruelty that modern farming methods use to produce meat that they eat for pleasure and enjoyment. - but I'm going off topic now. That's another subject entirely. To address your comment regarding mismanagement of Teak forests - yes we have major governance problems in Africa - not only around natural resources. But when you have governance problems on this scale then there really is nothing that can be done to manage a sustainable harvest or a proper education system or decent healthcare for ordinary citizens. It's a big mess. South Africa is effectively the only country left with viable populations of Rhino that could contribute to a harvest and governance in South Africa is pretty good (yes I know there are problems). Zambia is a different country, with different problems and on a far larger scale than South Africa. I don't think they could manage a sustainable harvest of rhino horn even if they hadn't killed all their rhino in the 1980s. Too much corruption.
  8. @Towleronsafari thanks for your comments. My view on the rhino issue is that we have seen nothing but 30 years of declining rhino populations across Africa while there has been a trade ban on rhino horn. There are some minor successes but the trend is clear. The anti-trade camp argues from a position of utter failure. If you work for Save the Rhino, take money from people to save the rhino, and after 30 years you still haven't saved the rhino what the hell are you doing? You are failing - hence my suggestion that we try something new and radical. Yes, there are risks and I think both sides bring up a mix of solutions and potential problems with opening trade. But surely the highest risk is continuing with the plan that clearly isn't working? The point about unexpected consequences remains pertinent. There will be outcomes that both sides cannot predict from economic modelling or market theory and the only way to see what these may be is to experiment with trading rhino horn and see what happens. The anti-trade argument focusses on reducing demand - when is that going to be achieved? I'd like a date (say, within 2-3 years accuracy would be fine) because unless they can put a date at which the plan to reduce demand to almost zero is successful, then its just a pie in the sky. A nice pie, but a pie nonetheless. If it is unethical to sell a product for a cure when it does no such thing then all homeopathic medicine is unethical, all sales of essential oils and all aromatherapists are unethical, all sales of vitamins are unethical (vitamin supplements have never been demonstrated to provide any benefits to a normal person who eats a healthy diet - yes I know that's surprising but it's true). So I don't think selling something that people want to eat for whatever reason is unethical. They have their belief system just like we have ours. They probably laugh at the aromatherapists in the West, just as we scoff at the rhino horn eaters of the east. Regarding the supply and demand questions you are correct but the advocates of trading in rhino horn are proposing a central selling organisation (similar to diamonds) where supply is regulated to keep the price high. At the moment what we have is chaos - it cannot be argued that the current system is working when rhino are being poached in their hundreds every year. It amazes me that the trade in crocodile skins and ostriches is ignored by the anti-trade camp. Nobody poaches crocodiles or ostriches. It's just not worth the hassle. They are farmed on a huge scale and their skins and meat trade across the world. Not even the animal rights people get up in arms about ostriches or crocodiles. It's a good thing those industries were established before the modern era of animal rights based conservationists because at least crocs and ostriches are safe from poaching.
  9. After having read a selection of comments on this topic it amazes me to see the anti-trade camp claiming to be able to perfectly predict the outcome of trading in rhino horn. They are omniscient! Any policy this complex has one thing for certain as an outcome - unexpected consequences. These may be good or bad. We've tried the no trade route for 30 years. Why not try something different? The simple fact is that until you try you will never be able to perfectly predict the outcome of any complex policy. The same applies to many, many governance issues around community conservation and wildlife management. We need to try alternatives, change direction if they don't work, adapt them to circumstances and have a dynamic policy implementation that achieves it's objective: healthy populations of rhino across the continent.
  10. Thanks Matt - posted! Cheers Mike
  11. I've done some work with Mark Butcher in the course of my research. I can confirm he is a man on a mission and runs one of the best community conservation projects I have ever seen. It's an uphill struggle but he's had some great success. In my view his operation is a model for other areas of Africa.
  12. Hi Admin I write an irregular blog on conservation, politics and sustainable development in Africa and I'm wondering if it is appropriate to use to highlight my posts which I'm sure would be of interest to your members? Like safaritalk it is also non-commercial, doesn't make any money and is purely informative. I don't want to spam your site so if you could let me know if this is acceptable I'd appreciate it. Thanks MKM

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