TRADING RHINO TO EXTINCTION - Our choice.
The ante is obviously upping leading to the CITES meeting in Cape Town to try to legalize trade in rhino horn. Many vested interests abound. Among them SANParks, (in their current rudderless and governance turmoil), and vested interests on the Board also, want to cash in on hundreds of millions of Rand worth of horn stockpiles. It seems that government is leaning in that direction, though with some schizoid indecision at times. This post is a call to arms to the public to lobby AGAINST the trade in rhino. Here are our considered reasons:
Over the last 10 years the Landmark Foundation that embarked on a deliberate adversarial campaign to address top trophic level conservation issues on productive landscapes in the arena of human wildlife conflict. This has won us pundits and enemies, as the campaign was controversial, if not well-reasoned. The controversy is centred on our deliberate campaign to expose hidden agendas that drive the destruction of biodiversity. We do so unapologetically and without fear or favour. Our approach is not common in the conservation sector.
We believe we have gotten to the stage in the efforts to prevent species extinction, (and rhinos being a classic example of such an imperilled species, but practically all top tropic species are in a similar predicament), where resolute, brave and tenacious leadership is needed to stem the tide of the decimation that is taking place. I believe that to date, whatever has been employed to fight this scourge, has made minimal impact. The time has come for forthright advocacy and direct action to save the species from this peril.
We further believe that business as usual in the conservation sector will not save the species and certainly a “never on a Sunday” style of conservation action is not going to have impact. We need to act with purpose and with the entire ambit of tools at our disposal.
The rhino issue is worth pondering as illustration to what we mean. The threat faced by rhino is a supply and demand matter, and unless we are able to decrease the demand, the supply operators will always gain ascendancy, particularly with the prices that are driving the market. Sadly, most conservation actions have centred on supply side interventions, which alone will only act, at best, in a “holding” capacity. Based on evidence, it’s not even remotely demonstrating a turn-around in the issue. In the light of this, the pro-trade debate is gaining ascendancy out of desperation of some, and the expediency and simple greed of others. The programme needs to define its objective of species protection and, through reasoned action, target outputs to ensure that.
In applying our minds to this we thought it worthwhile to look back and see where this rhino crisis has come from. We looked at the facts that are in the public domain. (We are not certain, nor claim, that all these figures are 100% correct, but even if a few are a little off the mark, the general trends are correct.) There may be many gaps that need filling in, but we have highlighted key events in our opinion. We wish to be so bold to draw some conclusions from these facts and offer some opinions on the possible road ahead.
PLEASE REFER TO ATTACHED TABLE. (PDF file)
Rhino Key Events.pdf 245.34KB
We believe in trying to address the rhino crisis it remains essential to try to understand how supply and demand affect this and other species. Our wilful interventions on either side of this supply and demand curve are to affect the outcome of rhino conservation, and sadly many, many other species. Some believe the promotion of supply through the profit motive is to be the key in the efforts to preserve the species, and we, in turn, believe the answer lies in the destruction of the demand. The two methods are and will remain mutually exclusive and opposed to one another.
There is other middle of the road options that will merely entrench the status quo.
It is important to note from the table above:
1. The rhino populations pre-1977, (WHILE TRADE WAS OPERATIONAL), were plummeting globally, (with some success stories in SA). The rhino population, while trade was banned, were plummeting globally, (though they did grow in SA to 20 000+, but SA did not stop trading rhinos at this time, albeit as trophies, but were clearly continuing to supply the horn market and still does). Thus the extinction was happening whatever was done – it was just a matter of time that ZERO on the graph was to be reached and will be reached. The trade embargo of 1977 cannot now be blamed for the crisis. The assumption that the rhino populations would revert to growth post trade introduction now is not based on a shred of evidence, but mere conjecture. If anything thus, the populations grew during the ban (at least in SA)! This is supported by the experience with the elephants (The current poaching crisis is new).
We believe hunting, (and the hunting industry often trumpets this), wrongfully credits themselves for the expansion of rhino numbers in South Africa from the 1960s. If official figures are to be believed, between Kruger National Parks and KZN Wildlife, the two state entities currently have 15 000 rhinos between them. Then that leaves the remaining 5000 that is said to be in South Africa. Uneducated guesses say that the remaining formal protected areas have, (let us say), 50% of these, i.e. 2500, which leaves 2500 in private hands. We can hear the howls of protests as we state that, but let us give the benefit of the doubt and say that the private ownership figure is 5000. Of these probably 50% is in non-hunting ownership. Thus the hunting industry,\ merely account for at best 2500 rhinos in South Africa. As most/all of the formal protected areas do not hunt rhinos, and 50% of privately owned rhinos are not hunted animals, it demonstrates that a very low percentage, (10 – 12%), is held in hunting ownership – probably half of that. It thus stands to reason that it is fair to say it is laughable to assert that the rhino populations have grown because of hunting and thus to state that pro-trade approaches should be followed due to the fact that hunting saved rhino from extinction is just simply a misrepresentation of the facts. Perhaps 90% or more of rhinos in South Africa are from populations that are not hunted. It is that conservation actions, (AND NOT HUNTING), that caused the increase in rhino numbers.
2. If the ban of 1977 was the cause of dwindling rhino numbers and poaching crisis as suggested by the pro-trade lobby, why were the numbers during trade, (pre 1977), dwindling and it is now suggested that it would reverse if trade is introduced? Can we thus not blame trade, (pre 1977), for precipitating the demand and establishing what appears to be an insatiable demand?
3. Looking at ivory: “An international ban on selling ivory came into force in 1989 after endemic poaching sent Africa's elephant populations into free-fall. Between 1979 and 1989 the number of elephants in Africa halved from1.3 million to 625,000, with Kenya alone losing 85 per cent of its elephants.” Jerome Taylor, The Independent. Why then such a decimation while trade was active and after the 1989 ban a massive recovery of elephant numbers? Kenyan numbers in 1989 was 20 000 and today 30 000.
4. Oft quoted recovery of rhinos in SA from the 1960s is simplistically linked to trade, (and hunting – see above), and thus the need for trade, while little consideration is given that the world human population has more than doubled since the 1960s, (from just over 3 billion to now about 7.3 billion), and with it demand, consumerism, globalisation, illicit trade of various substances and goods, and increase in affluence. The world is a very different place 50 years on from a time when you ran down rhinos on horse-back. It is farfetched to blame the ban on trade for the increase in illegal/poached trade.
5. What is good for the goose is good or the gander. If the legal trade coincided before 1977 with declining numbers, then if the logic holds, legal trade was the cause of the decline. I would contend the issue is FAR more complex than the current simplistic sound bites aimed at motivating trade. Correlation is not the same as causation.
6. It is most interesting to note that the spike in poaching, (rhino and elephants), coincides with the “once off” ivory stockpile trade in 1999 and 2008/2009 and the surge in rhino sales from the conservation bodies in South Africa, (SANParks and KZN wildlife), both these actions and trophy hunting conspired to build a market for wildlife products trade and a supply that is now steam-rolling. The poachers just got in on the act…
7. We cannot outbreed/out-trade a market of 3 billion, (Asian) people + off a base of 20 000 rhinos!? Trade will always be there, the big question is whether to allow for legal and the inevitable illegal trade and what to do about the latter. The pro-traders claim the money they get it would buy them the capacity to counter the latter. That is not supported by evidence. In fact the establishment of legal trade will enhance and stimulate the concurrent illegal trade.
8. Poaching is always cheaper than production of rhino/legal hunts.
9. Probably 90% of all poaching is taking place on state land, (that holds 75% of rhino), in SA. On this state land we have state resources and an army to defend these beasts. What do you suggest the money, (the reason for the trade), would be able to do to stem this tide of destruction? Evidence suggests the more they spend, the more the rhino dies – look at Kruger and SA rhino poaching stats that reached 1000 last year, (and that does not include a probable 20% under-count due to carcasses not found). Would it not be more expedient for a rhino owner and more profitable to kill all his/her rhinos and cash in on the trade, rather than run the risk of yet more poaching that would increase with legal trade – i.e. a cash-in while the trade is allowed. I do not believe the poaching would be stopped through more money – it would be fuelled.
The fallacy of legal trade is that creating more legal supply would stem illegal supply – why and how? Legal trade would fuel demand in a massive market. The commodity is price inelastic.
We believe the issue is a simple supply and demand debate and we either manage the rhino crisis through decreasing the supply through enforcement, (that has largely failed), or increase the supply to exceed the demand, (pro-trade debate) that I believe will be disastrous, or alternately reduce the demand. I believe the latter has the greatest promise of success.
IN SUMMARY, THE OPTIONS ARE:
A: Increase Supply: I believe that to be fatally flawed in a species starting off a base of 20,000 in a global market of 3 billion + people, with increasing more affluence and consumptive behaviour.
Increases in rhino numbers by:
a. Live sales – no animals die, except as complications of relocations.
- Conservation range expansion.
- Tourism income
- Bred for hunting – There are major problems with this – see below
- Bred for rhino horn harvests
b. Trophy mounts and hunts – animals have to die.
c. Rhino horn trade – live or dead harvests.
d. Better anti-poaching efforts – recent efforts in Kruger has not succeeded.
(b + c): Our comments to this is that 25% of rhinos are currently in private hands in South Africa, i.e. 5000 of which one person, John Hume, owns almost 1000, (on a virtual feedlot). Of the other 4000 a good number are in conservation holdings – those that have no intention to trade or kill or chop their horns. So it would appear that the contribution these private owners, (that are agitating for hunting or horn trade), make to conservation is overstated as I believe that rhino’s raised in feedlots make minimal if not no contribution to conservation, just as is the case for zoos in general to conservation.
Furthermore, the act of trade opens the flood gates for yet further trade, (and grows the demand), and poaching will always be cheaper than production. This is a price inelastic product.
Please see the table above – it is blatantly clear that we stepped over the abyss in South Africa in 2008 – it was a perfect storm – through the years from the late 1960 SA has provided the avenue for trade and hunting. It escalated internationally from the 1970 seeing the massive decline of rhino all over the world by 1980! (And in most of that decade, trade was still happening, not least from SADF actions in Namibia and elsewhere. You cannot also disassociate the decolonisation of the area and mal-governance, human population growth and poverty from the equation.)
In South Africa there was a steady growth in numbers, not least the increase in private conservation areas, (MANY ARE NOT HUNTING FARMS), granted some increase was through hunting demand. Yet look what happens between 2008 – 2010 – the Ivory sale, SANPARKS and KZN Wildlife rhino sales and live overseas exports! What we do not know is the numbers of trophy hunts, (we only know of the rise of these to Vietnam). In 2014 the government admitted that between 2009 and 2014 they permitted about 250 legal rhino hunts!
We believe that SA was the prime mover to supply the Asian demand, (that like an addict just consumed what came its way), and did so through trade, and in doing so, a market was developed and established that became a monster that cannot be controlled. The suggestion that you can out-produce this demand is inconceivable and totally unrealistic to suggest you could secure the supply to save the species.
The suggestion that the ban caused the problem is not supported by the facts. In fact, SA is notorious for its non-compliance with CITES, (and being the point of weakness), and have been in the firing line many times, each time escaping with a stay of execution. Trade is alive and well in SA, (even during the ban), and you need to only look at the incomplete data compiled in haste in the table above, or read the newspapers of under-world elements and their willing SA professional hunter accomplices. We believe that the SA induced and fuelled the trade demand, (especially in the last 20 – 30 years, with a massive exponential increase in the last 10 years), that has created this monster that we now have. Doing more of this trade is not the answer – it will only give you more of the same.
Arguing too that the revenue from harvested horn will allow supply control through the resources generated by its sale is like feeding a heroine addict the drug and then using the revenue of its sales to reduce the supply. MADNESS.
Please take note of the Chinese trade of captive bred origin of tiger products. While this has been a controlled legal trade of captive, (outside of conservation), populations while wild origin animals are not permitted, the wild populations have continued to decrease due to both habitat loss and on-going poaching that benefits from the parallel trade in these products. In exactly the same way the financial incentives will not stem the tide of rhino poaching, but increase it, and you really are never going to outbreed the demand or the human greed.
The proposal to limit the illegal supply in letting private owner,s (and the entities that own rhinos/horns), have the resources through trade to destroy the competitive illegal trade: This we believe this not realistic as poaching will always be cheaper than production and as such we do not believe this will have an impact. We believe this will create a perverse incentive to increase poaching as a greater, ready market will develop and no amount of enforcement will stop a poor and destitute poacher scrambling for their crumbs in the trade equation. Remember the person doing the killing gets a few thousand Rand of the end value of up to R3m of the horn on the market. This attempt to stem the supply of poached horn will not be affected by legal trade. Look at what happened with the ivory sales aftermath from 2008.
It is common cause that anti-poaching efforts need to be intensified.
We have heard of others propose controlled supply mechanisms through central selling operations etc. We believe this to be naive and flawed as the diamond experience demonstrated.
B: Decrease demand – decreasing the demand side: We believe this is the best option for the species.
Regulating trade through governmental compliance mechanisms – We think that most commentators believe that is will not come into effect. The reason for this is that the people who care about the species are different to those consuming the species, and governments are universally unable to enforce compliance.
Education to reduce the demand is essential but an enormous task. However you cannot have the development of a legal trade market and this. This is our oft quoted contradiction –support for the market development on the one hand and destruction on the other. We believe adults are impossible to educate, (usually)!
We believe that our best hope for the species is to try to destroy the demand by destroying the consumptive value of rhino horn.
We suggest a clear strategy: All horn stockpiles needs to be nationalised and poisoned and then sold onto the market with a health warning. This will destroy demand overnight. People are selfish and act in self interest. No-one drinks GARLON unless suicidal!
Thus the best option is to destroy demand through the destruction of the desirability of the product. Education will help but make negligible impact. Destroy the desirability of the horn by poisoning all horn and dumping it on the market with a trade warning, after nationalising all stockpiles and any horn. That will stop the demand in its tracks and overnight as poisoned and non-poisoned horn would be indistinguishable.
"CITES started as conservation organization regulating trade but it's turned into a trade organization regulating conservation".
The time is now for resolute action on this issue.