Friday, April 2, 2010

Rhino poaching

The rhino poaching story that I posted a few days back came from personal sources in South Africa.

This headline in the Los Angeles Times of March 20th tells the same story, but from a more international point of view.


Robyn Dixon reported that
“Organized gangs decimate Zimbabwe herds and may wipe out South Africa's endangered black rhinos within a decade. Ranchers trying to save the animals find heartbreak amid carcasses shorn of horns.”

Dixon has used the very personal account of game rangers to show how this has affected them personally and then proceeds to examine the wider issues. She writes
“A report last year by the World Wildlife Fund, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and wildlife-trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said poaching had reached a 15-year high, pushing the animals close to extinction. About 1,500 rhino horns were traded illegally in the last three years, despite a long-standing ban on international trade.”

If the past is anything to go by the efforts of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the other wildlife monitoring agencies will have no effect whatever. Even the recent vote from the meeting of CITES will be a toothless gesture.
The CITES folks approved of a move by Kenya and agreed to focus on increasing law enforcement, training of guards, better border surveillance, enhanced rhino monitoring and awareness campaigns in consumer countries.
Commenting afterwards, Forestry and Wildlife Minister Dr Noah Wekesa who is leading the Kenyan delegation said, “This is a milestone in global rhino conservation. It renews commitment and collaboration by all governments to end this illegal trade in rhino parts."

Of course these are entirely laudable goals, but if the past signals the future it will achieve nothing.

Dixon also brings out the probable role of China in all of this. She writes:
"China's recent thrust into Africa in a rush for resources is a major factor in the illegal rhino horn and ivory trade, analysts believe, because China remains the largest market. Rhino horn, made of keratin, the same substance that forms fingernails, hooves, feathers and hair, has long been used in Chinese medicinal tonics."

I saw another example of this sort of thing last year in Kenya. The Chinese are building a major new highway into and through Kenya’s Northern Frontier District. It will link the frontier town of Isiolo with Addis Ababa in Ethiopia across hundreds of kilometers of inhospitable semi-arid desert populated by nomadic tribes people and scattered wildlife. Isiolo, which was once a shanty-town with a few corrugated tin roofed stores, a government station and a mission hospital has become a bustling market town where an AK47 can be had for a hundred dollars or so. From reliable witnesses I learned that wildlife sightings, including elephants, once common along the highway, have become a thing of history and myth. All concerned link the presence of Chinese road builders with the decline in wildlife.

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