Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christine Dranzoa - a remarkable person.


I’d like to share a story from Africa that is very much linked to a small slice of Saskatoon life.

Chrsitine Dranzoa outside the Faculty of Vet Med, 2002
I have a long history in Africa and for the last eight years of my career as a wildlife veterinarian I took Canadian students from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine to Uganda. We would not have been able to carry out this program if it had not been for the head of the Department of Wildlife and Animal Resource Management at the Makerere University veterinary school. Her name is Christine Dranzoa and through several exchanges of letters and email she laid on a tour for me in 2002 to see what was what before I actually took students there.
 
After that introductory tour it was relatively simple for me to convince the powers-that-be in Canada that there was a really worthwhile opportunity for Canadian students to learn a huge amount about veterinary medicine, and much more, in a new setting.

I also found out that Christine has a remarkable history, which I will compress (and which does not appear on any website). She was born in West Nile, the region of the country where Idi Amin came from. When he was ousted the equally gruesome despot, Milton Obote, targeted everyone in West Nile. Christine, aged 12, fled to Sudan as a refugee. She managed to get out of that nightmare and finished high school, got her BSc and went on to her PhD work. At age 27 she spoke to the dean at the vet school about the lack of a wildlife department and soon found herself not only founding one, but also becoming its head! We worked with her near the end of that tenure as this rather grainy old footage, shot with an early version of a digital camera, shows.

video 
For the first three years Dr. Dranzoa traveled with us in the field and worked with the students on her specialty, which is birds. Her thesis work had been on the nesting ecology of birds in partially logged forest fringes. We visited Kibale National Park where Christine did her studies and used mist nets to capture birds, ring them, and collect blood samples for disease studies. We even found a couple of cases of avian malaria.

We were also able to secure funding at the WCVM to bring Christine to Saskatoon to deliver a moving talk about issues related to wildlife in her country. When my wife and I took her to one of our favourite places, Prince Albert National Park, we were lucky enough to see a huge swirl of snow geese above a slough near the appropriately named town of Duck Lake.  

Snow goose cloud. Photo by Trudy Janssens, Photogrpahy One2One


When her eight years as department head were up Christine was promoted to the post of Deputy Director of the School of Postgraduate Studies for the entire university (30,000 students, 3,000 graduate students) at age 35!

Artist's impression of the new campus
Dr. Dranzoa has gone on to meet new challenges. Two years ago (in her forties) Christine was tasked as one of the team founding a new university in her home region, in the district of Arua in the West Nile sub-region. This was after elders in the community petitioned Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni.  It  was founded in 2012 and has now been registered as Muni University. Christine is the current Vice Chancellor.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Christine has been active in other fields, especially in ones related to women’s issues in Uganda and beyond. Although we came to know her well and enjoyed our many visits with her, she never told us that she co-founded and is Chairperson of Nile Women Initiative an NGO which aims to address gender disparities in her home region. She is also Honorary Secretary of the pan-African Forum for African Women Educationalists.

Christine (r) with Fifi in 2003 and Angela, Chrstine's sister
Over and above these remarkable achievements she has now raised 18 children, none of them her own (she has never married). Most are kids of her siblings who were either killed in Obote’s pogroms or died of AIDS. The youngest, Fifi, is about to finish high school. A few are not even relatives, but just orphan children who are friends of her extended family. When we visited Christine’s home we discovered that the bedrooms were set up as dormitories – boys and girls. How could it have been otherwise?

The nursing clinc is under construction
Christine has written to me seeking help with equipment for a nursing station, a small but much needed part of the campus, especially during the construction phase when not only builders but also the  general public, will have it handy. She had heard that there were organizations in Canada who could ship containers of stuff to needy areas. After a bit of sleuthing I met (so far only by phone and on line) a Regina-based nursing PhD who has shipped 79 containers to 19 countries in the last 10 years. Her name is Pammla Petrucka. Dr. Petrucka has a well-oiled system and access to a large warehouse in Regina. She can also get hold of a full array of medical equipment ranging from bangages to bedpans, tilt beds to tubing and walkers to wheelchairs. On top of that she has a team of volunteers who can fill a container in a single day. All the equipment is donated, in good condition, and free. The problem is the shipping. It costs about $25,000 to ship a container. This covers the cost of the container, the physical act of transport, and the paperwork. The container is not returned and is likely to end up being a useful addition at the destination. I have even heard of containers being fitted with air conditioning before shipment.

My wife and I, and several of those former students have managed to raise part of the funds needed to get one container to Uganda, but cannot reach the full $25,000 needed to complete the shipment. We are channeling our funds through the Hospitals of Regina Foundationwhich has NFP charitable status so that our donors will receive tax receipts.

Apart from being an author and retired professor I am a storyteller and have told stories about my career as a wildlife vet on 4 continents. The Africa stories often have threads about Christine in them. I hope that this comes as no surprise.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The War on Wolves - an Animal Welfare Issue

Predators occupy quite a space in the human psyche. Humans have been “at war” with many of them since the earliest days of livestock domestication. While the lion occupies the imagination people everywhere, in North America no predator is more symbolic of this war than the wolf. Our attitudes are ever fluctuating. There are websites and social media gatherings where the full range, from “kill them all” to “full protection” is on display.

These two very opposite views about them were written about another pack-hunting wild canid, in this case the African wild dog.

In 1914, one R. Maugham wrote: "Let us consider for a moment that abomination - that blot upon the many interesting wild things - the murderous Wild Dog.  It will be an excellent day for African game and its preservation when means can be devised for its complete extermination." 

These words could easily be used by the anti-wolf crowd in 2013. 

Dr. Kobus Raath's ;picture of wilfe dogs in Kruger N P
The other view, also resonates for many folks. They were written in 1997 by  David MacDonald of Oxford University.  “To nominate one sight as the most beautiful I have seen might, in a world filled with natural marvels, be considered disingenuous. Yet, of images jostling for supremacy in my memory, it is hard to better the bounding forms of African wild dogs, skiffing like golden pebbles across a sea of sunburnt grass at dusk.”

A group of concerned, but balanced individuals has recently launched a website that examines some of the many issues . They are particularly concerned about some of the aspects of wolf management in Alberta, and by extension elsewhere in North America. 

Myrna Pearman's beautiful picture is one of the site's headers.

As you skull around the site you will find links and articles by people who have had an enormous amount of experience with wolf management and are concerned with the way that things are developing.

Among them are Dr. Lu Carbyn, noted world wolf authority, who has expressed deep concerns and  published an article critical of the province's wolf bounty program in the Journal of the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists.


There are very obvious animal welfare issues at hand. Dr. Jose Diaz of the University of Calgary, who is an accredited specialist in animal neurology examines the effects of snares in his piece in the Gallery of Shame http://www.wolfmatters.org/articles.html -

Dwight Rodtka, who worked with wolves for his entire career has contributed pieces to the site. Dwight expresses deep concern not only about the Alberta government’s whole wolf program but very specifically about snares, which he states in his piece The Truth About Snares  are “archaic and torturous devices which should have been banned years ago.”


Dr. Garcia examines the damage. The lion died as he arrived on scene.
I have seen the aftermath of snaring in several African countries but perhaps the most dramatic one was of a dying lion in Tanzania’s Serengeti. The animal’s end was witnessed by friend and former student Dr. Patrick Garcia. 

Gruesome fits the scene well.

It is much more than just snares and traps. My own contribution to the debate is also from an animal welfare perspective. It is about poisoning and comes straight from things I witnessed in Kenya 45 years ago. 

You can read the piece at the link above, but if your time is short here is my opening:  

The debate, seldom polite, often vigorous, about the wolf and its presence among us often becomes a “to poison or not to poison” matter. The subject waxes and wanes, but today, in parts of Alberta and British Columbia, indeed in many parts of North America, it is indeed the question, and strychnine is the apparent sling and arrow.    

I suspect that most people who espouse the poisoning route have never seen the effects of this deadly substance on any animal.

Unfortunately I have.

In the body of the article I quoted wolf biologist Bob Hayes about the “by-catch” effects of strychnine. They are horrific. Bob worked in Canada’s Yukon for many years on wolf control. His 2010 book Wolves of the Yukon is a very worthwhile read.
 
I closed with this:
If the rancher who cannot prevent wolf attacks by other methods (which do exist) and has to use this deadly substance to “take arms against a sea of troubles” caused by livestock predation then we are in a sorry state.

Strychnine poisoning is very definitely an animal welfare issue. Its use is inhumane. 

 

I am by no means alone in this view and I hope that other veterinarians feel the same. If they do, rather than write to me I hope they will comment on the Wolf Matters page

Of course poisoning of predators is nothing new. I photographed this Calgary Herald page in 1995.


Scary, or what?
An interesting view is taken in the Earth Island Journal, which heads its piece with this extraordinary picture that first appeared on Facebook.

You can read the rest of the article at the link and of course find links within that that take one further. It reminds me of a video scene I witnessed during the emotional times of the translocation of wolves from Banff National Park in Canada in 1995 to Yellowstone and Idaho. A witness at a hearing in Wyoming said: “The wolf is The Saddam Hussein of the animal kingdom.” She was serious.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Stories about Moose and a Wildlife Vet in Africa in British Columbia


We have just finished up another storytelling and book tour. Eight libraries, one sporting goods store and a wind-up at the University of Northern British Columbia. All  in 7 days. I tried to find a map to show all the communities, but could not quite manage it. 

This one shows 8 of the 10 spots. I added Granisle and Fraser Lake and each place has an italicized number, showing the order of the events.

We started in McBride where the folks enjoy decorating anything you can think of, including their fire hydrants. Why not?  Our total distance on the road, including the leg from home was just over 4500 km.

Fraser Lake, after the session. Thanks
Miake Ellott and me outside the Houston store
Just as in our trip to Yukon I offered one of two sets of stories, with pictures. Either A Wildlife Vet in Africa or Of Moose and Men Around the World. This time there was a split. The folks in Granisle, (at the very top left-hand corner of the map) and Houston went with the moose set. Everyone else chose Africa. In only one case, for the students at UNBC, did I know ahead of time which one it would be.

The odd tea break was an essential element

We had a great reunion Williams Lake with one of the students who joined Jo and me in Uganda. Dr. Ross Hawkes practices there and we reminisced a bout a whole bunch of things after the talk. 

Ross (the redhead 2nd from left back row) classmates & Ugandan students 2007
It was Ross and his class-mate Kevin Oomah who came up with the novel, some would say crazy, idea of subjecting themselves to a full bikini-wax hair strip of the hair above their waists in order to raise money for the schools that we have supported in Uganda over the years. In 50 minutes their generous “donation” generated $1800 !  I had not known, until Ross delved into his files, that there was video evidence of this event. If he and Kevin will allow it I would like to show that in a future post.

Most of our audiences were adult, but in Quesnel we had a surprise. A group of home-schooled children and their parents showed up. They were the only audience – the session was set for 10.00 am and it would have been tough for adults to get away from work. This meant that I had to change on the fly and luckily this was not too difficult. After telling them a little about my background, I began with stories about my own experiences with giraffes, which gave me the entry into the folk story about why giraffes are so tall. 

video
A couple more folk stories, with the little ones involved and with grins, and we had a happy crowd. I ended with a food-chain account of why hippos are so important for the health of the great lakes of Africa. This one resonated with one of the older boys who happens to be studying the food-chain right now! 

After the Quesnel set we needed a lunch break. Luckily we found a local bakery, and had soup like your mother made it. Yum!

Philippe Henry's snap of the audience before the start
The largest crowd was at Prince George’s University of Northern British Columbia, where student Gabrielle Aubertin and faculty member Philippe Henry had done a fine job of getting the news out. I told stories about work with rhinos, lions, elephants and a run-in with safari ants. The stories were for an adult audience, but included two folk tales. The first was about why wild dog’s wife got very sick and why they now hunt in packs, the second about the hippos again. I used two famous quotes. 


The first from one R. Maugham in 1914, which one might think was being recycled for the attitude of some towards wolves a hundred years on. Here it is:

"Let us consider for a moment that abomination - that blot upon the many interesting wild things - the murderous Wild Dog.  It will be an excellent day for African game and its preservation when means can be devised for its complete extermination."

The other from David MacDonald of Oxford University which sums up my own thinking.

“To nominate one sight as the most beautiful I have seen might, in a world filled with natural marvels, be considered disingenuous. Yet, of images jostling for supremacy in my memory, it is hard to better the bounding forms of African wild dogs, skiffing like golden pebbles across a sea of sunburnt grass at dusk.”

I was delighted with the reactions from the folks, which came on FB. 
Gabrielle wrote “Thank you for the great talk, I have only received positive comments, so I think everyone enjoyed it. How could they not. I thought it was a great mix of facts to stimulate the scientist brain, of beautiful images that would make anyone dream of having career like your and it was also funny!"

Philippe wrote:  I kept getting comments in the hallway yesterday: beautifully told stories with real value for the conservation of our living world, thanks again for taking the long trip here:)








Monday, October 14, 2013

A Storytelling Tour in Yukon

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My wife Joanne and I have just completed a wonderful storytelling trip to Canada’s Yukon. The trip was not only a storytelling adventure, but a book tour, but I did not read anything. It was all done with pictures and stories about those pictures. As folks who have heard me storytelling will know I  often use the most modern form of Cantastoria, the ancient art of telling with images. You can see more about this and other telling techniques here


A short walk to the springs. There they are, a swim if you wish
We covered 7700 km, saw some beautiful scenery and visited six libraries in far-flung communities. On the way north we stopped in British Columbia’s Dawson Creek and I told stories there as well. A stop at Liard Springs gave us a welcome break on the long drive.


A bend in the river and a welcome stop for a picnic lunch not far from Faro in Yukon
A tiny gap in the clouds as we drove back from Burwash Landing, where we told to 45 folks of a total  popualiton of 95!
At each venue I gave the audience a choice of some stories about our time in Africa or ones about moose. Everyone chose A Wildlife Vet in Africa. I guess there are lots of moose in Yukon. At two venues I was asked to tell one brief moose story at the end of the set. Why not?

Mairi Macrae of the Yukon Library system who organized the tour with meticulous attention to detail wrote this in an email at the end of the adventure.
Out of this world! We had a great audience of 48 at Jerry Haigh’s African presentation. It was incredible to see in photos and film the work that he was doing in the 60’s on up until the present with all kinds of large mammals. The audience was enthralled and I don’t think anyone had seen or heard stories like that. Jerry (and his doctor wife Jo) have had the privilege of living a very interesting and exotic life. On top of that, he is a great storyteller and a passionate speaker. Very interesting Q & A as you can imagine. Definitely of all the programs we have during my time here, this was one of the best.

During my tellings I did do something I have not previously tried. To introduce myself I told the folks a bit about our (Jo’s and my) family history and how we have fallen pretty close to the apple tree in terms of our adventures. Here is that introductory piece.


video

Something I have never related before struck a chord with me and so I began to investigate it further. As you have seen Jo’s parents were married in a so-called Glove Wedding. Abraham, her electrical engineer dad, was in India building that country’s first radio factories, starting in Calcutta. He had been sent out by his employers, the Philips Company of Eindhoven in 1932, and had left his fiancé, Tine, behind in Amsterdam. 

The official ceremony took place in Holland. Abraham’s brother Jaap stood in for him and Tine was duly and officially married. She soon shipped out for India

Naturally I knew that this glove wedding had taken place, but I wanted to find out more about the process.

Of course I tried Google. All I got was an endless stream of advertising sites for the sale of wedding gloves. I guess they are a really big deal in several senses of the term. I tried various combinations of search word, but it was not until I typed Dutch Glove Wedding that I made some progress
There was just one hit, from an Australian newspaper article published on the 31st of May 1919.  It came from page 7 of the Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954) and was barely intelligible as it had been electronically translated. Many words were garbled, but with patience I was able to decipher it. Here is that version.

THE "GLOVE" MARRIAGE
Not long ago a Boer in Pretoria was married to a girl in Amsterdam, the ceremony constituting what the Dutch call ''handschoen" or glove marriage.
In spite of the fact that a distance of 6000 miles separated the bride in the Netherlands and the bridegroom the Transvaal they were, just as effectually married under the Dutch law, as if both had been present in the same church

The bridegroom sent to his friend or best man in Amsterdam a power of attorney to represent him as his proxy at the ceremony, and at the same time forwarded his glove, which, at the proper moment when the two were made one, was held by both the bride and the proxy. The wedding was duly registered at Amsterdam and at Pretoria, where the bridegroom filed an affidavit with the proper magistrate.

This curious form of marriage is a purely Dutch institution, the custom having originated, it is said, in the old times o£ Dutch-Batavian rule.

Now my interest was even more peaked. I knew, or thought I knew that Batavia was the name used for Jakarta of the Dutch East Indies in Holland’s colonial days when they tried to run the valuable spice trade. I decided to check and so, back to Google. 

I was in for a surprise. There are, according to Wikipedia, nine communities in the USA called by the name. However, the name goes back at least 2000 years. It was “a land inhabited by the Batavian people during the Roman Empire, today part of the Netherlands” I wonder if those US towns were founded by Dutchmen. 

The Barrier Miner reporter had underestimated his distances slightly. Amsterdam to the Transvaal is about 13,000 km by road (if you even get there these days, which I doubt). The bride would have no doubt gone to Cape Town by ship, and then overland, which would have involved a couple of thousand more. That would have been some 9000 miles

Tine only had to go about 9000 km, or 5,600 miles. I’m going to do some more digging as I do wonder if any other Glove Weddings to India (Brits Indie as it was known in those days to distinguish it from Indonesia) ever took place

Anyway, we can be certain that Jo’s apple has indeed fallen right at the foot of her parents’ tree.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rhino Horn: To Trade or Not to Trade


With no apologies to Shakespeare, my title is indeed the question of the moment when it comes to rhino horn. Over the last several months there has been a lively debate in several online forums on the question of the legalization of a trade in rhino horn. It is an issue clouded by emotion, self-interest, government involvement and some detailed research and common sense. 


In an interesting and relevant article by Samuel Mungadze in BusinessDay tells us that the South African Department of Environmental Affairs is giving serious consideration to the potential for an established trade in rhino horn. He tells us that the “Cabinet has already approved the proposal, which is set to be submitted to the next Conference of the Parties to the CITES, which takes place in South Africa in 2016.”

The article is relevant because of the world’s roughly 21,000 rhino 90% are in South Africa. The report said all traded horn would have to be registered, chipped and DNA-profiled before a registration certificate was issued.

A Pacific Standard article of March 6 2013  by Charles Redman covers most of the pro-trade argument.

The South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association is a group that has come out in support of the trade. They support their government’s decision to ask CITES to lift the ban. Their CEO, Chris Niehaus, is quoted as stating “With another three years until the next meeting of CITES in Cape Town in 2016 when this proposal can even be considered, let alone accepted and implemented, we should brace ourselves for the continued slaughter of rhinos. In the interim, all concerned South Africans will have to maintain and expand their efforts to protect rhinos from extinction.”  

Protagonist of the trade argument have mustered examples of two other species in which trade is known to have succeeded in not only reducing poaching, but even caused a marked rise in wild population numbers. They are and the vicuna, one of the four species of South American camelid  and the crocodilians (crocs, alligators and caimans).
A vicuna near the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador
There are two links to the vicuna story. From the International Journal of the Commons comes a careful analysis of both successes and problems. The title says a lot, especially the question mark in the middle Vicuña conservation and poverty alleviation? Andean communities and international fibre markets. According to a recent Time Magazine article vicuna numbers have rebounded from an estimated 5000 to over 200,000.

Adult breedoing female crocodile on a farm
Farming the crocodilians has involved the successful hatching and rearing of far more eggs and young than would survive in the wild and the release of a proportion of each batch back into the environment.   Not all species have been dealt with this way, but it I have seen such farms in Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

All eyes in the shed on a South African croc farm
Feeding time for young crocs

An example from North America is cited in a Voice of America article titled American Alligators: Conservation Success Story  The alligator was placed on the endangered species list in 1967. It was delisted in 1987. Twenty percent of farmed eggs are placed back in the wild and by any measure  The alligator farming program has brought hunters, farmers and conservationists together, because it has achieved the delicate balance between restoring a population and creating a nuisance.  
 
South Africa’s John Hume claims to be the largest private rhino famer in the country. He states in an email letter that he owns 762 rhino. He has written a 2332 word letter in which he lays out several reasons for his view that rhino horn should become a commodity. It would seem that he considers the product to be just like milk from a cow, removable (although not as often) rather than beef, for which a steer has to be slaughtered.

This is his summary
*    Rhino horn is a renewable resource.

*    The status quo of the CITES stance on the trade in rhino horn is clearly not working with regards to protecting the rhino.

*    Dehorning is a painless, fast procedure with the only risk to the animal being the use of anaesthetics.

*    With a legal trade in rhino horn, rhino farming will play an instrumental role in alleviating poverty in Southern Africa – one of the biggest threats to rhino populations and to global biodiversity in general.

*    With a legal trade in rhino horn, rhino farming will create more habitats for rhino, as well as many other threatened wildlife species – habitat destruction is the biggest threat to all wildlife on the planet.

*    Studies show that rhino breed very well on private farms so encouraging their farming will undoubtedly alter their threatened status. 

*    Emergent black farmers and rural communities can be assisted and taught to farm rhino, leading to community-based wildlife management and addressing the issue of poverty amongst these communities.

*    Programs can be developed to assist and educate emergent rhino farmers, where, with international funding and guidelines, a holistic approach to rhino farming throughout Africa can be implemented.

*    As the rhino population increases, these emergent farmers can be assisted through donations of rhino from National Parks or private farmers with surplus numbers of rhino.

He does not point out that he stands to make a huge amount of money (not that this is a bad thing) if trade is legalized. Adult male white rhino horn grows about 1kg per year, cows about 600 gm. A hundred rhino (50:50 sex ratio) would generate 4.8 million dollars.  Several owners write that it costs about $5000 a year to keep a rhino. This includes all the husbandry needs as well as the cost of policing. So, that means that an owner with 100 rhino would clear over $4 million (762 rhino = at least $30M). Even if prices dropped by half from the current level of about $65,000 per kilo Hume would do all right. He has invested in rhino. It is an open question as to how much other folks would benefit from his gain. His staff, for sure. The South African tax coffers, presumably. He claims that others, including small farmers, could benefit. I hope he is right.

His campaign manager and personal assistant, Tanya Jacobsen, has written several FB pieces and emails and is a vigorous proponent of the idea that rhino horn should be commercialized. She argues that it is no different than any other agricultural product and can be obtained without harm to the animals. She further points out that the demand for it is not going to go away because we in the west may wish it so or because anti-poaching efforts are going to succeed.

In any and all criminal activities, the “bad guys” are always one step ahead of law and order. A classic current example is the US “war on drugs” which has failed completely. The prohibition era of the 1930s was equally “effective.” Protection of those involved in the rhino horn trade reaches high into government circles, as illustrated by this July 2013 TRAFFIC report.

There is no doubt, as others and I have written before, that policing alone, however vigorous, will simply not work. A YouTube video purporting to show a sort of Rambo-style approach seems over the top in suggesting that six men can solve the problem. 

Recent encouraging stories like this one of Aug 8 are probably no more than blips. 

The comment from Kapama Game Reserve in South Africa received Sept 2 and posted on my last blog about rhino horn and bling tells the scary other side of the story.

Opponent of the trade argument come from at least two different camps. There are those who are opposed to idea of any utilization of wildlife, and of course see the rhino (and the elephant) as charismatic species that should never be commercialized.

On the Care2 petionsite is a piece by Valerie Marcelli titled : Call For The UNITED STATES To Reject The South African Proposal To Trade In Rhino Horn. I wonder if the 2,642 signatories are aware of all the issues or have read the range of literature. I suspect that many of them are acting at the emotional level, which is understandable if not particularly logical.

Another emotional and one-sided article was penned by Chris Mercer on July 23 this year. He titled it The End of The Game: How South Africa Turned Wildlife Into Livestock. I wonder if he knows, or acknowledges, the vicuna and crocodile story, or is aware that the white rhino population is as high as it has been since at least 1910 (when something between ten and fifty, depending upon whom you read, were left). Game farmers in South Africa have been caring for them for years, and it costs money to keep a rhino, even under the best of circumstances.

Then there are those who use rational arguments based upon the outcome of several CITES decisions between 1989 and 2002 to partially lift the ivory trade ban.  These folks look at the current and unsustainable destruction of elephants, purely for their ivory, and link it to those CITES decisions.

An article that puts both sides of the debate  comes from Bloomberg Businessweek. The authors report on news that the South African government is considering not only lifting a domestic ban on trade in rhinoceros horns, but even authorizing commercial farming and trading the horn on the Johannesburg bourse (stock exchange). The authors also quote the World Wildlife Fund’s Jo Shaw who stated that “we remain unconvinced that legal international trade in rhino horn is feasible for rhino conservation.”

On the academic side, in the March issue of Science Duan Biggs and his colleagues wrote that, “Rapid economic growth in east and southeast Asia is assumed to be the primary factor driving the increased demand for horn.” Others have made the same connection. And Karl Amman’s work on the bling and investigative side had shown solid evidence of the same thing.

Dr. Pete Morkel, a leading rhino expert reminded me of the six blind men of John Godfrey Saxe’s poem who see only a part of the elephant and all reach false conclusions.  Perhaps the various parties can be likened to them. The last four lines sum up the situation nicely.
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

One man who sees the whole “elephant,” with its complex and interlocking parts is Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes. On his rhino-focused website he writes, I have been passionate about wildlife conservation and ecology for more than 30 years.  Instead of following the usual career path of a biological sciences degree, I studied business and economics, and I now apply what I learned to conservation issues. I started researching the economics of rhino conservation in 1989.  I would like to share with you what I have learned since then, because I believe the rhino’s future depends on us all being properly informed and understanding the real underlying issues.  Please approach this site with an open heart and an open mind!

In a 17-page pdf article that discusses almost all of the issues around rhino poaching (expect the “bling” thing which is quite new) he concludes:

If we can start to grasp this complex and deeply-rooted Asian cultural affinity towards rhino horn – and move beyond misguided populist Western views of rhino horn being sought as an aphrodisiac or quack medicine based on a cancer-curing myth – we stand a far better chance of finding a sensible lasting solution to the problem of rhino poaching”

“To solve the problem of rhino poaching, all those concerned with saving rhinos should engage in open and honest dialogue. African and Asian rhino owners and custodians, global conservation NGOs and Asian consumers of rhino products should all ultimately share the same objective: to prevent the extinction of wild rhino populations. Are these different groups capable of setting aside their differences and forging a mutually acceptable and sustainable solution?”

I cannot link to his copyrighted article on this blog, but you can either contact him at that website if you want to get a balanced view, or I can send it to you if you so wish.