A LETHAL HAR­VEST

Thanks to un­abated de­mand for its horn in Asia, the African rhi­noc­eros is tee­ter­ing on the verge of ex­tinc­tion. There are some ideas for sav­ing them that go be­yond stop­ping poach­ers, Chris Davis re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

crime,” said Peachey.

“For a long time as or­di­nary peo­ple were in­volved in rhino poach­ing, they would get $100, which seemed like a lot of money,” he said. “Peo­ple some­times make ex­cuses for the il­le­gal wildlife trade say­ing that in­dige­nous peo­ple live in a dif­fi­cult world and this is an op­por­tu­nity for them to bet­ter them­selves. It rarely if ever works that way.”

“Peo­ple who are in­volved in tak­ing con­tra­band and get­ting it to con­sumers move into the be­gin­ning of that chain, when they see the profit that lu­cra­tive, they just can’t re­sist.”

“The peo­ple who were the mid­dle men got in­volved in poach­ing it­self. They have cut out the or­di­nary peo­ple who were do­ing the poach­ing and now you find there are or­ga­nized gangs that are highly equipped, heav­ily armed, poach­ing from he­li­copters. It’s or­ga­nized crime. It’s not just in­di­vid­u­als tak­ing ad­van­tage of an op­por­tu­nity, it’s gangs that go out with the in­tent to poach rhi­nos, make a sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment and ex­pe­ri­ence a sub­stan­tial re­turn,” Peachey said.

Ac­cord­ing to China’s Auc­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, main­land auc­tion mar­kets saw sales of rhino horn dou­bling yearon-year. In 2011, 2,750 pieces of rhino horn carv­ings fetched $179 mil­lion on main­land auc­tion blocks. Today pieces bring an av­er­age price of $117, 582.

Crim­i­nal gangs

“The high prices for rhino horns in Asia even at­tracted the at­ten­tion of crim­i­nal gangs which tar­geted mu­se­ums and gal­leries in Europe and suc­cess­fully pulled off a se­ries of rhino horn thefts,” said Grace Ge Gabriel of the In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare (IFAW), who op­poses the cre­ation of an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

Act­ing of a tip from IFAW about the auc­tion sales of rhino horn, tiger bone and ele­phant ivory, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties banned all auc­tions of these en­dan­gered species in 2012, Gabriel said. “The auc­tion ban re­sulted in a 40 per­cent re­duc­tion of auc­tion vol­ume in main­land China,” she said.

“Le­gal­iz­ing rhino horn trade would feed two dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent mar­kets, re­move the stigma as­so­ci­ated with con­sump­tion of en­dan­gered species, stim­u­late the in­sa­tiable de­mand for rhino horn and fuel fur­ther rhino poach­ing,” Gabriel wrote on her IFAW blog.

“Prof­i­teers are push­ing the le­gal trade, lob­by­ing the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try hard say­ing ‘We should have the right to farm these an­i­mals and the se­cu­rity costs are so high for our busi­ness we need to finance them, of course we’re rhino con­ser­va­tion­ists, but we stand to make a packet of money,” Ken­naugh said.

“If a le­gal mar­ket ex­ists and these high prices con­tinue to be paid,” said Peachey, “then peo­ple will go and kill a rhino on a farm — and it’s al­ready hap­pened. Rhi­nos that should be pro­tected have been poached. And that horn goes to mar­ket.”

“If all rhino horn trade is il­le­gal,” he con­tin­ued, “then any time you see a rhino horn you know some­one has com­mit­ted a crime. There’s no ‘Let me see your pa­pers’, there’s no op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide coun­ter­feit pa­per­work or coun­ter­feit per­mits. It’s black and white. You’re tak­ing a rhino horn across the bor­der, that’s il­le­gal, you’re un­der ar­rest.”

The only way a le­gal mar­ket would work, he be­lieves, would be if peo­ple were will­ing to sell rhino horn for $5 a pound. “If you sell it at a price that is so in­cred­i­bly low, it loses its value as a sta­tus symbol, it loses its value to a cer­tain ex­tent in the prac­tice of TCM and de­mand just might plum­met,” he said.

Peachey cited a sur­vey done by the South African gov­ern­ment re­cently of 54 rhino own­ers: only seven had ever sold rhino horn. “So for peo­ple to con­tend that this is an in­dus­try and they need to do this to sur­vive, in fact that’s not the case,” Peachey said. “That says that there were 47 rhino own­ers who were not com­pelled to sell rhino horn in or­der to sur­vive. They found an­other way to man­age these rhi­nos that they had on their farms or ranches in or­der to get them to pay their way.”

The pro­posal will be run up the flag pole at the next CITES con­ven­tion in Septem­ber. It is not ex­pected to pass.

Con­tact the writer at chris­davis@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

COURTESY OF IFAW / J. HRUSA

A white rhino calf stands be­side its graz­ing mother in Kruger Na­tional Park.

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