CHINA INITIATES A REAL REASON TO PROTECT RHINOS
CHINA has demonstrated to the world that the health of its citizens is of paramount importance.
On October 29, the Government of China published a Notice that it was re-opening domestic trade in rhino horn and tiger bones. The Notice states that “rhino horns and tiger bones” must be used in “medicinal research or healing” and “can only be obtained from farmed rhinos and tigers, not including those raised in zoos”.
Southern African countries such as Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have Captive Breeding Operations (CBO) facilities and CBO-sourced rhino horn stockpiles that they can sell to China.
Article III of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (Cites) permits trade in otherwise restricted wild animal parts for non-commercial purposes. The political parties in SADC countries ought to recognise the socio-economic importance of the Chinese initiative. SADC ministries of environment need strong political support. It was the African political parties that took the lead to fight against colonial oppression and exploitation. The ANC also successfully opposed apartheid in South Africa and ended it.
Dr Morrison Mtsambiwa, one of Africa’s top ecologists and former chief executive of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe share their borders), praised China for taking decisive action to buy rhino horn from CBO sources. He urged SADC political parties and governments to reject animal rights groups and announce their readiness to supply China’s needs.
A Hwange Rural District Council ecologist, Nxolelani Ncube, said China’s reopening of the rhino horn trade had made countries with smaller rhino populations “see the incentive for massive breeding of white rhinos”.
The large animal rights groups – Save the Rhino Foundation International and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – instantly opposed China’s initiative, claiming that re-opening the rhino horn trade would increase poaching.
They still have not learnt the essential lesson that a ban on international trade in wildlife products has not stopped poaching after more than 40 years of trying. Einstein is said to have observed that the sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Southern Africa needs to pay attention to China’s lead in exercising its sovereign right to buy rhino horn for the medical needs of its people.
Eugene Lapointe, former Cites secretary-general (1982-1990) and president of the Switzerland-based IWMC-World Conservation Trust, said: “We share a common opinion with China… that the old order governing the trade in wildlife products… is in need of urgent reform.”
Animal rights groups have for a long time been imposing their anti-wildlife products trade agenda on Africa. Now it is time for SADC countries to move forward. Therefore, it was strongly recommended to them at a meeting in Pretoria in August 2018 that they should declare Cites decisions they deemed unfair to their interests as “null and void”, as the Cites treaty permits. In supporting the Chinese initiative on rhino horns and tiger bones before the 2019 Cites meeting, they will be taking a further step towards aligning themselves with a wildlife policy that makes sense to Africa.
Nearly everyone in SADC countries knows that as long as rhinos do not have economic value to the people who live among them, there will be no need to protect them from poachers. Giving rhinos the kind of value the Chinese are now creating provides the reason to protect them.
Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist