Fight trade in rhino horn ‘at all costs’
Owner makes impassioned plea to Cites conference
COLIN Bell knew the pro-traders in the conference room were shooting daggers at him.
“Come, I’m ready for you,” he told them. “You know, we should be working together. But instead we’re having these divisive talks about how we should be handling our rhinos and trading in their horn.”
Bell, himself a rhino owner, claimed a “sliver” of South Africa’s rhino owners were pushing for a legal rhino horn trade and fuelling “myths” about how the global 40-year ban on rhino horn trade had failed.
“At the moment their rhino horn is worth zero. If they can persuade the world to go and have trade legalised, their horn is worth billions… Don’t give me the story that trade bans never worked. They do work.”
He was speaking on the sidelines of Cites CoP17, a global wildlife conference which regulates trade in endangered species, held in Sandton this week, where more than 3 000 delegates held the fate of the world’s threatened wildlife – including rhinos and elephants – in their hands.
Bell urged South Africa’s authorities to abandon any notion of a legal rhino horn trade in the future.
“Please, for sanity, eliminate all policies that mention trade. Stop sending mixed messages to the Far East and our rhinos will have a chance. The only people benefiting is the illegal poaching syndicates who thrive on our confusion.”
Environmental activists and some conservationists maintain legal trade in farmed rhinos won’t save them, citing how the commercial farming of tigers and bears has not saved them in the wild.
But Wiaan van der Linde, of Wildlife Ranching SA, said Cites must remain true to its original aim of ensuring the sustainable use of species and ecosystems, “which support millions of rural communities and major industries”.
“With few exceptions, southern Africa is the custodian of the world’s last remaining rhinos and so far the region has done an outstanding job of conserving the species. Sustainable utilisation is a policy that has allowed southern Africa’s rural communities to benefit from wildlife and in the process, has allowed people and wild animals to live together. It’s high time the policy is applied to rhinos. If it’s not, we fear that the next time Cites meets in three years, rhinos will only be found in zoos and a few parks.”
The issue of trading in rhino horn and controversial proposals by Namibia and Zimbabwe, which South Africa supports – to trade in ivory to help conservation efforts – have also dominated talks.
A proposal by South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe for a decision-making mechanism to be created to permit trade in ivory, was thrown out. About 27 000 elephants have been slaughtered on the continent every year since 2008, largely for their ivory.
But this week, Environ- mental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa held a briefing at Cites “to let Africa speak”, together with her Southern African Development Community counterparts from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, where they spoke of “eco-terrorists from Europe” who were fighting their policies of sustainable use of wildlife.
She believed there was still hope for a regulated ivory trade from Cites. “We’d like to reiterate that issues such as our elephants, lions, hunting trophies, or burning stockpiles… All this has to do with our important policy enshrined in our constitution of sustainable use.”
Anti- trade groups argue little money flowed into communities from SA’s one- off ivory sale in 2008. “Our local people have said they are custodians of natural resources and want to co-exist with wildlife. But they need to benefit.”
Molewa cited the downlisting of the Cape mountain zebra, whose numbers have swelled to 5 000, to Appendix II of Cites, which would now allow for the “sustainable offstake” of the species.
“Our decisions at Cites must not be based on emotions, but on science and evidence.”
Pohamba Shifeka, the Namibian environment minister, said communities bore the brunt of wildlife conflict. “We have an overpopulation of species. We have 22 000 elephants in our country, half of it is desert, and conflict with humans is escalating. We must acknowledge the... efforts of our communities who have given up their land for conservation, have lost their land and their crops, and sometimes, even their lives.”
Accoring to a Cites delegate a ‘sliver’ of South Africa’s rhino owners are pushing for a legal rhino horn trade and fuelling ‘myths’ about how the global 40-year ban on rhino horn trade has failed.
Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.