Fight trade in rhino horn ‘at all costs’

Owner makes im­pas­sioned plea to Cites con­fer­ence

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

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.

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