Swazi­land fails in bid to le­galise sales

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

TED REILLY and his fam­ily couldn’t get into the crammed con­fer­ence room at Cites CoP17. So, in­stead, the chief pro­po­nent of Swazi­land’s con­tro­ver­sial – and likely un­suc­cess­ful – bid to le­galise its rhino horn trade, sat on a small couch out­side eat­ing deli sand­wiches, plot­ting his next move.

Along­side him, sat his wife El­iz­a­beth and his daugh­ter Ann, both wear­ing black jack­ets proudly pro­claim­ing “Swazi­land”.

As rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the im­pov­er­ished, land­locked na­tion at this week’s in­ter­na­tional wildlife trade con­fer­ence in Sand­ton, they were here to show pro­tect­ing rhi­nos was a fam­ily af­fair.

There was no space for Reilly, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Swazi­land’s Big Game Parks, a non-profit, in the room where a South African com­mit­tee of in­quiry, and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Edna Molewa out­lined why South Africa had ul­ti­mately cho­sen not to pur­sue a pro­posal for a le­gal trade in rhino horn.

“We were re­ally ex­pect­ing South Africa to present a pro­posal, but when they didn’t, we de­cided to stick our necks out with our own last-minute pro­posal,” said Reilly, a slightly di­shev­elled- look­ing 78- yearold.

“For us, it was about tak­ing a stand – no one in South Africa pushed us to do it. But we knew we didn’t have any hope in hell of get­ting our pro­posal through.

“We’ve had a lot of peo­ple telling us that they sup­port what we’re do­ing but that they can’t come out pub­licly and say it be­cause they don’t want to lose fund­ing.”

His coun­try’s last-minute pro­posal for a limited, reg­u­lated trade in its rhino horn seemed doomed from the start and has been at­tacked by con­ser­va­tion­ists and wildlife ad­vo­cates for be­ing weak, lack­ing a trad­ing part­ner and for seek­ing to profit from the rhino cri­sis.

Lift­ing the ban, which would earn the moun­tain king­dom $10 mil­lion from 330kg of horn, would “add le­gal value” to ivory and rhino horn and save rhi­nos from ex­tinc­tion, in­sisted Reilly.

“The loss to the le­gal mar­ket is sim­ply a gain to the il­le­gal mar­ket.

“Money is in­deed the root of all evil. But we can­not do with­out it. We can­not eat with­out it and we cer­tainly can­not con­serve with­out it. Nor can we pro­tect rhi­nos with­out it … The loss to cus­to­di­ans of these valu­able self-re­new­ing re­sources is sim­ply the gain of crim­i­nals. The only rea­son for this dis­par­ity is the ban in le­gal trade of ivory and rhino horn and the in­flu­ence of around 170 Cites mem­ber states who don’t have rhi­nos, on the 11 that do. The re­sult is the demise of the ele­phant and the rhino.”

In Swazi­land’s in­for­ma­tion doc­u­ment for its pro­posal to Cites, Reilly out­lined how the coun­try wanted to “keep op­tions open” for a de­bate on trade in rhino horn at CoP17.

But it was also about “en­abling the con­ser­va­tion mes­sage to reach the world in com­pe­ti­tion to the preser­va­tion mes­sage”, which was di­min­ish­ing the value of nat­u­ral re­sources “to the grow­ing detri­ment of na­ture con­ser­va­tion in Africa”.

Over the past 24 years, Swazi­land has lost just three rhi­nos to poach­ing, which Reilly said was be­cause it boasted the “strong­est leg­is­la­tion in Africa”, had ded­i­cated game rangers and a supportive po­lice force.

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