Swaziland fails in bid to legalise sales
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.