Trade, not aid, will help to save Africa’s rhi­nos

The CITES ban on rhino-horn trade has failed to pro­tect rhi­nos and must be re­scinded, ar­gues

Sunday Times - - OPINION & ANALAYSIS -

THOSE who take rhino con­ser­va­tion very se­ri­ously must con­sider whether the in­ter­na­tional ban on rhino horn trade by the UN Convention on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, is re­ally work­ing.

The ban is in force but rhi­nos are be­ing poached. That is the sad re­al­ity of the 40year fail­ure of the ban.

This fail­ure con­tin­ues to un­fold seven months af­ter the 17th meet­ing of the Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties to CITES was held in Oc­to­ber 2016 in South Africa — and en­dorsed the in­ter­na­tional ban on the trade in rhino horn.

African coun­tries that op­posed the ban on the trade in rhino horn in­cluded Namibia, South Africa (with the world’s biggest rhino pop­u­la­tion), Swazi­land and Zim­babwe.

The failed ex­per­i­ment needs to be stopped. CITES needs to come up with an­other so­lu­tion to ad­dress the chal­lenge of rhino poach­ing.

The In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture species sur­vival com­mis­sion’s African rhino spe­cial­ist group re­cently re­ported that the num­ber of African rhi­nos killed by poach­ers had in­creased for the sixth year in a row, with at least 1 338 rhi­nos killed in 2015. This is the high­est level since the rhino-poach­ing cri­sis be­gan to worsen in 2008.

Since then, poach­ers have killed at least 5 940 African rhi­nos. This has con­tin­ued while the in­ter­na­tional ban is in place.

The fol­low­ing hard facts con­firm the dis­mal fail­ure of the trade-ban ex­per­i­ment to stop rhino poach­ing:

Since 1977, when the CITES ban was first en­forced in­ter­na­tion­ally, the num­ber of Africa rhino range states (those with rhi­nos) has dropped shame­fully and sharply from 33 to 10.

This means that 23 of the coun­tries that had rhi­nos then now have none. Five of them have fewer than 300, in­clud­ing Uganda, which has only 13 rhi­nos but is very vo­cal in its ad­vo­cacy for the world­wide ban on rhi­no­horn trade; and

Last year 1 200 rhi­nos were gunned down by poach­ers in South Africa alone.

De­mand for rhino horn from South­east Asia has ex­isted from time im­memo­rial. The world can­not stop the de­mand and never will. It can only con­trol it.

With the in­ter­na­tional ban on rhino-horn trade hav­ing failed, the world needs African so­lu­tions from African coun­tries to solve the prob­lem of rhino poach­ing.

The con­ti­nent has the biggest rhino pop­u­la­tion and must have the fi­nal say on what should be done.

African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Namibia, South Africa, Swazi­land and Zim­babwe, say they want to re­sume trade in rhino horn so that pro­ceeds from the sales can be used to con­serve the en­dan­gered species. CARNAGE: On av­er­age, three rhi­nos were killed ev­ery day in South Africa last year

They are the own­ers of the rhi­nos. Why does CITES not lis­ten to them and try strictly con­trolled in­ter­na­tional trade in rhino horn?

Right now the rhino is not pay­ing for its pro­tec­tion be­cause of the in­ter­na­tional trade ban.

If CITES lifts the ban, money gen­er­ated from sell­ing rhino horns would be used for rhino con­ser­va­tion.

Cur­rently, Africa is de­pend­ing on tax­pay­ers’ money and a hand­ful of donors to save its rhi­nos.

By en­dors­ing the ban and not sig­nif­i­cantly help­ing to pay to stop rhino poach­ing, Geneva-based CITES and its mem­ber coun­tries that voted for the ban are ex­er­cis­ing au­thor­ity with­out re­spon­si­bil­ity over rhino con­ser­va­tion in Africa.

They au­tho­rised the ban, but can­not fund the costs of look­ing af­ter rhino pop­u­la­tions whose horns can­not be traded in­ter­na­tion­ally to pay for their con­ser­va­tion.

Back home in most African coun­tries, com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing side by side with rhi­nos have never been given own­er­ship of rhi­nos. It is there­fore no won­der that they col­lab­o­rate with poach­ers.

There is a need to in­cen­tivise rhino con­ser­va­tion by al­low­ing poor ru­ral com­mu­ties ni­ties neigh­bour­ing on rhino game re­serves to ben­e­fit from rhi­nos through tourism or trade.

It is the neigh­bour­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties who can help game rangers and se­cu­rity forces to mean­ing­fully re­duce rhino poach­ing.

Poach­ers pass through these com­muni- en route to rhino game re­serves — and it is a no-brainer that the lo­cal res­i­dents would not co-op­er­ate with poach­ers if they were en­joy­ing di­rect ben­e­fits from the rhi­nos.

This con­ser­va­tion ap­proach has been suc­cess­fully used in coun­tries such as Namibia, where ru­ral res­i­dents are given own­er­ship over their rhi­nos in Torra Con­ser­vancy, for ex­am­ple.

Africa needs trade and not aid to con­serve its rhi­nos.

Africa, its peo­ple, re­sources and its rhi­nos can­not con­tinue to be ex­per­i­mented upon, with no tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits.

Who re­ally owns Africa’s rhi­nos and their fu­ture? For how long can we con­tinue to not act de­ci­sively?

Some­body had bet­ter do some­thing out there to stop an­other rhino con­ser­va­tion mo­ment of mad­ness when the CITES mem­ber coun­tries meet at their next con­fer­ence in Sri Lanka in 2019.

Koro is a Jo­han­nes­burg-based en­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ist

With its ban, CITES is ex­er­cis­ing au­thor­ity with­out re­spon­si­bil­ity over rhino con­ser­va­tion in Africa

Pic­ture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

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