Rhino horns and tiger bones

Why Sadc coun­tries must take ad­van­tage of China’s med­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion & Analysis - Em­manuel Koro Cor­re­spon­dent

CHINA has demon­strated to the world that the health of its cit­i­zens is of para­mount im­por­tance. On Oc­to­ber 29, 2018, the gov­ern­ment of China pub­lished a no­tice that it was re­open­ing do­mes­tic trade in rhino horn and tiger bones.

The no­tice states that “rhino horns and tiger bones” must be used in “medic­i­nal re­search or heal­ing” and “can only be ob­tained from farmed rhi­nos and tigers, not in­clud­ing those raised in zoos”.

South­ern African coun­tries such as Eswa­tini, Namibia, South Africa and Zim­babwe all have Cap­tive Breed­ing Op­er­a­tions (CBO) fa­cil­i­ties and CBO­sourced rhino horn stock­piles that they can sell to China.

Ar­ti­cle III of the UN Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) per­mits trade in oth­er­wise re­stricted wild an­i­mal parts for non-com­mer­cial pur­poses. The po­lit­i­cal par­ties in SADC coun­tries ought to im­me­di­ately recog­nise the so­cio-eco­nomic im­por­tance of the Chi­nese ini­tia­tive. SADC min­istries of en­vi­ron­ment need strong po­lit­i­cal sup­port. It was the African po­lit­i­cal par­ties that took the lead to fight against colo­nial op­pres­sion and ex­ploita­tion. The ANC also suc­cess­fully op­posed apartheid in South Africa and ended it.

Dr Mor­ri­son Mt­sam­biwa, one of Africa’s top ecol­o­gists and for­mer CEO of the Ka­vango Zam­bezi Trans­fron­tier Con­ser­va­tion Area (where Botswana, Namibia, Zam­bia and Zim­babwe share their borders), praised China for tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion to buy rhino horn from CBO sources. He urged SADC po­lit­i­cal par­ties and gov­ern­ments to re­ject an­i­mal rights groups and an­nounce their readi­ness to sup­ply China’s needs.

A Hwange Ru­ral Dis­trict Coun­cil ecol­o­gist, Mr Nx­ole­lani Ncube, said that China’s re­open­ing of the rhino horn trade has made coun­tries with smaller rhino pop­u­la­tions “see the in­cen­tive for mas­sive breed­ing of white rhi­nos”.

Sovereign right

The large an­i­mal rights groups — Save the Rhino Foun­da­tion In­ter­na­tional and the World Wide Fund for Na­ture (WWF) — in­stantly op­posed China’s ini­tia­tive, claim­ing that re­open­ing the rhino horn trade would in­crease poach­ing. They still have not learnt the es­sen­tial les­son that a ban on in­ter­na­tional trade in wildlife prod­ucts has not stopped poach­ing af­ter more than 40 years of try­ing. Ein­stein is said to have ob­served that the sign of mad­ness is do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing a dif­fer­ent re­sult.

South­ern Africa needs to pay at­ten­tion to China’s lead in ex­er­cis­ing its sovereign right to buy rhino horn for the med­i­cal needs of its peo­ple. SADC coun­tries also ought to ar­tic­u­late their sovereign right to sell their re­sources for rhino con­ser­va­tion and for the so­cio-eco­nomic well-be­ing of their peo­ple.

Eu­gene La­pointe, for­mer CITES sec­re­tary-gen­eral (1982-1990) and pres­i­dent of the Switzer­land-based IWMC-World Con­ser­va­tion Trust, said: “… we share a com­mon opin­ion with China … that the old or­der gov­ern­ing the trade in wildlife prod­ucts . . . is in need of ur­gent re­form”.

An­i­mal rights groups have for a long time been im­pos­ing their anti-wildlife prod­ucts trade agenda on Africa. Now it is time for SADC coun­tries to move for­ward. There­fore, it was strongly rec­om­mended to them at a meet­ing held in Pre­to­ria, South Africa, in Au­gust 2018 that they should de­clare CITES de­ci­sions they deemed un­fair to their in­ter­ests as “null and void”, as the CITES treaty per­mits. In sup­port­ing the Chi­nese ini­tia­tive on rhino horns and tiger bones be­fore the 2019 CITES meet­ing, they will be tak­ing a fur­ther step to­wards align­ing them­selves with a wildlife pol­icy that makes sense to Africa.

Nearly ev­ery­one in the SADC coun­tries knows that as long as rhi­nos do not have eco­nomic value to the peo­ple who live among them, there will be no need to pro­tect them from poach­ers. Giv­ing rhi­nos the kind of value that the Chi­nese are now cre­at­ing pro­vides the rea­son to pro­tect them.

“China has taken a prin­ci­pled po­si­tion on rhi­nos and tigers, and has a very strong back­bone to al­low it to stand tall and straight against the in­evitable back­lash of the an­i­mal rights groups. The gov­ern­ing par­ties of the SADC coun­tries should need noth­ing more in the way of po­lit­i­cal cover to join China in en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­port­ing its new ini­tia­tive,” said the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Los An­ge­les-based Ivory Ed­u­ca­tion In­sti­tute, God­frey Har­ris.

As poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and poor eco­nomic growth con­tin­ues to plague some SADC coun­tries, it would seem that only those gov­ern­ments al­ready cap­tured by an­i­mal rights groups would op­pose sell­ing their CBO-sourced rhino horn to China. Ac­cord­ingly, SADC’s en­vi­ron­men­tal min­istries (led by their po­lit­i­cal par­ties), need to make a col­lec­tive ef­fort to­wards im­ple­ment­ing the Chi­nese rhino horn trade ini­tia­tive, in or­der to de­feat rhino poach­ing. The SADC habi­tat-dam­ag­ing ele­phant over­pop­u­la­tion prob­lems present an op­por­tu­nity for SADC and China to en­gage in new ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­open trade in ivory in the fu­ture.

◆ Em­manuel Koro is a Jo­han­nes­burg-based in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning en­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on en­vi­ron­ment and devel­op­ment is­sues in Africa.

Giv­ing rhi­nos the kind of value that the Chi­nese are now cre­at­ing pro­vides the rea­son to pro­tect them ...

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