Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Efforts to Stop the Ivory Crisis

There have been a few concerted efforts to get the Chinese people onside about the devastation being wreaked on Africa’s elephants. It’s an idea that may have come a little late, but has at least come. It is to use Chinese media to relay the information. One story that appeared on Facebook showed renowned elephant researcher and advocate Ian Douglas-Hamilton riding with Chinese journalists in the back of a safari vehicle as they rode through Samburu National Reserve.

Kenya’s Daily Nation news organization has joined the efforts. In an online article a Tourism ministry spokesman was quoted after speaking to the reporters.

“We have a beautiful country with beautiful animals. But we have a problem with poaching and soon we won’t have these animals,” the ministry’s deputy secretary, Mr Patrick Gakure, told the reporters.

The response was encouraging. The delegation promised to inform people at home.

We would love to make Kenya the Number One destination for Chinese tourists. We have a large population of 1.3 billion, and if just one per cent of this visit Kenya, that means very many people,” Mr Aaron Sze, the chairman of Glamorous-Kenya, a Chinese marketing and travel agency, said.

At the ”consumer” end it appears that Yao Ming, the iconic and very popular basketball star is making an impact.

An email that came to me from Zach Weismann of WildAid on April 16th was headlined:

Yao Ming Says No to Ivory and Rhino Horn.  
Photo credit Liu Ranran
With the message was a picture of the star at a table with several other folks backed by a huge banner. I have included the picture, taken by Liu Ranran here. The email is too long to reproduce in a blog and I could not find a useful link to it, but it sends a message of hope. Three organizations are involved in the efforts. They are WildAid, the African Wildlife Foundation, and Save The Elephants.
The email provides results of two surveys conducted in China. They are both revealing and chilling. A survey conducted in November of 2012 in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou by the Chinese research company, HorizonKey, found that:
   More than half of the nearly 1,000 participants (over 50%) do not think elephant poaching is common;
   34%, or one in three respondents, believe ivory is obtained from natural elephant mortality;
   Only 33% of all participants believe elephants are poached for their tusks; and
   94% of residents agree theChinese government should impose a ban on the ivory trade.

Meanwhile, a similar survey conducted by HorzionKey in the same three major Chinese cities on rhino horn perceptions found that:
   66% of all participants, that is two out of every three respondents, are not aware that rhino horn comes from poached rhinos;
   Nearly 50% believed rhino horn can be legally purchased from official stores; and
   95% of residents agree the “Chinese government should take stricter action to prevent use of rhino horns.”

The media can no doubt make Chinese people more aware of the issues, but it is the two figures at the end of the surveys that are chilling. They indicate that only 94% and 95% of people think that stricter action is needed. As the population of China is about 1.3 billion that means that something like 78 million DO NOT THINK THAT SUCH ACTION IS NEEDED. That is over twice the population of Canada.

There is another and very sorry side to this story that comes out of Kenya. It has to do with the penalties of ivory smuggling.

There is no doubt that the fines handed down to ivory traffickers in Kenya would not even qualify as a slap on the wrist. Paula Kahumbu is the Executive Director of Wildlife Direct. She is a powerful conservation voice and active on Twitter (you can follow her @paulakahumbu). She has reported on a case that was tried on April 19. The accused was a Vietnamese man named Nguyen Viet Truong Phong. He pleaded guilty. The magistrate fined the man a total of Ksh 40,000. The ivory he was trafficking was worth Ksh 5.7 million. To save you the bother of figuring out these numbers in dollars here they are. The value: $70,000. The fine: $489. He was released after paying the fine.

No wonder Paula wrote I drive home in a state of shock. I feel devastated. No matter how much we invest in anti-poaching and dealing, no matter how many more poachers, dealers, traffickers we arrest, it makes no difference. The courts are letting them off with miniscule fines.

This was not the only ridiculous fine. Another Facebook posting, this one from a group called Elephant Advocacy reported that Chinese National Tian Yi, was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and pleaded guilty to possession of 439 pieces of worked ivory weighing 16.6 kg; ivory which might fetch as much as USD$16,000 in China. The Magistrate fined him a paltry KSH.30,000/- which works out to less than USD $350. It is clear that the problem of enforcement is now with the Kenyan courts of law.

Kenya’s new president Uhuru Kenyatta made a recent speech about the need for greater awareness of his country’s wildlife heritage, but nothing has yet emerged from that plea. Paula Kahumbu finished her piece with this
Today’s ruling was a wake-up call for all of us. It is going to take more than nice speeches by His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta to turn this situation around. Otherwise, our elephants are doomed.

Anohter Yao Ming poster, but I could not find a name to credit

Let’s hope that Yao Ming’s efforts can push those numbers way way up. 100%?

Wouldn’t that be nice.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rhino anti poaching efforts

Photo on Facebook. Not credited to a spcific photogrpher, but not mine.
Followers of this blog site should not think that the rhino and elephant slaughter going on in Africa has stopped. It may well be getting worse, and nobody is suggesting that the situation is improving. There has not been an actual quote of numbers of either species taken in the last month or so, but the last figure I read indicated that rhino were dying at the hands of poachers at a rate of slightly over two a day. One educated guess states that the mid-April figure is 200 animals this year.  Of course these are just two of the most charismatic of the charismatic megafauna that are under threat across Africa.

So, what has been happening on the anti-poaching front and on the protection and consumption end of the rhino horn chain? I’ll take a closer look at the ivory part of the story soon.

On April 4th there was an on line report in the Guardian from the David Smith about an alternative attempt to curtail the trade by inserting potent poisons and a pink dye into the horns of living rhino. This was only occurring in one private game reserve, the Sabi Sand, which, on its eastern border abuts the world-famous Kruger National Park.

The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is injecting non-lethal chemical mixtures into rhino's horns.           Photograph: David Smith/Sabi Sand Game Reserve

This was picked up by the Smithsonian on line magazine.

As the horn itself is inert and grows upwards at a steady rate this poses no risk to the rhino (other than the risks involved in immobilization). Of course, as the horn is worn down by rubbing the poison and dye will only reside in the top parts.

Consumers of the powdered horn in Asia risk becoming seriously ill from ingesting a so-called medicinal product, which is now contaminated with a non-lethal chemical package," said Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association, a group of private landowners in Mpumalanga province.

Apparently the insertion of the poison is not illegal, and those closest to the issue, like Tom Milliken of the wildlife trade monitoring network called TRAFFIC was reported as saying “it could act as a deterrent in areas where it is highly publicised but "is impractical in situations involving free-ranging animals in large areas, places like Kruger national park with 20,000 sq km. Thus, like dehorning, it probably has the effect of displacing poaching intensity to other areas, not stopping it altogether."

I have suggested before in this blog series that the whole surge in rhino horn “medical” properties is being driven by snake oil salesmen out to make a buck (lots of bucks) and the consequences be damned. If such a person was to see the pink dye there would be little to stop him or her from either countering the dye colour or selling it on as “special.” It would need a major media campaign in Vietnam to make people, aware of what is happening. I’m not betting my house on that.

Another fascinating little report came to me from a Linkedin post by Amber Dyson. She had spent 3 months in Vietnam in 2012 with the Endangered Asian Species Trust which is an organization that funds the Dao Tien Rescue Centre in Southern Vietnam. 

She wrote "I was in Vietnam carrying out research for my MSc dissertation on the use of animals in traditional medicine. Rhino horn was by far the most valued and the most desired though incredibly hard to source especially after the extinction of rhinos in Vietnam earlier that year."

She reported about a man who purchased some horn because he had cancer. The horn did not help (of course), but his status in the community rose markedly because he had been able to get hold of such a precious commodity. It had cost him the equivalent of three years salary!