So, let’s take a quick look at some of the recent Republic of South Africa’s, Department: Environmental Affairs (DEA) ‘thinking.’
In the DEA’s 28 June 2017 media statement – “Lion export quota for 2017 communicated to the CITES Secretariat in line with CITES requirements” the DEA referenced a 2015 study by TRAFFIC:
“A 2015 study commissioned by TRAFFIC raised concerns around the shift in lion and tiger bone trade; namely that when the trade in tiger bone was banned; the trade shifted and bones were sourced from South Africa, available as a by-product of the hunting of captive bred lions.”
“South Africa reiterates its concern that if the trade in bones originating from captive bred lion is prohibited, lion bones may be sourced illegally from wild lion populations.”
“Parties with intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale shall implement measures to restrict the captive population to a level supportive only to conserving wild tigers; tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives” – CITES decision 14.69
However, it’s a false-assumption that tiger bone trading has halted post-“ban” to supply the manufacture of ‘Tiger Bone Wine’ and derivatives (products with no proven efficacy). The problem with the DEA’s argument is that ’captive’ tiger farms have increased in Asia (China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand) since CITES’ “ban“ – and there are no signs of such abhorrent farming practices diminishing, or abating.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimates (March 2017) that there are some 6,000 captive tigers held within 200 farms in China (plus more in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand) – Reference the EIA’s map – “Where are the tigers?“
Image courtesy of Green Girls in Africa
The South African supply of lion bones from canned lion hunting and ‘captive’ lions killed for the “800 lion skeletons” quota are therefore supplementary to a burgeoning captive tiger bone industry within Asia…..the demand and supply are increasing, thanks to South Africa’s determination to profit from wildlife utilisation and Asia’s non-compliance with CITES decisions/guidance.
So, the arguments to support the proposed lion bone trade as necessary because of a belief that the CITES 2008 “ban” on tiger bone trading has been successful is at best ‘thin,’ but at worst, it’s a convenient excuse/delusion to try to mask profiteering from South Africa’s ‘captive’ lion industry behind (an industry that has no credible, positive conservation benefits whatsoever).
There is also little evidence to support the notion that wild lion poaching must be offset by ‘captive’ lion breeding to satisfy nonsensical demands, but stimulating demand for lion bones runs the risk of escalating lion poaching, as criminal syndicates diversify to cash-in on the lion bone trade – Update, “Lions poisoned for bone trade,” Africa Geographic, 6 July 2017.
After the DEA’s 30 June 2017 media statement – “Department of Environmental Affairs clarifies that rhino horn may not be traded internationally” – the DEA acknowledges rhino horn exportation will be possible “under very specific circumstances consistent with the provisions of CITES, namely for primarily non-commercial purposes.”
This is the delusion DEA likes to conjure, that there is no likely intention, or likely abuse to come from the exploitation of fabricated “personal use” exports for “non-commercial purposes” orchestrated for anything but (and everyone involved carries on pretending otherwise).
Let’s take a look at the potential impact of international exportation of rhino horn; by fabricated “personal use,” and/or by a lifting of an international rhino horn trading ban for traditional Asian medicines (which of course, have no independently proven efficacy).
In the September 2016, NABU International Foundation for Nature, paper authored by Barbara Mass – “A quantitative assessment of supply and demand in rhino horn and a case against trade” – an insight into the potential, catastrophic impact is highlighted.
This NABU (2016) report postulates that if a typical white rhino horn weighs in at 5.88kg, a black rhino horn at 2.65kg, then the entire global population of an estimated 29,324 wild rhino equates to a maximum of some 140 tonnes of rhino horn still walking around.
The estimated 6,000 rhino held privately within South Africa equates to approximately 35 tonnes (but with a two year plus grow back period after a given rhino’s horn has been harvested, so only a fraction of that total per annum can be re-harvested).
Private rhino farmer, John Hume estimates that he has some 6 tonnes of rhino horn already stored from his 1,400 rhino. Plus, there is an estimated 25 tonnes of rhino horn held in the South African government’s own stockpiles.
The question is, based upon even modest demands for ‘traditional medicines’ utilising rhino horn from a rising Asian population (China – 1.379bn (2016), Vietnam – 92m (2016); total 1.471bn.-Ref. World Bank data) what happens to the demand/supply curve?
Based upon estimates by the NABU (2016), consumption by a relatively low percentage of the Chinese and Vietnamese populations, the globe’s entire rhino population could be consumed very rapidly:
- Global rhino population:
The consumption of a single prescription of 1 – 3 gram of rhino horn by 11.58 – 3.86% of adults in Vietnam and China would use up all the horn of all the world’s rhinos. Taken over the recommended three days, this figure drops to 3.86 – 1.29% of adults. Rhino horn ingested by 0.23% of adults in China and Vietnam for 10 – 14 days or shorter periods in slightly higher doses amounting to a total of 50 g per prescription would have the same obliterating effect.
- South Africa’s rhino population:
The ingestion of a single prescription of 1 – 3 gram of rhino horn by 9.31 – 3.10% of adults in Vietnam and China would require the horn of South Africa’s entire rhino population. Taken over the recommended three days this figure drops to 3.1 – 1.03% of adults. Rhino horn ingested by 0.19% of adults in China and Vietnam for 10 – 14 days or shorter periods in slightly higher doses amounting to a total of 50 g per prescription would have the same effect.
- White rhinos in private ownership in South Africa:
The consumption of a single prescription of 1 – 3 gram of rhino horn by 2.90 – 0.97% of adults in Vietnam and China would require the horn of South Africa’s entire privately owned white rhino population. Taken over the recommended three days this figure drops to 0.97 – 0.32% of adults. Rhino horn ingested by 0.06% of adults in China and Vietnam for 10 – 14 days or shorter periods in slightly higher doses amounting to a total of 50 g per prescription would have the same effect.
- White rhinos owned by South African farmers interested in participating in legalized international trade (80%, Knight 2016):
The consumption of a single prescription of 1 – 3 gram of rhino horn by 2.32 – 0.77% of adults in Vietnam and China would require the horn of South Africa’s entire privately owned white rhino population. Taken over the recommended three days this figure drops to 0.77 – 0.26% of adults. Rhino horn ingested by 0.05% of adults in China and Vietnam for 10 – 14 days or shorter periods in slightly higher doses amounting to a total of 50 g per prescription would have the same effect.
Adding in current (2017) harvested rhino horn stockpiles and South African government stocks, plus future harvesting capacity to meet demand can only satisfy the demands of a relatively small percentage of the Chinese and Vietnamese population for a finite period – if that demand is stimulated and a higher percentage of the Chinese and Vietnamese population demands rhino horn products, then of course the entire global rhino horn capacity will be consumed quicker.
Private rhino horn supply/stockpiles are unable to meet even a mere fraction of the potential peak demand – The South African government’s 25 tonnes (worth approximately $750m USD) and John Hume’s 6 tonnes (worth approximately $180m USD) stockpiles would supply 50g of rhino horn to a mere 620,000 people, or some 0.042% of the total current population of China and Vietnam.
If/when a stimulated demand for rhino horn outstrips the rhino horn stockpiles and the ability of the private rhino breeders to re-supply to meet demand, then what? Higher prices will only encourage poaching to cash-in, but the vacuum is likely to be filled by illicit means regardless.
Attempting to offset current rhino poaching but trying to meet demand from commercial sources runs a high risk of making a bad situation much, much worse. The risks are obvious to anyone that does not have a vested interest and desire to profit from the sale of rhino horn regardless of potential negative consequences for the global rhino population.
The ‘reasons’ (unsustainable excuses) the DEA gives to support it wedded attitude to wildlife utilisation are not based on solid foundations – otherwise, the DEA would have ready scientific evidence to show the world that:
- the entire South African canned (‘captive’) big cat industry is not detrimental to the survival of the species so exploited;
- the loop-holes for export within the proposed regulations for ‘domestic trade’ in rhinoceros horn are not detrimental to the survival of the species. Why even support the notion of a loop-hole for international export (for “personal use”) within a supposedly ‘domestic’ regulation anyway, if the idea is not to exploit and abuse the profiteering opportunities duplicitous international routes offer for profiteering/income? There is a minimal ‘domestic’ market for rhino horn within South Africa, the only real means to generate income from rhino horn is international. So the suspicion is that there is no true altruistic intent to ‘save the species’ by diverting funds so generated from rhino horn sales to rhino security that can counter a demand that has been stimulated beyond any means of control – the demise of the rhino species is inevitable if demand is over-stimulated and criminal syndicates seek to profit regardless (by increasing their rhino poaching activities/volumes in response);
- there is evidence to support the DEA’s proposed leopard hunting quota – A March 2017 Royal Society Open Science (RSOS) report – “Population dynamics and threats to an apex predator outside protected areas: implications for carnivore management;” calls into question:
“the sustainability of additive off take through legal mechanisms of leopard removals such as trophy hunting and damage-causing animal destruction permits.” How does the DEA counter this ‘call’ by the RSOS?
The reasoning for wildlife utilisation (commoditisation) do not appear to be based on reality, but an unsustainable excuse derived from adopting misplaced assumptions and simplistic economic thinking biased towards profiteering (where the potential detriment to the survival of the subject species is given superficial lip-service).