Talking Rhinos to Death?
This morning here in Geneva, a Rhino Working Group of CITES countries led by the UK reported back to Standing Committee with their findings. Having been set up against the back drop of a rapid escalation in poaching in recent years, the group was tasked with finding ways in which CITES could help improve existing trade controls and reduce the impact of illegal trade on rhinos. After months of discussion and deliberation they came back saying they needed more time. Why? To identify urgent short-term measures!
They did, however, point out that Vietnam, a country heavily implicated in the illegal trade in recent years, had not provided the information requested and that they should be asked again.
Although rhino poaching is now hitting East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania hard, most rhino live – and die – in South Africa. Not surprisingly, as South Africa took the floor, many were keen to hear what they had been doing about the killing. This amounted to some changes to regulations concerning trophy hunting, improved co-ordination between federal and state authorities and progress made towards the signing of bilateral agreements with Vietnam and China. South Africa also reported that the rate of poaching was slowing and that the 61 applications received so far this year from trophy hunters wishing to shoot rhino for sport were dramatically down from the 158 applications received in the same period in 2011. No one mentioned the prospect of legalising trade in rhino horn as some in South Africa are calling for.
Surely I wasn’t the only one to be more than a little underwhelmed by this response. After all nearly 300 rhino have been poached this year so far – and at this rate the year-end figure will significantly surpass 2011′s deadly toll.
Kenya, a country resolutely fighting both elephant and rhino poaching hit the nail on the head – the measures set out by South Africa were all very well but what about the efforts in countries such as China and Vietnam to reduce demand? The silence that followed spoke volumes.
Bottom line? Unless massively increased efforts are made to reduce demand and educate consumers to avoid rhino horn then it’s likely that when the Working Group submits its updated findings and recommendations in March 2013, at the next Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the headline will read: Hundreds More Rhino Poached – No End In Sight.