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My cattle, your rhinos: South Africa’s poverty-and-wildlife conundrum

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Food for thought No Comments
UN Environment Programme | April 10, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to think deeply about human beings’ relationship with the natural world on which we all depend for our survival.

Many commentators, including Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), say humans are putting too many pressures on the natural world. She has warned that failing to take care of the planet means not taking care of ourselves.

Sound and sustainable wildlife management is, therefore, likely to receive greater attention in the post-COVID-19 world. Here’s one example of an ongoing project in South Africa.

Kruger National Park, a flagship national park, is almost the same size as Belgium. It’s a haven for wildlife and a cornerstone of South Africa’s tourism economy but the park and the communities around its borders represent the global front line in the battle against rhino poaching: there are increasingly militarized clashes between park rangers and poachers.

 

Original image as posted by UN Environment Programme: A herder with his cattle in Utah village in the Eastern Cape. Cattle hold great cultural significance and can represent a family’s entire savings. Photo by Trond Larsen/Conservation International, 2017

One of the reasons for this is that rhino horn is worth more than its weight in gold, and for many impoverished people in rural South Africa and beyond, that’s an irresistible draw.

One Global Environment Facility-backed project, part of the Conservation Agreements Private Partnership Portfolio, sought to reboot the relationship between park administrators and local people. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and  Conservation International with partners Meat Naturally, Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Programme, South African National Parks, and the University of Pretoria, the project, The GEF Earth Fund: Conservation Agreement Private Partnership Platform, aimed to move towards a new model for combating poaching—one that works with the local community instead of against them, by  valuing cattle as well as rhino.

Before the project, marginalized cattle farming communities living around the park were understandably ambivalent about wildlife protection. They were focused on their cattle which is their livelihood, their job, their food source and their bank account. In fact, because wildlife and livestock coexist here, foot- and-mouth disease prevented any real cattle economy from taking hold. Communities could not easily sell livestock in the Kruger landscape, so wildlife itself was perceived as a threat to local livelihoods.

“The idea was that if we can help marginalized cattle farmers improve grazing conditions and earn decent incomes, they would become more active conservation partners and potentially be less likely to turn a blind eye to, facilitate or participate in rhino poaching,” says Zachary Wells of Conservation International.

“To help biodiversity, ecosystems and communities thrive we need to tackle wildlife crime and at the same time open up new opportunities for local communities,” he adds.

Michael Grover, Landscape Director at Conservation South Africa, recalls at the beginning of the programme a community elder being asked for assistance in countering the growing poaching threat. The elder said, “You don’t value what we have. Why should we value what you have?” His solution: “You look after our cattle and we’ll look after your rhinos.”

The resulting conservation agreements model has now been formally recognized by the Government of South Africa as a viable stewardship model for communal land management.

The Degraded Mnisi Rangelands

Among the project’s beneficiaries are the livestock-dependent Mnisi community adjacent to Kruger National Park.

Under the project, communities practice environmentally friendly ways of grazing their livestock and, in exchange, receive negotiated benefits such as education around market access, fodder, livestock branding and capacity-building.

The project negotiates with livestock owners to restore the ecosystem services of 9,000 hectares of degraded Mnisi rangelands (equivalent to around 13,000 football pitches).

Healthy Cattle, Healthy Grasslands

“Planned grazing helps restore vegetation cover, ensures adequate forage throughout the grazing season, increases infiltration and decreases erosion,” says UNEP biodiversity expert Ersin Esen.

 

“This results in improved quality and quantity of grazing for livestock—as well as improved ecosystem health for communal rangelands and the rivers that flow through them into Kruger National Park.”

In areas committed to planned grazing through the conservation agreements, the veld condition scores were substantially higher than areas not committed to planned grazing.

“The formation of grazing associations and regular farmer meetings are helping farmers become empowered stewards who make good decisions about their land,” says Rosanne Stanway, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at Conservation South Africa.

Rangeland Restoration Model to be Replicated in Other Countries

Conservation South Africa has made a long-term commitment to continue working with communities. The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere programme, in partnership with Conservation South Africa, have received five years of funding from the Flanders government in Belgium to expand conservation agreements to neighbouring villages, as a direct result of the successes they have seen through investment in Mnisi.

On a broader scale, Meat Naturally, Conservation South Africa and Herding 4 Health – Peace Parks Foundation have entered into a partnership to replicate this rangeland restoration model across four transboundary national parks spanning Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. An anticipated 200,000 additional hectares will come under conservation agreements, with support from multiple donors.

“Finding solutions that promote restoration and conservation of healthy ecosystems whilst addressing societal inequities here in South Africa can be a model not only for the continent, but for the world,” says Sarah Frazee, climate project director for Herding 4 Health.

“As we continue to relentlessly encroach on nature and degrade ecosystems, we endanger human health,” says UNEP’s Inger Andersen. “In fact, 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, i.e. viruses originating from the transfer from animals, whether domesticated or wild, to humans.”

Nature is in crisis, threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution. Failure to act is failing humanity. Addressing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and protecting ourselves against future global threats requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to “building back better”, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies. Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future.

Material for this story was drawn from a four-part story series by Conservation International which was supported by the Global Environment Facility Earth Fund, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as implementing agency, as part of the Conservation Agreements Private Partnership Platform.

Freixenet Copestick to support Care For Wild rhino charity with new wine brand

By Conservation, Food for thought, Fundraising, News No Comments
The Grocer | April 8, 2020

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I Heart Wines owner Freixenet Copestick has teamed up with South African rhino protection charity Care For Wild to launch a new standalone wine brand.

The brand, called Care For Wild, features the charity’s logo on its bottles, and will see 20% of its entire margin donated to Care For Wild, which works to combat rhino poaching in South Africa and looks after orphaned rhinos whose parents have been killed by poachers.

It will debut with a trio of South African wines – red, white and rosé (rsp: £7/70cl), which will be followed by a more premium duo (rsp: £12/70cl). The launch would “put some much-needed life into the South African wine category, which is in 6.4% decline in the UK”, said Freixenet Copestick [IRI 52 w/e 23 February 2020].

Original image as posted by The Grocer: Freixenet Copestick Roughly 20% of all margin from the brand will go to the charity


Former England cricketer and longstanding supporter of the charity Darren Gough will serve as a brand ambassador for the wines in the UK.

Freixenet Copestick MD Robin Copestick said he had been “immediately captivated” by the charity’s story after meeting Gough at a charity fundraiser in December 2019.

The winemaker was “working on a number of fundraising ideas that will not only encourage further donations but that will also generate awareness for the charity and the wines themselves”.

‘Animals live for man’: China’s appetite for wildlife likely to survive virus

By Conservation, Education, Food for thought, Illegal trade, Law & legislation, News One Comment
Reuters | February 16, 2020

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HONG KONG/BEIJING: For the past two weeks China’s police have been raiding houses, restaurants and makeshift markets across the country, arresting nearly 700 people for breaking the temporary ban on catching, selling or eating wild animals.

The scale of the crackdown, which has netted almost 40,000 animals including squirrels, weasels and boars, suggests that China’s taste for eating wildlife and using animal parts for medicinal purposes is not likely to disappear overnight, despite potential links to the new coronavirus.

Traders legally selling donkey, dog, deer, crocodile and other meat told Reuters they plan to get back to business as soon as the markets reopen.

Photo from South China Morning Post


“I’d like to sell once the ban is lifted,” said Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region. “People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face.”

Gong said he was storing crocodile and deer meat in large freezers but would have to kill all the quails he had been breeding as supermarkets were no longer buying his eggs and they cannot be eaten after freezing.

Scientists suspect, but have not proven, that the new coronavirus passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating mammal whose scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine.

Some of the earliest infections were found in people who had exposure to Wuhan’s seafood market, where bats, snakes, civets and other wildlife were sold. China temporarily shut down all such markets in January, warning that eating wild animals posed a threat to public health and safety.

That may not be enough to change tastes or attitudes that are deeply rooted in the country’s culture and history.

“In many people’s eyes, animals are living for man, not sharing the earth with man,” said Wang Song, a retired researcher of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Online Debate

The outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,600 people in China, revived a debate in the country about the use of wildlife for food and medicine. It previously came to prominence in 2003 during the spread of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which scientists believe was passed to humans from bats, via civets.

Many academics, environmentalists and residents in China have joined international conservation groups in calling for a permanent ban on trade in wildlife and closure of the markets where wild animals are sold.

Online debate within China, likely swayed by younger people, has heavily favored a permanent ban.

“One bad habit is that we dare to eat anything,” said one commenter called Sun on a news discussion forum on Chinese website Sina. “We must stop eating wildlife and those who do should be sentenced to jail.”

Nevertheless, a minority of Chinese still like to eat wild animals in the belief it is healthy, providing the demand that sustains wildlife markets like that in Wuhan and a thriving online sales business, much of which is illegal.

One online commenter calling themselves Onlooker Pharaoh said on Chinese news platform Hupu that the risk was worth it: “Giving up wildlife to eat as food is like giving up eating because you might choke.”

Government Support

The breeding and trading of wild animals in China is supported by the government and is a source of profit for many people.

After the SARS outbreak, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) strengthened oversight of the wildlife business, licensing the legal farming and sale of 54 wild animals including civets, turtles and crocodiles, and approved breeding of endangered species including bears, tigers and pangolins for environmental or conservation purposes.

These officially sanctioned wildlife farming operations produce about $20 billion in annual revenue, according to a 2016 government-backed report.

“The state forestry bureau has long been the main force supporting wildlife use,” said Peter Li, a China Policy Specialist for the Humane Society International. “It insists on China’s right to use wildlife resources for development purposes.”

Much of the farming and sale of wildlife takes place in rural or poorer regions under the blessing of local authorities who see trading as a boost for the local economy. State-backed television programs regularly show people farming animals, including rats, for commercial sale and their own consumption.

However, activists pushing for a ban describe the licensed farms as a cover for illegal wildlife trafficking, where animals are specifically bred to be consumed as food or medicine rather than released into the wild.

“They just use this premise to do illegal trading,” Zhou Jinfeng, head of China’s Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, told Reuters. “There are no real pangolin farms in China, they just use the permits to do illegal things.”

The NFGA did not respond to requests for comment.

Blurred Lines

Animal products, from bear bile to pangolin scales, are still used in some traditional Chinese medicine, an industry China wants to expand as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

But the distinction between legal and illegal is blurred. The United Nations estimates the global illegal wildlife trade is worth about $23 billion a year. China is by far the largest market, environmental groups say.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an independent organization based in London which campaigns against what it sees as environmental abuses, said in a report this week the coronavirus outbreak has in fact boosted some illegal wildlife trafficking as traders in China and Laos are selling rhinoceros horn medicines as a treatment to reduce fever.

China’s top legislature will toughen laws on wildlife trafficking this year, the official Xinhua news agency reported this week.

“We are in a sun-setting business,” said Xiang Chengchuan, a wholesale wildlife store owner in the landlocked eastern Anhui province. “Few people eat dogs now, but it was popular 20 years ago.”

Xiang, who sells gift boxes of deer antlers and dog, donkey and peacock meat to wealthy bank clients and others, said he had frozen his meat as he waits to see if the ban will continue.

“I will resume selling once the policy allows us, but now I have no idea how long it (the ban) will last.”

 

Opinion: A species under siege

By Food for thought No Comments
Martin Zhuwakinyu, Creamer Media Engineering News | October 7, 2019

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In this opinion piece, Engineering News Senior Deputy Editor Martin Zhuwakinyu writes about rhino poaching.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that Africa’s rhinos have been under siege for over a decade. They are targeted by unscrupulous elements who sell their horns to buyers in the Far East.

Statistics show that the poaching crisis began in 2008 when the number of beasts killed in Africa jumped to 262 from the previous year’s 62. Casualty figures decreased to 201 in 2009, but the upward trend resumed in 2010, when 426 animals were killed, followed by 532 in 2011, 751 in 2012, 1 123 in 2013, 1 324 in 2014 and 1 349 in 2015. Although there has been a decline in the past few years – to 892 in 2018 – the latest casualty figures equate to more than two rhinos killed each day.

Being home to an estimated 80% of Africa’s rhino herd, South Africa bears the brunt of the poaching crisis. Between 2007 and 2014, the country experienced a 9,000% increase in the scourge, mostly in the Kruger National Park, on the north-eastern border with Mozambique.

Original photo as published by Creamer Media’s Engineering News: Photo by: Creamer Media’s Dylan Slater

But it was in Zimbabwe that the current crisis began, partially spurred on by a socioeconomic squeeze that was triggered by the country’s international isolation under Robert Mugabe, the late dictator who breathed his last early last month, nearly two years after being forced to resign by the military and the political party he helped found.

Once the easy pickings had been taken in Zimbabwe’s national parks, the poachers turned their attention to the Kruger National Park. But, from 2013, other countries came in the cross hairs as well, with Kenya the first to be hard-hit, losing 59 animals – or 5% of the national herd – in 2013. In 2015, Namibia lost 80 animals, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012, while Zimbabwe lost at least 50, about double the previous year’s tally.

Thus, it was sweet music to the ears of many when the Department of Environment, Forestry and Tourism reported that 318 rhinos were poached in South Africa’s parks during the six months to June, compared with 386 during the corresponding period in 2018. A total of 190 of the animals were killed in the Kruger National Park.

The sustained decline in rhino poaching in South Africa during the past few years is partially attributable to the implementation of the South African government’s 2014 Integrated Management Plan, which combines the use of technology, extensive anti-poaching work and management of the rhino population. The plan also includes international collaboration.

Through action taken in line with the Integrated Management Plan, from January to June 2019, South African authorities arrested 122 alleged poachers in the Kruger National Park and 253 others elsewhere in the country, while recovering 61 firearms. Dishearteningly, some of those arrested were employees of South African National Parks.

While rhino poaching has been declining, the World Wide Fund for Nature is concerned that corruption is part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and the trafficking of wildlife products.
Says the fund’s wildlife practice leader, Dr Margaret Kinnaird: “To address this, we need to consider what draws people into wildlife crime. We must find a way to empower people working and living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping to identify those who break the law.”

But the current state of affairs seems to be benefiting South Africa in an unexpected way. According to conservation expert Steven van der Merwe, local and foreign tourists alike are aware of the poaching crisis in the country. He says the possibility of a “last chance to see” one of Africa’s most iconic species may have motivated some to book their South African safari sooner.

He told a local publication: “The fact that both local and foreign tourists are well aware of the problem is a battle that has been won. Public awareness is crucial in addressing the problem, and the fact that the plight of the rhino has become such a public issue has also done a world of good.”

But a better outcome would be a total eradication of poaching, not only in South Africa but also across the African continent.