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Law & legislation

Extension granted for submissions on work relevant to the panel reviewing lion, rhino, elephant and leopard management practices (South Africa)

By Conservation, Law & legislation No Comments
South Coast Herald | May 20, 2020

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An extension of two weeks has been granted to the public to make submissions on the work of the high-level panel established to review policies, legislation and related practices on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.

The panel was appointed by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy in October 2019 to investigate a number of these complex conservation and sustainable use issues. The terms of reference of the panel include issues of captive breeding and the emerging issue of lion bone trade, elephant management and culling debate, the management of the stockpiles including ivory, as well as trade in rhinoceros horn.

In applying their minds to the challenging and contentious issues that are highlighted in the terms of reference for the panel, an important component of the work is to solicit and receive submissions from interested and affected parties. As such, the panel advertised a two month window of opportunity for such submissions.

Given the current circumstances and challenges facing the country, the panel is extending the period for submissions for an additional two weeks to provide as much opportunity for inputs, comments, and suggestions from the community at large.

The panel is guided primarily by the Constitutional Mandate in the Bill of Rights, especially in terms of Section 24 which provides for environmental rights, but also considering all elements of the Bill of Rights, including the foundational values of dignity, achieving equality and advancement of human rights and freedoms, the necessity for transformation and restitution.

The panel recognises, and is conscious that much attention has already been paid to aspects of the terms of reference, to different degrees and with different outcomes, and that there exists an evidence base in both science and practice in many of the areas of concern. The panel will draw on these resources, other relevant reports and this will inform the engagement with the public.

In addition, the panel’s approach is to facilitate an engagement that is premised on the terms of reference but, within reason, allow for innovative and informed recommendations that will lead to balanced, inclusive report to the minister.

To this end the panel is aware that there may be imperatives such as transformation, restoration, and rewilding as processes for our rural landscapes, but also a need to ensure a vibrant and inclusive wildlife economy. Thriving populations of elephant, lion, rhino, and leopard may serve as symbols and flagships for this.

Given this context, the panel would appreciate both specific and broad submissions, which will enable diverse voices to be heard and internalized by the panel during the process. Furthermore, the panel encourages submissions for all interested and affected parties, in order to enrich the deliberations in such a manner as to allow consideration from multiple perspectives, such that we ensure broad relevance and applicability of the recommendations of the panel, and that they are informed by the rights, values, aspirations, and ambitions of the people.

The notice calling for submissions was published on March 27 2020 by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, in Government Gazette 47173 (Notice No. 221) in terms of the National  Environmental Management Act, 1998.

All submissions must be made by June 15 2020 to:

Chairperson: Advisory Committee (High-Level Panel)
C/O Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries
Attention:  Pamela Singh/Ms Ofentse Mashiyane
Private Bag X447
Pretoria
0001

Reception
Environment House
473 Steve Biko Road
Arcadia
Pretoria
0083

By email: submission2HLP@environment.gov.za

Any enquiries in connection with the notice can be directed to:
Ofentse Mashiyane
Tel: 012 399 8769
E-mail: omashiyane@environment.gov.za

Judges slate Mpumalanga regional court president over court saga, inappropriate email (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Law & legislation No Comments
Buks Viljoen, News24 | April 22, 2020

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“[I] chose to ignore the directives” and “you will hear from me”.

These were the words written by Naomi Engelbrecht, the regional court president of Mpumalanga, in an email she sent to Judge President Francis Legodi of the Mpumalanga High Court after she was slated by a full Bench in a verdict delivered in Mbombela on Wednesday.

The judges said the use of such language by Engelbrecht was inappropriate, disrespectful, and unnecessary belligerent towards Legodi.

She also irked the ministers of justice and environment, forestry and fisheries as well as the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions and environmentalists when she decided to close the Skukuza Regional Court.

Vital Role

Over the years, the court has played a vital role in the fight against rhino poaching and bringing poachers to justice.

However, after two years of threatening to close it, Engelbrecht did just that with immediate effect in August last year.

She was of the view, among others, the court building had not been proclaimed a legitimate regional court.

Engelbrecht instructed all rhino-related cases to be moved to the court in Mhala, Bushbuck Ridge, which is about 100km from Skukuza.

Despite a public outcry against her decision, she refused to reverse it.

Reverse

After the crisis came to his attention, Legodi tried to convince Engelbrecht to reverse her decision as he believed she did not have the authority to make the call. She once again refuse.

Legodi, as her senior in the justice system, then gave her official instructions (directives) to move the court back to Skukuza.

It was during this period that Engelbrecht told Legodi she “chose to ignore the directives”. She also claimed he was not authorised to prescribe to her, as regional court president, what to do.

In December, when an urgent application was brought by the director of public prosecutions in the court in Mhala to have cases moved back to Skukuza, Engelbrecht decided to preside over the application herself.

She rejected it and, among others, said the directives given to her by Legodi to move the court and cases back to Skukuza was null and void, adding she would not implement them.

Conflict

Legodi then called for a motion to review the case and for the lingering conflict between him and Engelbrecht to be heard by a full Bench.

In February this year, the motion was brought in front of Judge Bernard Ngoepe, the retired judge president of the North Gauteng High Court, retired Judge Cynthia Pretorius and acting Judge Moira Mankge.

All parties involved in the motion, except for two, supported it.

Advocate Kgama Shai said in court he was appearing on behalf of rhino poachers as well as Engelbrecht.

In a unanimous verdict on Wednesday, the judges ruled the court in Skukuza was legitimate, the instruction given to Engelbrecht by Legodi was valid and binding, and her decision to reject the State’s application to have cases moved back to Skukuza was invalid and thus overturned.

The judges also ordered the verdict should be forwarded to the magistrate’s commission for further action.

Neither the commission nor Engelbrecht responded to questions sent to them.

Amid coronavirus pandemic, China bans domestic trade of wild animals, but offers tax breaks for exports

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The Wall Street Journal | April 13, 2020

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Chinese authorities have shut down domestic wild animal traders on fears their goods sparked the coronavirus pandemic. Now officials are offering tax incentives to the multibillion-dollar animal-products industry to ship some of the creatures overseas, according to Chinese government documents.

China’s National People’s Congress on Feb. 24 imposed a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals in the country. “The prominent problem of recklessly eating wild animals and its potential risk to public health have aroused wide public concern,” a spokesman said at the time, according to state media.

Less than a month later, China’s Ministry of Finance and tax authority said on March 17 they would raise value-added tax rebates on nearly 1,500 Chinese products, including offering a 9% rebate on the export of animal products such as edible snakes and turtles, primate meat, beaver and civet musk, and rhino horns, a Chinese government document shows.

 

Original video postwed by The Wall Street Journal: On Dec. 1, 2019, a patient in Wuhan, China, started showing symptoms of what doctors determined was a new coronavirus. Since then, the virus has spread across the world. Here’s how the virus grew to a global pandemic. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images


China’s economy is struggling amid a sharp global downturn and a prolonged trade war with the U.S. The Chinese government’s new tax incentives are tied to a broad array of exports, designed to support Chinese industries from steel and construction to agricultural products, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, which produces nonpartisan analysis for members of Congress.

But the move to encourage wild animal sales abroad, while banned at home, “could spread the risk to global markets,” the report said.

China is also a major exporter of medicines and medical equipment, but the new tax incentives made no mention of goods in short supply during the global pandemic, including personal protective equipment for medical workers and first responders.  “Absent in China’s policy push are incentives to encourage the sale of pharmaceuticals, PPE, and other medical products overseas,” the report said.

China’s Finance Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Many countries, including China and the U.S., have put export restrictions on medical-equipment exports due to global shortages.

China’s exports of wild animals and animal parts are minuscule compared with the vast volumes of goods China ships abroad. China’s live reptile exports—which are almost entirely edible reptiles—go primarily to Vietnam, with more than $1 million worth of sales in total during January and February of this year, according to China customs statistics tabulated by Trade Data Monitor.

South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia were the next-largest importers of China’s reptiles, though at much smaller volumes, with South Korea importing more than $122,000 in reptiles and the other countries less than $100,000 during the first two months of 2020, the data shows.

And yet, even small amounts of exports could pose a risk, should wild animals prove to be the source of pandemics, as some Chinese reports suggest. The U.S. was the biggest importer of China’s animal products used in pharmaceuticals, such as civet and beaver, buying around $865,000 over January and February 2020, according to the data.

Taiwan was the second-largest importer of the products, buying around $126,000 worth over the same period; South Korea and Hong Kong followed, each buying around $70,000 worth, the data shows.

Data on rhino horn trade, which varies in legality around the world, is sparse. Vietnam, and China itself, are believed to be the world’s biggest consumer markets for rhino horn, according to a 2013 report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty administered through the United Nations, and a 2017 report by WildAid, an environmental organization based in San Francisco.

The Center for Advanced Defense Studies’ Wildlife Seizure Database shows that after China, Vietnam is the most frequent destination for rhino horn seizures. Vietnam is the destination in 25% of recorded seizures with destination information, said C4ADS, which is based in Washington, D.C.

The exotic animal trade fuels the multibillion-dollar traditional Chinese medicine industry, in which products made from rhino horns and tiger bones are used to treat ailments. Many scientific studies have found no medicinal properties in either.

Beijing has promoted the use of traditional Chinese medicine in treating coronavirus patients, with China’s national health commission last month recommending a remedy containing bear bile, goat horn and other ingredients for critically ill patients.

There is also a long tradition in China of eating wildlife, especially in the southern regions of Guangdong and Guangxi, a practice that has long been the target of criticism by animal-rights activists.

More than 1.7 million people world-wide have so far been infected by the virus, which causes a disease called Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As of Saturday, countries have reported more than 107,000 deaths from the virus, which first emerged in Wuhan, China.

Although health authorities have yet to identify the precise cause of the outbreak, a study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, based on patient samples, found a 96% genetic match with a bat coronavirus. Another Chinese study suggested snakes sold in a Wuhan market were the source.

Medical researchers have said the 2002 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, originated in bats and spread to humans via palm civets—cat-sized mammals that look like weasels—sold in China’s open-air food markets.

China banned all wildlife trade in 2003, when Hong Kong researchers first identified civets as a potential source of SARS, which killed around 800 people. But it lifted the ban later that year on 54 species—including civets—that it said could be bred in licensed farms, subject to sanitation checks.

For years, the U.S. and other World Trade Organization members have also raised concerns about China’s VAT rebate policies, saying such practices “have caused tremendous disruption, uncertainty and unfairness in the global markets,” especially in areas where China is a leading exporter, such as steel and aluminum, according to a report issued to Congress by the United States Trade Representative last month.

Josh Zumbrun contributed to this article.

Washington dc just banned the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Law & legislation No Comments
Live Kindly | April 9, 2020

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The Washington DC Council just banned the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. By making ivory and rhino horn sales illegal, the DC Council is reducing demand for wildlife trafficking and the illegal ivory trade.

The Elephant Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Trafficking Prohibition Act is significant to “the rapidly dwindling elephant and rhinoceros populations,” DC Voters For Animals (DCVFA) said in a press release. “Wildlife poaching has put these animals in jeopardy. Yet, ivory and rhino horn are still legal in DC.”

 

Original image as posted by Live Kindly

The federal government prohibits importing goods from endangered animals, however, these policies do not regulate commerce within a state. Many other cities and states across the U.S. independently banned ivory and rhino horn sales. But this also contributed to DC’s booming ivory market. The new ivory ban will help mitigate demand.

“Most people expect that ivory and rhino horn sales have already been done away with,” said Max Broad, founder of DCFVA. “This law puts that expectation into place, clamping down the goods that are driving the demise of the precious species.”

Councilmember Mary Cheh, the new bill’s lead champion, first proposed a sales ban in 2015. In 2019, The Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation exposing the scale of ivory sales in DC. ElephantsDC, DC Environment Network, A Vegan Life, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Sierra Club DC also support the bill.

The bill now goes on to Mayor Muriel Bowser to be signed into law.

In Africa and Asia, illegal poaching has pushed elephants and rhinos to near extinction. According to The Humane Society of the United States, elephant populations have dropped by nearly 150,000 since 2007. The U.S. is one of the largest markets for illegal ivory.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 1,000 shipments of ivory—more than 12,000 items—came through Chicago’s ports between 2010 and 2015. Along with local anti-poaching groups, bans can help reduce demand for ivory and rhino horn.

In 2018, Illinois became the ninth state to ban the trade and sale of ivory and rhino horn in the U.S. Also in 2018, the UK implemented one of the world’s most restrictive ivory bans—one that may also protect hippos, walruses, and narwhals. In late 2019, Japan banned the sale of ivory, while neighboring China is also attempting to close its domestic ivory market.

Living with wild animals (Part Two): Eat them like there’s no tomorrow

By Illegal trade, Law & legislation, News No Comments
The Daily Maverick | April 8, 2020

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South Africa has embarked on a mission to commercialise and commoditise wild animals. See: Living with Wild Animals part one. It has legalised the sale of rhino horn, failed to close down deeply discredited lion breeding facilities despite a Parliamentary resolution to do so, sanctioned the sale to Asia of lion bones for the production of fake tiger wine, allowed unrestricted fishing of dwindling shark populations and made a strong pitch at the recent CITES conference to open trade of elephant and elephant parts.

Underpinning this are some startling new regulations.

Late last year, 32 wild animals, including lions, giraffes, white and black rhinos, lions and cheetahs, were listed under the Animal Improvement Act, effectively rendering them farm animals subject to manipulation and consumption. They were listed in order “to provide for the breeding, identification and utilisation of genetically superior animals in order to improve the [food] production and performance of animals in the interest of the Republic”.

 

Original image as posted by: Late last year, 32 wild animals, including lions, giraffes, white and black rhinos, lions and cheetahs, were listed under the Animal Improvement Act, effectively rendering them farm animals subject to manipulation and consumption.

Then in February, 98 more wild animals were proposed to be listed under the Meat Safety Act, including rhinos, hippos, elephants and crocodiles. According to the act, they may be “slaughtered for food for human and animal consumption”.

Given that the Covid-19 outbreak came from the consumption of wild animals, the implications of these moves are deeply worrying, particularly following the news that a tiger in the NY Bronx zoo caught Covid-19 from its keeper and the possibility that it could infect other big cats. Captive-bred lions in South Africa could become a dangerous virus reservoir.

The Animal Protection Index (API), which ranks 50 countries around the world according to their animal welfare policy and legislation, has rated South Africa as “C” overall and “E” with regard to wild animals, alongside Nigeria, China, Pakistan and Argentina. It falls behind Kenya and Tanzania, two other African countries that rely heavily on wildlife tourism. Its report can be downloaded here.

The stated mandate of the Department of Environment is “to give effect to the right of citizens to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being and to have the environment protected for present and future generations”.

Wild animals, however, are not citizens. The department’s prevailing mantra and that of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development  (DALRRD)  is “sustainable use of specimens” with no provision for their welfare. It’s also the song of the wildlife industry.

Welfare is a political hot potato between the departments of Environment and Agriculture. When I asked the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEFF) about animal welfare, they claimed this was the role of the Department of Agriculture. That department referred me to the NSPCA, a small, underfunded non-government organisation with few inspectors. The NSPCA is tasked with implementing the Animal Protection Act on behalf of government, but receives no state funding. Even Lotto funds to the organisation dried up two years ago.

In the parliamentary debate on wildlife regulations, questions about welfare were referred to the draft National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA). This provides for “the use of indigenous biological resources in a manner that is ecologically sustainable, including taking into account the well-being of any faunal biological resource”. According to the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill, the use of “faunal biological resources” must be “ecologically sustainable and take into account their well-being”.

Apart from the shocking description of a living creature in this way, there is no legal definition of what “well-being” might mean, rendering it meaningless as a protection. It is clear, according to many environmental organisations, that terms like faunal biological resources do not reflect the intrinsic value or sentience of wild animals and are in contradiction with their welfare and protection.

The environment minister recently appointed a high-level panel to look into wildlife issues regarding the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros, but departments are forging ahead before the panel has made any recommendations, effectively side-stepping it. The panel was appointed without public consultation. It’s predominantly composed of people involved in the use and exploitation of wildlife, including hunting, breeding, testing and slaughter.

There has been no requirement for panel members to publicly disclose their personal or organisational interests. Its terms of reference have not been made public and it’s not at all clear what the panel is meant to achieve.

The NGO EMS Foundation drafted a letter to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy, challenging the panel’s appointment, and another letter requesting that the TOPS regulations be withheld until there is further public consultation. Such regulations do not require parliamentary oversight but are forwarded to the National Council of Provinces, a body ill-equipped to give oversight on these issues. It’s clear that job creation at any cost and not animal welfare is at the root of government moves.

Recently, Creecy made a public statement on Twitter (later deleted) that: “It is not the animals that we need to worry about, it’s the people. After all, animals have been looking after themselves for hundreds of thousands of years. If we want to address these issues we need to focus our energy on the people.”

Within the overarching “development” framework and under the guise of poverty alleviation, South Africa is spearheading an aggressive “consumptive use” agenda of “if it pays it stays”. We are sacrificing wildness on the altar of use.

This is not new. Historically, the government has always taken a pro-consumptive use stance in relation to wild animals. Under apartheid this was so a few people, mainly white, could benefit and have private hunting grounds, but today this use is part of the language of development. It includes vague phrases like “green economy, wildlife economy, wildlife industry value chain” and “biodiversity economy”.

The legislative dyke against cruelty should be the Animal Protection Act (APA), but it’s out of date and legally hock-tied, being administered by the Department of Agriculture which appears to be operating counter to the act’s directives. Agriculture is therefore unlikely to initiate a case against itself, so the APA is therefore effectively neutralised and few convictions for cruelty have been secured using its constraints.

One of the major failings of the APA is that animals are viewed as objects and property and not as sentient beings with their own rights and needs. The act also limits most instances of cruelty offences with a requirement that the suffering is unnecessary. Without a clear definition of suffering, the protections against commercial uses of animals are rendered so narrow as to be functionally meaningless. Upgraded and given more teeth, it could protect the welfare of wild animals. However, it provides protection to animals only in the limited circumstances in which the criminal burden of proof can be established. It’s entirely “reactive” to specific incidences of harm and offers no prescription for animal welfare, kindness or care.

The direction in which South Africa’s environmental and agricultural departments are moving unfortunately reflects the UN’s questionable dictum of sustainable use but is out of step with our own higher courts and even the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill (NEMLA). The bill, now under discussion and following the Constitution, uses the term “ecological sustainability”, requiring the integrity of whole systems be included in protection and thereby includes individual animals.

In 2016 the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment that elevated the welfare and protection of non-human animals to a constitutional concern. A minority view in that case held that animals are sentient beings capable of suffering and experiencing pain and are worthy of protection.

A later judgment in the North Gauteng High Court considered canned lion hunting to be “abhorrent and repulsive”. It found that even if captive lions are ultimately bred for trophy hunting and for commercial purposes, “their suffering, the conditions under which they are kept… remain a matter of public concern and are inextricably linked to how we instil respect for animals and the environment of which lions in captivity are an integral part of”.

In a Supreme Court case, the bench concluded that the rationale behind protecting animal welfare had shifted from merely safeguarding the moral status of humans to placing intrinsic value on animals as individuals.

This chimes with provisions in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) which requires sustainable development to avoid the disturbance of ecosystems and loss of biological diversity. It insists on a risk-averse and cautious approach. How turning 130 wild creatures into farm animals relates to this is hard to imagine.

Why is any of this important? The world is presently witnessing an unprecedented, human-induced collapse of biodiversity and is in the middle of a global pandemic caused by the consumption of wild species often kept in cruel, unsanitary conditions. Laws insisting on animal welfare would prevent this.

An animal welfare approach insists that we regard with compassion individual creatures with which we interact. They each have intrinsic value, which limits the uses that can be made of them. The basic moral premise underlying wild animal welfare is that people ought to:

Understand how human actions affect the welfare of wild animals;

Consider wild animal welfare in making decisions about human actions; and

Take reasonable and practicable measures to avoid and minimise harm that human actions will cause to wild animals.

This would make cruelty more difficult, our relationship with animals less brutal, mass slaughter more socially unpalatable and could protect us from the next viral contagion that comes from eating wild animals. Much of the wisdom of the past, says environmental philosopher Thomas Berry, has become inadequate in the present:

“We are presently concerned with ethical judgements on an entirely different order of magnitude. The human community has never previously been forced to ethical judgements on this scale because we never before had the capacity for deleterious action with such consequences.”

Covid-19 has forced the world to reconsider its relationship with wild animals, but South African legislation is increasingly pointing in the wrong direction. It urgently needs a rethink.

 

The new coronavirus emerged from the global wildlife trade – and may be devastating enough to end it

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The Conversation| March 30, 2020

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COVID-19 is one of countless emerging infectious diseases that are zoonotic, meaning they originate in animals. About 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, accounting for billions of illnesses and millions of deaths annually across the globe.

When these diseases spill over to humans, the cause frequently is human behaviors, including habitat destruction and the multibillion-dollar international wildlife trade – the latter being the suspected source of the novel coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments to impose severe restrictions, such as social distancing, that will have massive economic costs. But there has been less discussion about identifying and changing behaviors that contribute to the emergence of zoonotic diseases. As a conservation biologist, I believe this outbreak demonstrates the urgent need to end the global wildlife trade.

Original image posted by The Conversation


Markets for Disease

As many Americans now know, the COVID-19 coronavirus is one of a family of coronaviruses commonly found in bats. It is suspected to have passed through a mammal, perhaps pangolins – the most-trafficked animal on the planet – before jumping to humans.

The virus’s spillover to humans is believed to have occurred in a so-called wet market in China. At these markets, live, wild-caught animals, farm-raised wild species and livestock frequently intermingle in conditions that are unsanitary and highly stressful for the animals. These circumstances are ripe for infection and spillover.

The current outbreak is just the latest example of viruses jumping from animals to humans. HIV is perhaps the most infamous example: It originated from chimps in central Africa and still kills hundreds of thousands of people annually. It likely jumped to humans through consumption of bushmeat, or meat from wildlife, which is also the likely origin of several Ebola oubreaks. PREDICT, a U.S.-funded nonprofit, suggests there are thousands of viral species circulating in birds and mammals that pose a direct risk to humans.

Decimating Wildlife and Humans

Trade in wildlife has decimated populations and species for millennia and is one of the five key drivers of wildlife declines. People hunt and deal in animals and animal parts for food, medicine and other uses. This commerce has an estimated value of US$18 billion annually just in China, which is believed to be the largest market globally for such products.

My own work focuses on African and Asian elephants, which are severely threatened by the wildlife trade. Demand for elephant ivory has caused the deaths of more than 100,000 elephants in the last 15 years.

Conservationists have been working for years to end the wildlife trade or enforce strict regulations to ensure that it is conducted in ways that do not threaten species’ survival. Initially, the focus was on stemming the decline of threatened species. But today it is evident that this trade also harms humans.

For example, conservation organizations estimate that more than 100 rangers are killed protecting wildlife every year, often by poachers and armed militias targeting high-value species such as rhinos and elephants. Violence associated with the wildlife trade affects local communities, which typically are poor and rural.

The wildlife trade’s disease implications have received less popular attention over the past decade. This may be because bushmeat trade and consumption targets less-charismatic species, provides a key protein source in some communities and is a driver of economic activity in some remote rural areas.

Will China Follow Through?

In China, wild animal sales and consumption are deeply embedded culturally and represent an influential economic sector. Chinese authorities see them as a key revenue generator for impoverished rural communities, and have promoted national policies that encourage the trade despite its risks.

In 2002-2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS – a disease caused by a zoonotic coronavirus transmitted through live wildlife markets – emerged in China and spread to 26 countries. Then as now, bats were a likely source.

In response, the Chinese government enacted strict regulations designed to end wildlife trade and its associated risks. But policies later were weakened under cultural and economic pressure.

Now repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic are driving faster, stronger reforms. China has announced a temporary ban on all wildlife trade and a permanent ban on wildlife trade for food. Vietnam’s prime minister has proposed a similar ban, and other neighboring countries are under pressure to follow this lead.

Conservation scientists are hearing rumors that wildlife markets on China’s borders – which often sell endangered species whose sale is banned within China – are collapsing as the spread of coronavirus cuts into tourism and related commerce. Similarly, there are reports that in Africa, trade in pangolin and other wildlife products is shrinking in response to coronavirus fears.

However, I worry that these changes won’t last. The Chinese government has already stated that its initial bans on medicinal wildlife products and wildlife products for non-consumption are temporary and will be relaxed in the future.

This is not sufficient. In my view, terminating the damaging and dangerous trade in wildlife will require concerted global pressure on the governments that allow it, plus internal campaigns to help end the demand that drives such trade. Without cultural change, the likely outcomes will be relaxed bans or an expansion of illegal wildlife trafficking.

Africa has borne the greatest costs from the illegal wildlife trade, which has ravaged its natural resources and fueled insecurity. A pandemic-driven global recession and cessation of tourism will drastically reduce income in wildlife-related industries. Poaching will likely increase, potentially for international trade, but also for local bushmeat markets. And falling tourism revenues will undercut local support for protecting wild animals.

On top of this, if COVID-19 spreads across the continent, Africa could also suffer major losses of human life from a pandemic that could have started in an illegally traded African pangolin.

Like other disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to implement solutions that will ultimately benefit humans and the planet. I hope one result is that nations join together to end the costly trade and consumption of wildlife.

 

Trump Taps Former Attorney Of Trophy Hunting Group For Key Wildlife Job

By Conservation, Law & legislation No Comments
The Huffington Post| March 23, 2020

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The Trump administration has hired Anna Seidman, formerly a longtime lawyer at the trophy hunting advocacy group Safari Club International, to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s international affairs program.

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson confirmed Seidman’s appointment in a statement to HuffPost on Friday, calling her “an effective, innovative leader with 20 years of legal and policy experience, including expertise in international environment and natural resource management.”

The Safari Club has close ties to the administration ― its political action committee donated $11,000 to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign ― and is one of several groups that successfully lobbied Trump’s Interior Department to roll back prohibitions on importing the trophies of lions and elephants killed for sport in certain African countries.

Seidman was Safari Club’s top litigator for two decades and most recently served as director of its legal advocacy and international affairs arm, according to the organization’s website. In that role, she led several lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, including challenging a 2015 Obama-era regulation that prohibited aggressive predator control tactics in national preserves and refuges in Alaska.

Original image of video from Huffington Post


Seidman left Safari Club last year, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Founded in 1972 and based in Washington, SCI is an advocacy group with more than 50,000 members that focuses on “protecting hunters’ rights and promoting wildlife conservation.” It has been criticized for giving out awards — with names like “Grand Slam African 29,” “African Big Five” and “Bears of the World” — to hunters who kill exotic and sometimes threatened species, including elephants, rhinos and polar bears.

SCI’s sister organization, Safari Club International Foundation, is a former client of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s. Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist for oil, gas and other special interests before joining the Trump administration.

As assistant director of FWS’s international affairs program, Seidman will lead a team responsible for implementing international conservation treaties and protecting at-risk wildlife populations and their habitats around the globe. She replaces Eric Alvarez, who has served as acting chief for two years.

SCI did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Thursday.

SCI has been a major supporter of the Trump administration and its pro-hunting agenda. And under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the department made quick work of fulfilling trophy hunting groups’ wish list, as HuffPost previously reported.

In late 2017, the Interior Department came under fire when it lifted Obama-era bans on importing elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia ― a decision first made public by Safari Club. Facing public backlash, Trump suspended the department’s decision and condemned big-game trophy hunting as a “horror show.” A day later, SCI sent out a “call to arms,” in which the group encouraged hunters to complain to Trump and Zinke and blasted “hysterical anti-hunters and news media outlets.”

FWS subsequently issued a memo in March 2018 indicating it would consider permits to import trophies taken from elephants, lions and bontebok, a species of antelope, hunted in several African countries on a “case-by-case” basis.

Later that year, Steven Chancellor, an Indiana coal executive who raised more than $1 million for Trump’s 2016 campaign and was then a member of the Department of the Interior’s advisory hunting council, obtained permits to import the heads and hides of at least three male lions from Africa.

Safari Club has been part of the revolving door at Trump’s Interior. Last July, Ben Cassidy, a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, left a high-ranking Interior post to to become Safari Club’s new director of government affairs.

His departure from the Trump administration came less than three months he got wrapped up in a formal Interior Department ethics investigation.

Vietnam considers wildlife trade ban in response to coronavirus pandemic

By Conservation, Illegal trade, Law & legislation No Comments
Mongabay| March 23, 2020

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HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM: As the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly onslaught around the world, the Vietnamese government has moved to ban the wildlife trade.

Amid scientific theories that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) began at a market in Wuhan, China, that sold live wild animals and animal parts, a group of conservation organizations sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister on Feb. 16.

The organizations, based both within Vietnam and abroad, called on Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to “take strong and sustainable actions to halt all illegal wildlife trade and consumption in Vietnam.”

“The emergence of COVID-19, with initial evidence of a link between virus host and transmitters from wildlife, pushed us to bring it to the attention of policymakers to address the risk, as well as the need to protect wild animals,” Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), a Hanoi-based conservation organization that signed the letter, said in an email. “In addition, we call on the government to enforce wildlife protection laws and eliminate the illegal trade and consumption.”

Original photo from: A pangolin in Vietnam. Pangolins are widely traded for meat and use in traditional medicine. There is some evidence that the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated in pangolins, but the matter is not yet settled scientifically. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.


Prime Minister Phuc responded on March 6 by tasking the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) with formulating directives to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife and submit them to the government for review by April 1. MARD did not respond to request for comment.

In late February, the Chinese government permanently banned the wildlife trade and the consumption of all non-aquatic wild animals, including those raised in captivity. This followed a ban on wild animal markets nationwide, a reaction to the outbreak. However, according to the New York-based NGO Wildlife Conservation Society, China’s ban only covers products intended to be eaten, not those destined for other uses, such as traditional medicine or fur.

“We would expect [Vietnam’s MARD] to look at reviewing policy around how wildlife is dealt with, both in terms of the international- and national-level trade, both illegal and legal,” said Benjamin Rawson, conservation and program development director at the NGO WWF Vietnam, a signatory to the NGO letter. “Our hope is that it includes directives around how you deal with wildlife as a food item, because that’s where a lot of the risks are in the supply chain, from hunters all the way to consumers.”

Wild animal meat, while not widely served in Vietnam’s major cities, is relatively easy to find throughout the country and remains common in more rural areas. It is difficult to assess the size of the wildlife market in Vietnam, illegal or legal. The illegal trade involves high-value species like tigers, rhinos and elephants, while most smaller species are unregulated. The supply is a mix of wild-caught animals, such as pangolins and leopard cats, and animals raised on farms, such as civets and moon bears.

Birds are particularly sought-after. According to a February 2020 report (PDF) from the international NGO TRAFFIC, in April 2016 a three-day survey in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two biggest urban areas, found 8,047 birds from 115 species for sale, 99% of which were native to the country and 90% of which had no legal protection. The report also found numerous advertisements for bear parts and products on e-commerce sites that broke national laws.

Rawson said he is encouraged by the government’s decision to act on the trade, especially amid the wide-ranging social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam. The multi-billion dollar tourism industry has been wiped out, with the major markets of China, South Korea and Europe either completely cut off or heavily restricted, while the huge manufacturing industry faces supply chain disruptions and the likelihood of reduced demand.

There have been no reported deaths from COVID-19 in Vietnam as of this writing. But there have been 75 confirmed infections, many among foreign tourists, and the number appears set to increase. “Essentially, we have this COVID-19 outbreak, we have stock markets in freefall, general fear in the populace, a public health crisis, and it’s really a result of people wanting to eat wildlife,” Rawson said. “So if we really want to address this seriously, we have to get to the bottom of this demand.”

Addressing wildlife trade and consumption will do nothing to staunch the current COVID-19 pandemic, but the hope is that it will prevent a global disaster of this kind from happening again.

Much attention has been paid in recent years to Vietnam’s role as a consumer and an international hub of high-value species such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins, and awareness of the need to preserve these species has improved, especially among young Vietnamese.

“Demand in Vietnam, China and other countries is certainly driving the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa,” Rawson said, “but what is often overlooked is the biodiversity crisis that’s happening in the forests of Vietnam and surrounding countries, where wildlife is being snared indiscriminately for consumption.”

How to End the Trade

Enforcement in relation to every step of the trade will be key, Rawson said. “That means tightening up the investigative work, arrests and prosecutions in the illegal wildlife trade, and the farming of wild animals is another key area that needs to be looked at very closely to mitigate future risk,” he said.

WWF has been working on this within Vietnam by supporting enforcement agencies within protected areas like national parks.

“But of course, it has to go beyond just the boundaries of protected areas,” Rawson added. “The key is addressing the drivers that cause people to go in and hunt wildlife. There’s money to be made by wildlife traders, so we do investigative work around identifying those traders and supporting local courts to make prosecutions [and] to understand wildlife-related laws and the severity of some of these infractions.”

Awareness-raising on the consumer end will also be crucial, as some people believe that wild animal meat is safer than farm-raised meat.

“It’s an important moment in time to try and change those cultural perceptions,” Rawson said. “There’s no regulation, no cold-chain storage for wild meat, and there are reservoirs of disease in wild animal populations. And the conservation community is moving quickly to take advantage of the outbreak to tell people that this is not a safe option, either for personal or public health.”

Nguyen, of PanNature, said he expects to coordinate closely with MARD and other government agencies to formulate a ban. However, he said the agency had not yet reached out, and no further details of what the ban might include are available yet.

The NGOs’ letter recommends identifying restaurants that illegally sell wild meat and shutting them down, closing markets where wildlife is illegally sold, requiring e-commerce platforms and social media to remove advertisements of illegal wildlife products and creating strong regulations on raising wildlife in captivity, among other measures.

Following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak of 2012, both of which were caused by coronaviruses linked to animals, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the dangers of trading in and consuming wildlife.

“The current crisis is a direct result of demand for wildlife products, usually illegal, and we really need to address the supply and demand of wildlife meat if we’re going to avoid future catastrophe,” Rawson said. “We’ve had several, and these sorts of things are a matter of when, not if, and while they may be rare, the impacts are significant. It has to be a high-level policy issue, and it’s starting to become one, which is very encouraging.”

Hawks officer murder: Two men taken in for questioning (South Africa)

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Media 24| March 23, 2020

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Two men, who were stopped on the side of the N4 near Belfast due to car trouble, have been taken in for questioning in connection with the murder of a senior Hawks detective, says Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.

“We have a specialist task team investigating the matter. Depending on the information we gather from them during questioning, we will decide if they will be officially charged,” said Mulaudzi.

Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Bruwer, 49, was shot and killed on Tuesday while travelling to work in Nelspruit. His car was riddled with bullets, believed to have been fired from an automatic weapon.

Bruwer, a decorated officer, was the lead investigator in numerous high-profile cases in Mpumalanga.

Original image from Media 24: Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Bruwer was killed on Tuesday while on his wat to work in Nelspruit.


On Wednesday, Mpumalanga police issued an alert to track a VW Golf and a Ford Mustang which might have been involved in the crime.

Officials with knowledge of the investigation said this followed a tip-off that the Mustang might have been carrying a blue rifle bag, which contained the weapon used in the shooting.

Later in the day, police found two men parked in a grey Ford Mustang on the side of the N4 between Ngodwana and Belfast. The car had a flat wheel.

Sources said, upon searching the vehicle, no weapons or a rifle bag was found. The K9-unit was also called in to search the car.

Official documentation seen by News24 shows the vehicle is registered under the name of a man linked to a case Bruwer was investigating. It’s unclear if this man is one of the two people taken in for questioning. The two men are currently being kept at two separate locations.

 

KZN police on the hunt for fleeing rhino poachers (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Law & legislation No Comments
The Independent Online | March 18, 2020

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DURBAN: Police have launched a manhunt for a group of poachers who abandoned their vehicle and fled into bushes in the KwaZulu-Natal area of KwaMsane in the early hours on Wednesday morning.

According to police spokesperson, Captain Nqobile Gwala, police were conducting crime prevention duties in the early hours of the morning when they saw a vehicle on the N2 freeway.

“When the suspects spotted the police they abandoned their vehicle and fled the scene on foot into nearby bushes. Police officers searched the vehicle and recovered an unlicensed 303 rifle with ten rounds of ammunition, three knives and rope,” Gwala said.

She said the men were believed to have been rhino poachers. Gwala said police are investigating further and trying to trace the men.

Original image from The Independent Online: A group of men, believed to be rhino poachers, fled in the early hours of Wednesday morning after police intercepted their vehicle on the N2 in KwaMsane. Pictured are the items that police recovered from their abandoned vehicle.


Earlier in the week, it was reported that two suspected rhino poachers were shot dead at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

While the two died at the scene, a third person managed to flee. Police recovered a high-calibre hunting rifle and knives which were thought to be used when removing rhino horn. One of the men is believed to be a well-known poacher and had been previously charged for being in possession of rhino horn.

Meanwhile, the DA has called for decisive action to be taken to secure the future of rhinos.

“Ultimately, a strong message must be sent. Poaching gangs must know that force will be met with force, and convictions mean protracted jail sentences. Our rhino do not belong to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife – they belong to the citizens of our province and country. Decisive action is needed to secure their future,” DA KZN spokesperson on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Heinz de Boer, said.

He said Ezemvelo rangers and security staff are at the sharp end of this low-key war that plays itself out in the deep bush of our reserves each day and government needed to support their efforts.

“Key to combatting the scourge of poaching is the proper equipping of rangers, a fundamental change in the minimum sentencing criteria for poaching – and the bolstering of support for specialist prosecutors and courts,” he said.