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US hails conviction of Chinese citizen in Malawi

By Antipoaching, Law & legislation
Mwayi Mkandawire, Malawi 24 | July 5, 2020

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The United States has welcomed the conviction of a Chinese national who was involved in poaching and trafficking of endangered species in Malawi.

Chinese national Lin Yun Hua was convicted in June on the charge of illegal possessions of specimen of listed and protected species, including 103 pieces of Rhino horn. He is expected to be sentenced by the Magistrate’s Court in Lilongwe on July 17.

The US Embassy in a statement posted on its Facebook Page today said Lin is one of the ringleaders of a transnational criminal wildlife trafficking syndicate, responsible for the illegal poaching and trafficking of endangered species in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa.

“The United States hopes that these arrests and subsequent convictions will help put an end to the depletion of Malawi’s precious natural resources by criminal elements.

“The United States calls on all nations, particularly destinations for Africa’s wildlife, to move beyond words, take action, and speak out against transnational criminal networks,” the embassy said in its statement

Lin was arrested by the Malawi Police Service in August last year, three months after police began hunting for him. Lin’s wife, Mrs. Qin Hua Zhang, and son-in-law, Mr. Li Hao Yaun, were convicted by Malawian courts ‪November 14, for the dealing and possession of 21kg of elephant ivory.

Interpol estimates that international illegal wildlife trade worldwide is worth over MWK 15 trillion ($20 billion USD) annually.

Wildlife traffickers setting up fake zoos on Facebook to sell endangered pangolin scales

By Antipoaching
Matilda Coleman, UpNewsInfo | June 25, 2020

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Wildlife traffickers are openly marketing critically endangered pangolins and their scales on Facebook, setting up profiles for fake petting zoos that direct prospective purchasers to personal WhatsApp numbers exactly where specials are created.

In an investigation published Wednesday, the Tech Transparency Undertaking identified half a dozen public posts marketing pangolin scales only by seeking for the title of the animal written in Vietnamese. Several of the pages presented pangolin scales, which are utilised in conventional Chinese medication.

The Tech Transparency Undertaking is a exploration initiative by the Campaign for Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization.

“The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal,” the Tech Transparency Project’s executive director, Daniel Stevens, advised Information. “And it’s still easy to find these animals to buy on Facebook.”

Two of the pages identified by the Tech Transparency Report had been taken down by Facebook following Information contacted the platform for comment.

Facebook explained it isn’t going to tolerate the unlawful trading of endangered wildlife and their components on our platforms and will consider down pages or occasions and linked accounts when they are identified to violate these policies. The site’s moderators use a blend of technologies, reviews from NGO partners, reviews from our neighborhood, and human critique to detect and take away violating information.

“We prohibit the trading of endangered wildlife or their components,” a spokesperson for Facebook told News. “It can be unlawful, it can be incorrect, and we have teams devoted to stopping exercise like this.”

The principal way traffickers promote pangolins on Facebook is by generating fake listings for zoos. On 3 pages viewed by Information, the moderator had listed the profile as a zoo or animal rescue services, even although the pages had titles like “Pangolin Scales for Sale in Vietnam” and “Rhino Horns and Pangolin scales for sale in China.” Several of the pages also direct prospective purchasers towards WhatsApp numbers.

“We discretely hunt and sell Rhino Horn and pangolin scales contact us for more information on purchase, WhatsApp me,” 1 web page go through.

Sarah Uhlemann, global system director and senior lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, advised Information she wasn’t stunned that the Tech Transparency Project’s researchers had been ready to discover pangolins on Facebook. Uhlemann explained she was ready to discover on the net vendors the identical way that the Tech Transparency Undertaking group did: by googling the word “pangolin” in simplified Mandarin.

“It’s not that tough to discover,” she explained. “I would say that the Vietnamese link is not surprising to me.”

Uhlemann explained that the Vietnamese Facebook customers marketing pangolin scales are almost certainly linked to a greater network that traffics African pangolins from nations like Nigeria to Vietnam and then into China. “We’re seeing a lot of scales coming out of Nigeria and usually shipped with ivory,” she explained. In accordance to Uhlemann, the pangolin scales are commonly powdered, mixed with other Chinese herbal medicines, and then offered in a mixture that can be consumed in a pill it is touted for a range of utilizes, such as lactation, skin illness, and palsy.

And demand for pangolins has not diminished regardless of the animal’s population getting decimated in China and are labeled as endangered or critically endangered about the globe. In accordance to an April report from the United Nations Workplace on Medication and Crime, seizures of illegally hunted pangolins from Africa and meant for Asian markets have elevated tenfold because 2014.

“One operation last April seized 25 tons of African pangolin scales — representing an estimated 50,000 dead pangolins — with a market value of some $7 million,” the UN office’s executive director, Ghada Waly, explained in the report. “Between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally.”

The Tech Transparency Undertaking identified a different pangolin trafficker who designed a Facebook occasion web page in South Africa. The occasion, which was viewed by Information, was titled, “Sandawana and Pangolin Animals on Sale Worls [sic] Broad.” The occasion incorporated a WhatsApp quantity and advertised a “love spell using Pangolin oil.”

Simply because pangolin trafficking pages are directing prospective customers to encrypted WhatsApp channels, it is tough to estimate the dimension of these operations. The most well-liked of these pages had 336 followers as of Wednesday. The Tech Transparency Undertaking also identified a nevertheless-lively public submit that advertised pangolin shells, which a Vietnamese herbal medication retailer published final June. It had 100 feedback from interested purchasers.

In accordance to Richard Thomas, a spokesperson for Website traffic, a nongovernmental organization that tracks the international trade of wild animals, Facebook is not the most prevalent way to website traffic pangolins, but it can be utilised to promote the animals’ scales.

“Most pangolin trafficking tends to be large shipments of scales, mainly moving between Africa and Asia,” Thomas advised Information. “Social media platforms aren’t a common means used for pangolin trafficking, but if someone has got a pangolin or pangolin parts for sale, it might be one of the ways they use to advertise that.”

Facebook is an lively member of the Coalition to Finish Wildlife Trafficking On the net, which brings with each other organizations from across the globe in partnership with wildlife groups like Website traffic, the Planet Broad Fund for Nature, and the Worldwide Fund for Animal Welfare. Coalition members have eliminated or blocked above three million listings for endangered and threatened species and linked merchandise from their on the net platforms.

Nonetheless, in a secret complaint filed in 2018 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a group of wildlife advocates accused the platform of serving commercials on pages marketing physique components of endangered animals, such as elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger teeth.

A single of the largest debates in the globe proper now — which animal the novel coronavirus originated from — also occurs to implicate pangolins.

COVID-19, the illness induced by the novel coronavirus, is imagined to be zoonotic, originating in animals and jumping to people. COVID-19’s genetic similarity to RaTG13, a virus identified in 2013 in bats in China’s Yunnan province, has led numerous scientists to recommend COVID-19 commenced in bats and passed to an intermediary animal prior to infecting people. What can make the scaly animals an intermediary suspect is the similarity in between proteins in a coronavirus identified in Malayan pangolins’ lungs and the proteins in COVID-19

Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University and host of the podcast This Week in Virology, advised Information he doubted pangolins had been the host.

“These viruses originated in bats. How they got into people, we don’t know,” he explained. “The remaining question is how it got to people, but that will require more wildlife sampling.”

Prior to delving into pangolin trafficking, the Tech Transparency Undertaking published a report final month exposing personal Facebook Groups belonging to risky extremists who had been working with anti–coronavirus lockdown protests to recruit new members.

“Our goal here is to show how big of a problem this is,” Stevens explained. “It’s really only public shaming that will make a difference to them.”

Legalising rhino horn trade will be a disaster

By Uncategorized
Paul Zille & Colin Bell, Opinion / The Daily Maverick | June 23, 2020

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Covid-19 is putting more poaching pressure on wildlife globally, as unemployment in communities that border wildlife reserves spikes and as people resort to harvesting bushmeat to survive. Although damaging, this will be like nothing compared with the environmental and economic carnage that will ensue if any aspect of the international trade in rhino horn is legalised.

This is the vision being debated by an advisory panel convened by Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to review SA’s policies relating to the trade of, among other things, rhino products.

Open markets offer an effective and sustainable solution to most conservation challenges. As prices respond to the interplay of demand and supply, producers and consumers are incentivised to invest and act in ways that maximise their returns and needs — which in normal circumstances, would directly align with long-term conservation outcomes.

The thriving game lodge industry along the borders of South Africa’s national parks and the associated abundance of wildlife there bear testimony to this fact.

However, when the alignment between private and environmental returns breaks down, the outcomes of market processes can be extremely damaging. One such market distortion underpins the global market for rhino horn. As a result, any move to legalise this trade internationally, however small and seemingly insignificant, will have disastrous consequences for the survival of rhinos in the wild.

The specific demand, supply and organisational characteristics of the global rhino horn market mean that even a partial legalisation in trade will create massive poaching pressure on the remaining wild population which will be impossible to contain.

How so?

Estimating the extent of potential global demand can be drawn from actual pan-African rhino poaching statistics in the late 1970s that confirm that Asian demand for horn fluctuated between 45-70 tons annually.

Regarding supply, the SA Government in 2014 calculated that using privately farmed and public stocks of horn, SA could sustainably supply a maximum of five tons annually.

Given this disparity, any legalisation in the trade of rhino horn would immediately unleash a spike in actual demand — and black-market prices. The gulf between global potential demand and the maximum possible legal supply (easily 40 tons per annum) would simply be overcome through increased poaching of wild rhino.

The price inelasticity of horn supply means that it would take at least 30 years of intensive breeding for the rhino farming industry to meet the lower level of the likely annual demand.

Simply put, the small number of farmed rhino will not remotely be able to supply the appetite for horn of a growing cohort of increasingly affluent Asian consumers, with predictable consequences for horn prices and poaching levels — especially since the “medicinal qualities” of farmed products are considered inferior to those from the wild.

Regardless of the inflationary price effects of legalisation, poaching of wild rhinos is always less expensive than farming, breeding and dehorning, providing an additional twist to the incentive to poach.

The final characteristic of the global rhino horn market is its control by well-heeled criminal syndicates that oversee every link in the supply chain. These are globally integrated operations controlled by powerful criminal enterprises whose leverage extends across the regulatory and criminal justice systems that participating governments will deploy to oversee any future legal trade.

Under-resourced, weak and vulnerable to corruption, the record shows that the statutory bodies charged with policing trade are notoriously susceptible to the inducements and intimidation of the interests that control the black market.

History shows — in respect of both ivory and rhino horn — that it is inconceivable for any legalised trade channel to retain its integrity and to not be contaminated by illegal supplies.

The net effect of any legalisation of trade, no matter how proscribed, will be as predictable as it is unintended: an acceleration in the poaching of wild rhinos globally, to the point where they will rapidly disappear outside of small, protected farms and zoos.

Beyond its impact on the species, this would be disastrous for SA’s tourism industry and the many rural jobs and livelihoods that depend on it. Pre-Covid-19, tourism had emerged as a prime driver of inclusive growth. Thanks to its broad base, labour-intensity and geographical dispersion across deep rural areas, wildlife tourism offers enormous long-term potential for small business creation, employment and foreign exchange earnings.

Most international tourists to SA are drawn by our wildlife and Western Cape offerings. Tourism arrivals would be gravely affected if South Africa were to lose its rhinos in the wild — if we became, in effect, a “Big Four” safari destination.

Post-Covid, the brand SA must cultivate to capitalise on the re-emergence of global travel is that of an ethical wildlife destination, uncompromised by any associations with criminality, exploitation and unsustainability. These negative associations will unavoidably accompany any international legalisation of the rhino horn trade.

The evidence on legalising any international trade in rhino horn is abundantly clear. It will decimate the world’s surviving wild rhino population and undermine SA’s tourism growth prospects. Why would we jeopardise a R120-billion per annum tourism industry for a speculative trade in rhino horn — which at best will generate R1-billion per year?

And in the post-Covid era, do we really believe the world will take kindly to the legalisation of any trade in endangered wildlife products in light of our new-found appreciation of the potentially calamitous effects of zoonotic disease?

Minister Creecy should, therefore, be bold in responding to the deliberations of her high-level panel. She should ban outright all trade in rhino products. And, to kill any forward speculation and hoarding, she should communicate the unambiguous message that South Africa will not countenance any legalisation of trade in rhino horn — for at least the next 20 years.

Only through these measures will the world’s wild rhino population and the tourism industry that depends on it be spared the certain destruction that will accompany any form of legalisation.

Paul Zille is an economist specialising in market-based solutions to poverty, exclusion and conservation challenges. Colin Bell is an economist, a tourism and wildlife professional and a part rhino-in-the-wild owner who has witnessed an extinction of rhinos in the wild within a country (Botswana) and helped reverse that extinction 15 years later.

Controversial rhino breeder temporarily calls off court action to recover rhino horns seized by law enforcement officials

By Law & legislation

By Sheree Bega, Independent Online | June 23, 2020

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Controversial rhino breeder John Hume has called off court action for now to recover 181 rhino horns seized by law enforcement officials in a murky trade deal last year.

Hume, whose owns 1806 rhinos, insists that the legally harvested horns are his rightful property and cannot be forfeited to the state.“We have engaged the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as well as the Hawks on this matter and will be meeting with them in due course to discuss the return of the horns to our client,” Hume’s attorney Ulrich Roux said this week.

“We have received a written undertaking from the Hawks and the NPA that the horns are in safe custody and will be kept there until a final decision is made pertaining to same. Given the undertaking provided by the state, it has not been necessary to launch any court action at this stage,” he said.

NPA spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana said the horns have not been forfeited to the state nor disposed to anyone “as they are exhibits in an ongoing investigations.

“In terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, the disposal of any exhibits is determined at the conclusion of the investigation and or prosecutions”.

Earlier this month, in the Brits Magistrate’s Court, Clive John Melville, a second-hand car dealer and a relative of Hume’s and co-accused Petrus Stephanus Steyn, a general labourer, pleaded guilty to charges of possession and transport of 181 horns without the necessary permits. The horns were reportedly destined for South East Asian markets.

They were fined R50000 and R25000 respectively. Melville also pleaded guilty to forgery for preparing a document that “purported to give him permission to possess and or transport the horns” on behalf of the buyer, Allan Rossouw.

The pair was nabbed by law enforcement officials on April 13 last year in Skeerpoort in North West, after a tip-off that a vehicle from a coastal province was carrying a sizeable number of rhino horns.

The plea and sentence agreement states how this type of offence is “very prevalent” in South Africa, where the plight of the rhino is well-known.

“While it is true that the horns in question were harvested legally the circumstances nevertheless show that criminals will go to great lengths to satisfy the bizarre demand for rhino horn due to the black market value thereof.

“The high number of horns involved in this instance and consequently the high potential value thereof is enormous, even if it did not materialise, due to the efforts of the police.”

Hume, said Roux, is in possession of documentary records and permits to “substantiate the fact that the horns were legally harvested at his captive breeding operation and that he is permitted by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (Deff) to possess the horns.

“In order for a valid transaction to have taken place and for our client to have given up his lawful ownership of the horns, a determined price for the said horns was to be paid by the purchaser before transfer of ownership could have taken place.

“This never occurred, as the horns were seized by the Hawks prior to the potential buyer having sight of the horns. Ownership of the horns was accordingly never transferred and our client remains the lawful owner of the horns.”

Roux previously told the Saturday Star that both the accused were “agents” acting for Rossouw. Melville, he said, is an “indirect family member of our client, although our client has no contact with him and has not spoken to him for a number of years”.

Hume successfully challenged the government’s 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in 2017.

Since then, there have been cases where criminals have used the legal trade to gain access to horn, according to Albi Modise, Deff spokesperson. “This was anticipated and legal trade is, therefore, being closely investigated. When necessary, investigations are initiated into illegal activities. A number of investigations are under way in relation to the illegal activities that have been detected.”

Modise said that “as soon as we detected the abuse of the system” it amended the permit conditions for the buying and selling of rhino horn. “Additional steps were also incorporated into the review of applications for such permits, which involves a more detailed evaluation of the potential buyers and sellers.”

Roux said there is no responsibility on Hume to determine any bona fides of a legal buyer of rhino horns as he can lawfully sell horns “any person who has applied for and been granted a valid buyer’s permit” by Deff.

Kim da Ribiera of Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching said it had long maintained that a legal trade would facilitate the illegal trade of horn. “After the lifting of the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn, we saw several international seizures of horn that appears to be ‘harvested horn’ … There continues to be a lack of political will to ensure the ongoing rhino poaching crisis is effectively addressed.”

Timeline: from permit applications to seizure of 181 rhino horns

John Hume applied to the Minister of Environmental Affairs on September 7, 2018 to sell 181 horns to “a certain Allan Rossouw”. The application was approved and a permit to sell and a permit to buy the horns was issued by the minister.

On February 25, the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) issued a permit to possess the 181 horns at the Bidvest Protea Coin premises in the name of the buyer.

On March 26, an application was made to GDARD for a permit to transport the horns from Bidvest Protea Coin to Knox Titanium Vault in Houghton, with a permit issued on April 9 in the name of Rossouw.

On April 12, Melville and Steyn proceeded to Bidvest Protea Coin to collect the horns, ostensibly on Rossouw’s behalf “in whose name the transport permit was issued. The accused were acting in this regard on instructions of the brother of Meville – Charles Melville – and/or Mr Hume, who requested they collect the horns from Bidvest and to take them to a place where they could be inspected by potential buyers before negotiations regarding price could be determined between such buyers and Charles Melville and/or John Hume”.

The potential buyers were “two people from Bloemfontein” with their names and contact details given to Melville by Charles Melville. The latter informed Melville that the “horns were to be sold legally”.

On April 13, Melville and Steyn collected the horns from the vault and then drove them to an undisclosed accommodation establishment in Skeerpoort, where both men were arrested. Source: Plea and sentence agreement 

The Saturday Star

Suspect arrested for murder of Lt Col Leroy Bruwer

By Antipoaching, Uncategorized

A breakthrough in the murder investigation of Lt Col Leroy Bruwer occurred earlier today after a suspect was arrested.

According to Hawks spokesperson, Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi, the man arrested recently is from the Eastern Cape.

ALSO READ: Lt Col Leroy Bruwer laid to rest

The suspect appeared in court and was remanded in custody.

He will appear in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court for a formal bail application on June 25.

Mulaudzi said due to the sensitivity of the case, more information cannot be divulged at this time, but he did confirm that “serious organised crime was involved”.

Tighter provisions for domestic trade in rhino horn published (South Africa)

By Conservation
South Coast Herald | June 22, 2020

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Notices related to tighten provisions related to the domestic trade in rhino horn have been published for implementation by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy.

The regulations were published in Government Gazette 43386 on June 3 2020.  These are:

·        Notice no. 625 pertaining to the prohibition of certain restricted activities involving rhinoceros horn;

·        Notice No. 626 pertaining to regulations relating to trade in rhinoceros horn; and

·        Notice No. 627 pertaining to the deletion of Eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) from invasive species list in terms of section 72 of NEMBA, and inclusion thereof as a protected species in the list of threatened or protected species.

The notices were published in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) and will commence on a date to be determined by the minister.

Publication of the regulatory measures in relation to the domestic trade in rhino horn for implementation followed a lengthy process that saw these draft measures being republished for additional public comments in September 2018.

The regulatory measures apply to all sub-species of black rhino found in South Africa, including the Eastern black rhino, and the white rhino.

They provide clear information on requirements that must be complied with, and the information that must be submitted when applying for a permit to buy or sell rhino horn.

This includes information of the marking of the rhino horn, the size of each, a certificate as proof of the DNA analysis and a clear photograph of the rhino horn.

An inspection must also be done by the issuing authority to verify the information provided before issuing the permit. Additionally, all the information provided must be recorded on the national database.

The requirements for the selling or buying of rhino horn through an auction, the sale of rhino horn on behalf of the owner of the horns, and the export or re-export of the rhino horn are also stipulated.

Activities that are prohibited in terms of the prohibition notice include:

·        The intentional powdering of rhino horn, or creating slivers, drill bits, chips or similar derivatives, or removing parts or layers of rhino horn; and

·        Selling, donating, buying, receiving or accepting as a gift or donation any piece of rhino horn smaller than 5 cm in length. This also applies to the export or re-export of powder, slivers, drill bits or layers of rhino horn smaller than 5 cm in length.

An exclusion from the prohibition is the creation of powdered rhino horn under specific circumstances, such as when drilling the horn to insert a microchip, when collecting a DNA sample for genetic profiling, or for scientific purposes.

The prohibitions will be reassessed after three years.

Zimbabwe won’t pull out of CITES

By Conservation
By Bulawayo24News | June 22, 2020

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ZIMBABWE will not pull out of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in order to sell its stockpile of ivory tasks worth US$600 million, the Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Mangaliso Ndlovu, has said.

It has been 12 years since the country had an ivory sale because of CITES restrictions. CITES is an international agreement between Governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Last year, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia made fresh appeals for the global watchdog to lift restrictive measures on the trade in raw ivory.

Speaking in the National Assembly on Thursday, Minister Ndlovu said pulling out of CITES was a tough proposition given the fact that the countries Zimbabwe traded in ivory with were also reluctant to leave the organisation. Zimbabwe has 130 tonnes of elephant ivory stock piles and about five tonnes of rhino horns in its vault.

“There is a question on whether or not we should continue respecting the provisions of CITES which restrict us from selling our tusks. Related to that were other questions on whether or not we should continue being a member of CITES, why not pull out and be able to sell our tusks. It must be emphasised to this House that our markets for our tusks are members of CITES.

“You can only sell to a member of CITES subject to the provisions of CITES. Should we pull out of CITES, it means we cannot sell to those who are members of CITES. We are therefore taking ourselves out of the market for our tusks. Major markets are Japan and China and are not willing to pull out of CITES. If they were willing, we would have pulled out together with them, then we would be able to trade outside the provisions of CITES. So, it is an important consideration that we have made,” he said.

Minister Ndlovu said while countries in the Sadc bloc had lodged a complaint against CITES regulations, they were unable to effect change because the countries they trade with did not do the same.

“However, CITES has a provision within its regulations that should there be a change in any of the regulations within a specified period, a member country can place a reservation, which reservation will allow the country to trade with that particular species or product outside the provisions of CITES. We lodged our displeasure at CITES during the conference and after the conference we agreed as Sadc that we are lodging a reservation with regards to elephants and we duly submitted that to CITES. Having done so Mr Speaker Sir, we remain constrained by the fact that our markets are members of CITES and they have not lodged reservations to the same. So yes, we have fully demonstrated our displeasure but we have not unlocked the markets for our tusks. That is the dilemma or crisis that we are facing with this,” he said.

Coronavirus lockdowns increase poaching in Asia, Africa

By Antipoaching, Conservation

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NEW DELHI — A camera trap photo of an injured tigress and a forensic examination of its carcass revealed why the creature died: a poacher’s wire snare punctured its windpipe and sapped its strength as the wound festered for days.

Snares like this one set in southern India’s dense forest have become increasingly common amid the coronavirus pandemic, as people left jobless turn to wildlife to make money and feed their families.

Authorities in India are concerned this spike in poaching not only could kill more endangered tigers and leopards but also species these carnivores depend upon to survive.

“It is risky to poach, but if pushed to the brink, some could think that these are risks worth taking,” said Mayukh Chatterjee, a wildlife biologist with the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India.

Since the country announced its lockdown, at least four tigers and six leopards have been killed by poachers, Wildlife Protection Society of India said. But there also were numerous other poaching casualities — gazelles in grasslands, foot-long giant squirrels in forests, wild boars and birds such as peacocks and purple morhens.

In many parts of the developing world, coronavirus lockdowns have sparked concern about increased illegal hunting that’s fueled by food shortages and a decline in law enforcement in some wildlife protection areas. At the same time, border closures and travel restrictions slowed illegal trade in certain high-value species.

One of the biggest disruptions involves the endangered pangolin. Often caught in parts of Africa and Asia, the anteater-like animals are smuggled mostly to China and Southeast Asia, where their meat is considered a delicacy and scales are used in traditional medicine.

In April, the Wildlife Justice Commission reported traders were stockpiling pangolin scales in several Southeast Asia countries awaiting an end to the pandemic.

Rhino horn is being stockpiled in Mozambique, the report said, and ivory traders in Southeast Asia are struggling to sell the stockpiles amassed since China’s 2017 ban on trade in ivory products. The pandemic compounded their plight because many Chinese customers were unable to travel to ivory markets in Cambodia, Laos and other countries.

“They are desperate to get it off their hands. Nobody wants to be stuck with that product,” said Sarah Stoner, director of intelligence for the commission.

The illegal trade in pangolins continued “unabated” within Africa but international trade has been disrupted by port closures, said Ray Jansen, chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group.

“We have witnessed some trade via air while major ship routes are still closed but we expect a flood of trade once shipping avenues reopen again,” Jansen said.

Fears that organized poaching in Africa would spike largely have not materialized — partly because ranger patrols have continued in many national parks and reserves.

Emma Stokes, director of the Central Africa Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said patrolling national parks in several African countries has been designated essential work.

– duikers, antelopes and monkeys,” she said.

Jansen also said bushmeat poaching was soaring, especially in parts of southern Africa. “Rural people are struggling to feed themselves and their families,” he said.

There are also signs of increased poaching in parts of Asia.

A greater one-horned rhino was gunned down May 9 in India’s Kaziranga National Park — the first case in over a year. Three people, suspected to be a part of an international poaching ring, were arrested on June 1 with automatic rifles and ammunition, said Uttam Saikia, a wildlife warden.

As in other parts of the world, poachers in Kaziranga pay poor families paltry sums of money to help them. With families losing work from the lockdown, “they will definitely take advantage of this,” warned Saikia.

In neighboring Nepal, where the virus has ravaged important income from migrants and tourists, the first month of lockdown saw more forest-related crimes, including poaching and illegal logging, than the previous 11 months, according to a review by the government and World Wildlife Fund or WWF.

For many migrants returning to villages after losing jobs, forests were the “easiest source” of sustenance, said Shiv Raj Bhatta, director of programs at WWF Nepal.

In Southeast Asia, the Wildlife Conservation Society documented in April the poisoning in Cambodia of three critically endangered giant ibises for the wading bird’s meat. More than 100 painted stork chicks were also poached in late March in Cambodia at the largest waterbird colony in Southeast Asia.

“Suddenly rural people have little to turn to but natural resources and we’re already seeing a spike in poaching,” said Colin Poole, the group’s regional director for the Greater Mekong.

Heartened by closure of wildlife markets in China over concerns about a possible link between the trade and the coronavirus, several conservation groups are calling for governments to put measures in place to avoid future pandemics. Among them is a global ban on commercial sale of wild birds and mammals destined for the dinner table.

Others say an international treaty, known as CITES, which regulates the trade in endangered plants and animals, should be expanded to incorporate public health concerns. They point out that some commonly traded species, such as horseshoe bats, often carry viruses but are currently not subject to trade restrictions under CITES.

“That is a big gap in the framework,” said John Scanlon, former Secretary-General of CITES now with African Parks. “We may find that there may be certain animals that should be listed and not be traded or traded under strict conditions and certain markets that ought to be closed.”

___

Casey reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Christina Larson contributed from Washington.

White rhino monopoly capitalism? 28% of SA’s private rhino owners are ‘getting out’ of the species

By Conservation
By Ed Stoddard, Daily Maverick | June 19, 2020

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The poaching crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic have thrown up huge challenges for South Africa’s ‘experiment’ in megafaunal privatisation.

A new study published in peer-reviewed journal Conservation Letters has found that 28% of South Africa’s private rhino owners are disinvesting from the species. The study was based on a national survey of 171 private rhino owners.

The findings come are unsurprising to the wildlife industry, but do provide much-needed empirical data for policymakers, game farmers and conservationists with an interest or a stake in the issues.

Close to half of South Africa’s population of white rhinos — the larger and more numerous of the two African rhino species — are in private hands. South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world’s white rhino population, so about 40% of the animals in the world, or about 7,000, graze on private ranches in the country.

This statistic forms part of a broader conservation success story that has seen mostly marginal agricultural land on private property — land that would require massive capital investments to allow crops to be grown commercially — “rewilded” into habitat for a range of wild species that cater to tourism’s game-viewing and hunting sectors.

This experiment in what has been called “faunal” or wildlife privatisation has been subject to serious stress in the past decade or so, notably due to poaching, which has seen thousands of rhinos slaughtered for their horns to meet hot demand in newly affluent Asian economies such as Vietnam.

The poaching epidemic has pushed up security costs for private owners — as well as for state-owned enterprises such as South African National Parks.

“Twenty-eight percent of rhino owners are disinvesting in rhino, 57% are pursuing business-as-usual (largely ecotourism) and 15% are investing in more rhinos,” said the study report.

“It is currently unclear whether this diversity in private rhino owners’ responses to the crisis is increasing the resilience of the rhino population to poaching.

“Some rhino investors show signs of financial stress. Most owners support rhino-horn trade to fund conservation, yet international trade remains banned. By contrast, a recent national policy amendment allows rhinos to be managed as livestock, risking a shift from rhino-for-conservation to rhino- for-production on private land. Our findings highlight an urgent need to ensure policies keep pace with dynamic socioeconomic environments that influence the sustainability of wildlife use,” said the report.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also hit South Africa’s game farming more widely, as Business Maverick has reported before. The industry’s three key sources of revenue — game viewing, hunting and auctions — have largely evaporated.

It is interesting to see how the three “clusters” — those divesting, those maintaining herds (business-as-usual) and those ploughing more capital into the species — were reacting before the pandemic set in.

“Investors tended to generate a higher proportion of their revenue through rhino-trophy hunting than the other two clusters,” the study found.

So, trophy hunting — regardless of popular public views about it  — has clearly been an incentive to some game farmers to invest in the species. No income is being generated at present from this sub-sector of the industry, but such farmers tend to have deep pockets, so presumably some, if not most, can ride out the current storm.

“Business-as-usual generated a higher proportion of revenue through rhino ecotourism and disinvestors were most dependent on live rhino sales. Business-as-usual was the only cluster with owners located across all nine provinces,” the study noted.

Many game farmers who are not investing directly in rhinos — but may have natural breeding happening on their land — are relying on ecotourism, or game viewing. Such farmers tend to have relatively few rhinos per hectare. This sector collapsed when the hard lockdown was imposed in late March, but has been thrown a lifeline of sorts with the reopening of reserves to day visitors — though affluent tourists from the likes of Gauteng cannot travel across provincial boundaries to enjoy the bush.

Those who are divesting are allowed to sell their rhinos via online auctions, or live auctions under very stringent conditions, so their ability to pull out is curtailed. It is a case of sellers without buyers — against a backdrop of already collapsing prices.

But if almost a third of investors are getting out, while 15% of them, those with the financial resources to do so, are diverting capital to them, South Africa might be witnessing the consolidation of “white rhino monopoly capitalism”.

“Disinvestors with increased security costs were selling rhinos, suggesting that they could not afford losses to poaching and the growing costs of mitigating this risk,” according to the study.

“This finding supports predictions that if the financial costs of conserving rhinos on private land outweigh the financial benefits, landowners will disinvest. The 75% drop in live-rhino auction prices, coupled with the dramatic reduction in live-rhino sales in recent years, is likely to be at least partly driven by this disinvestment in rhino, as well as further disincentivising owners from keeping rhinos. Most disinvestors would participate in legal horn trade, suggesting that such trade opportunities may curb disinvestment,” it added.

With the business-as-usual cluster, the study found they “tended to have low rhino densities and generated revenue from ecotourism”.

“Although rhinos are popular among ecotourists, the revenue generated by ecotourism (compared with rhino sales and hunting) is not directly dependent on rhino numbers. Ecotourism properties may, therefore, be less sensitive to poaching and less inclined to invest heavily in security.

“Furthermore, the widespread distribution of business-as-usual properties suggests that many fall outside current poaching hotspots in the savanna biome near South Africa’s northeastern borders, where many investors and disinvestors are located.”

This suggests that such rhinos are just one of many tourist draws and, because of their location, have been shielded from poachers. The loss of a rhino to poaching does not have a big impact on the bottom line — emotions aside.

Business Maverick spoke to Hayley Clements of Stellenbosch University, the lead author of the study.

“What this paper shows is that the cost-benefit ratio of owning rhinos has changed… The costs have gone up significantly and some farmers are divesting,” she said.

This is food for thought, even without delving into the thorny issue of rhino-horn trade, which remains banned internationally. Global rhino numbers are at their current level largely because of the efforts of South Africa’s private sector —a simple fact, whether one agrees or not with policies and politics that have given rise to this state of affairs.

But if almost a third of investors are getting out, while 15% of them, those with the financial resources to do so, are diverting capital to them, South Africa might be witnessing the consolidation of “white rhino monopoly capitalism”.

That raises all kinds of questions about humans’ relationship to the planet’s megafauna, which have been largely eradicated.