Swaziland – thinking the unthinkable to save rhinos by legalising trade in horn

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

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White rhino in Hlane Royal national Park, Swaziland

Swaziland has submitted a proposal on the legalisation of trade in rhino horn to the Conference of the Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which opens in Johannesburg from 24th September.  The small southern African kingdom – home to 73 white rhino and an estimated 18 black rhino – wants permission to sell its small stock of rhino horn from natural mortality and seizures from poachers and to have a small annual quota to sell horn collected from its two national parks that house and protect rhino.

Black rhino in Mkhaya Royal National Park, Swaziland

Black rhino in Mkhaya Royal National Park, Swaziland

 

The Swazi bid in detail

Ted Reilly, the veteran Swazi conservationist who runs the Hlane and Mkhaya Royal National Parks and is the kingdom’s CITES representative, told me that the income that would be derived from legal sales is desperately needed to provide the tight security needed to protect the rhinos from poachers, to pay game rangers a decent wage to remove the temptation of accepting bribes to help or turn a blind eye to poachers, and to ensure that the protected areas can also benefit poor rural communities. Swaziland, for all the pomp and wealth of King Mswati III, is a very poor country with a per capita income of $7 per day on average and far less in the rural, subsistence or cash crop farming areas around the national parks. He, with support from the government of the king, who fully supports the CITES bid, wants to bring in income to ensure both conservation and development.

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Ted Reilly (left) on top of a 60 foot ranger watchtower In Mkhaya Royal National park, Swaziland

The official bid submitted to CITES by Swaziland says that “proceeds from the sale of stocks will raise approximately $9.9 million at a wholesale price of $30,000 per kg. That amount will be placed in an endowment fund to yield approximately $600,000 p.a. In addition, the proceeds of the annual sale of 20 kg will raise a further $600,000 pa, bringing total recurrent annual revenue from horn to $1.2 million”, which would make a huge difference to resources available for protection, development of wider conservation programmes in protected areas and benefit staff and local communities.

South Africa was expected to make a bid to CITES for trade legalisation but, following the deliberations of a committee of inquiry, decided not to.  Swaziland took up the trade baton at the last moment and brought down upon itself the self-righteous wrath of animal welfare and conservation NGOs in Europe and America.

At a debate on rhino horn in London on 3rd August, Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation totally rejected the Swazi proposal as “deeply flawed” and selectively misquoted the South African conservationist Ian Player (who almost single-handedly saved the world’s white rhino population) to try to undermine the bid.  In South Africa at the beginning of September, I spoke to John Forrest and David Cook, who worked with Player in KwaZulu-Natal during the programme to save the wild rhino and reintroduce it throughout southern Africa, and they said Travers’ quotes were a total misrepresentation and ignored Player’s support, albeit reluctant, for the use of a legal trade to fund rhino conservation.

 

Leakey leads the attack on Swazi bid

The strongest attack on Swaziland came from Dr Richard Leakey, the chair of the Kenya Wildlife Service which burned the biggest ever stockpile of seized horn at the end of April. He was quoted by the UK Guardian newspaper as saying, “Swaziland will be seen for what it is, a puppet.”   Jason Bell of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) launched an equally vituperative attack, saying “Resorting to legalization of rhino horn trade as a way to reduce poaching of rhinos is a theoretic assumption which fails to take market dynamics and consumer preferences into consideration… Swaziland’s proposal is not only biologically unsound, but politically naïve too. The international community has made it clear that there is no room for discussion when it comes to proposing trade in rhino horn in any form whatsoever…and IFAW urges Parties to OPPOSE this proposal.” (IFAW’s emphasis retained in the quote). But no evidence was presented in this swipe at the Swazis to demonstrate why a legal trade was “biologically unsound”. IFAW claimed to be backed by expert opinion but the expert it quoted was its own Asia programme director and not an independent conservation practitioner or peer-reviewed academic specialist.

The influential and more measured Save the Rhino Trust was more guarded, but its director, Cathy Dean, commented, “The wording of Swaziland’s proposal makes clear that it was submitted at the eleventh hour after it became clear that South Africa was not going to table one. One wonders how much influence certain pro-trade advocates had on Swaziland’s decision to gauge international reaction via this proposal to the possibility of a legal trade in rhino horn.” Save the Rhino does not oppose trade or sustainable use per se but is wary of committing itself until there is a more definite and structured plan for how a trade would take place and indications of how viable it would be as a means of ending poaching and conserving rhinos across the range states.

Swaziland proposes that “Big Game Parks, the CITES Management Authority in Swaziland, will be the sole seller and horn will be sold directly to a small number of licenced retailers, which is likely to include Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospitals, in the Far East provided that CITES agrees to the trade and approves Swaziland’s trade partners. All horn will be properly documented and recorded on a DNA database and recorded on a national register and with TRAFFIC [the Cambridge-based body that monitors international wildlife trade]”.  Ted Reilly is head of Big Game Parks, which runs the two national parks and the Mlilwane Sanctuary and is the Swazi CITES representative.

Opposition at CITES but consensus cracking

Cathy Dean rightly predicts that CITES will not agree the Swazi proposal. It needs to be approved by two-thirds of the 182 member countries at the CITES meeting and this will not happen.  The Swazi proposers of the legal trade are in no doubt, themselves, that this will be the case.  But following a meeting of the region-wide Southern African Development Community in Swaziland in late August, a Swazi MP and the most senior civil servant in the Tourism Ministry told me that there was considerable sympathy for the Swazi position in southern Africa, especially Namibia.  But so far the indications are that while Namibia might support Swaziland and possibly Zimbabwe, South Africa is less likely to do so and Botswana certainly won’t. A member of the official South African committee of inquiry which advised the Zuma government not to legalise the trade, told me in early September that support for the proposal was highly unlikely as South Africa felt the bid was premature and that no viable trade mechanism or safeguards had been worked out. Until a watertight trade system was worked out with security from penetration by illegal traders was put together, my informant felt that South Africa would not throw its weight behind a legalisation bid.

Although John Scanlon, secretary general at CITES, has been quoted as saying that the consensus for several years on banning international trade in horn and ivory was beginning to tear and “completely opposite viewpoints” would be aired in Johannesburg, he has tried not to be drawn on the pros and cons of a legal rhino horn trade, admitting that “The history of the convention has shown well-regulated legal trade can work for people and species, but it’s very species- and region-specific”.

But the CITES secretariat has already indicated that it opposes the Swazi proposal.  As soon as this became evident, according to veteran southern African conservationist and former WWF Africa director John Hanks, the Swazi CITES team led by Ted Reilly, with support from the King’s legal adviser David Millin, started to draft a letter to request a change in the Secretariat’s position on the proposal.   Hanks, Reilly and Pelham Jones (the head of South Africa’s private Rhino Owners Association, PROA) all told me that the Swazi bid was an important step forward and Reilly and Jones vehemently denied that Swaziland was acting as a puppet for the South African private rhino owners, who are very keen see the development of a regulated, legal trade to fund their rhino breeding ventures.

How would a legal trade work?

If the visceral opposition of animal welfare NGOs and  governments like Kenya was expected and will be a severe obstacle to those pressing the case for a legal trade as a means of conserving rhinos across southern and eastern Africa’s range states (where there are now between 5,042 and 5,455 black rhino and 19,682-21,077 white – though with over 5,500 poached across Africa over the last 10 years to feed the huge demand for horn, with prices at $60,000 per kg), an equally hard obstacle to overcome is the search for a viable, secure and sustainable trading system.  Ted Reilly told me that his proposal before CITES did not have a fully worked out system for trade because until there was an indication that trade would be agreed it wouldn’t be possible to be precise and the former must come first.  But CITES and other range states will want a much clearer picture of trade plans at or after CITES, as the debate won’t end with the expected rejection of the Swazi bid.

The objectives of legal trade are not just that it would generate income for the uses already outlined but it would also weaken market support for the illegal trade by providing a regular supply of risk-free horn and could serve to reduce the price so that it cuts profits from poaching (and so alter the profit v risk equation for the poachers and crime syndicates). The combination of heightened security, community benefits from conservation and lower profits from smuggled horn would diminish the illegal commerce and help reduce poaching substantially – though no one to whom I talked in the pro-trade camp felt poaching would disappear completely.

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Rhino guard Fana Michael Masugu in Hlane Royal National Park, Swaziland

But there is no one plan or evidence of sufficient joined-up thinking on exactly how trade would work.  The Swazi bid puts forward a target price of $30,000 per kg (half the black market rate), while Pelham Jones of PROA put it to me that his private owners in South Africa, could sell horn at $10,000, undercutting criminal profits and forcing them to sell more cheaply which combined with increased risk could help drive them from the market.

A pro-trade business and investment specialist, Michael Eustace, has put forward a totally different set of ideas, arguing that “in the rhino horn market, you do not want competition amongst the sellers if it leads to a drop in the horn price, because that will lead to higher demand, which cannot be satisfied in the long term. If you sell 3 000 horns a year at lower prices, you will run out of stock in five years. What then?“ He suggests, taking his model from the old De Beers diamond cartel, the formation of a Central Selling Organisation (CSO) that controls volumes and prices. It would sell, he forecasts, 400 horns a year from stocks, 300 from natural deaths, and 500 from farmed horn. He says that “China should agree to be our partners in trade, subject to CITES first agreeing to trade. Why would they not prefer a legal trade? Nobody wants to accommodate criminals.”  But China, and the other main market for illegal horn, show no sign of agreeing to this. They have been urged to clamp down on their domestic trade and the illegal importation of horn into their countries and are hardly likely now to suddenly jump at legalising and being willing to become open trading partners when most CITES states and lobby groups are violently opposed to it.

Some trade supporters, such as business specialist Jane Wiltshire, have even suggested to me that you should bring the current criminal “kingpins” of the illegal trade into a legal trading system to get them onside.  This ignores the major problem that the criminal syndicates involved are not just buying rhino horn illegally because there is not legal trade, but are also heavily involved in drugs, gun-running and the people trade. They are professional criminal networks and not legal traders criminalised by a CITES decision. Any serious promotion of this view could consign the chances of a legal trade to the dustbin of conservation history.  Leakey, Travers and conservation NGOs would have a field day if such suggestions were part of a future trade plan.

 

A long road to find a solution

It is clear that the Swazi proposal at CITES will fail. However, Swaziland and those private owners in South Africa (and perhaps the governments of Namibia and Zimbabwe) who want a free trade will not stop there. I was told in Swaziland and South Africa that there will be a concerted effort to get SADC member states to support trade legalisation and the campaign will continue.  Certainly, to me, the arguments for a legal trade to develop sustainable-use, community-friendly programmes of conservation, anti-poaching and rural development are very strong and could be one way forward to combat the illegal trade and ensure the survival of viable wild and privately-held rhino populations.  But, and it is a but as big as a rhino’s substantial butt, there has to be a much more concerted effort to work out a secure, regulated and internationally-accepted trade model to sell to likely buyers and, crucially, to CITES member states in the years to come.

There must also be an attempt to overcome the trench-warfare between pro- and anti- camps. Leakey, Travers, Bell and other NGO heads refer to Swaziland as puppets and also say PROA and other trade supporters act out of greed and care little for the rhinos.  Some of the South African private rhino owners and Ted Reilly deride their opponents as bunny-huggers or allege all sorts of malicious intent in those opposing the trade.  This will not help the rhinos.  Compromise and alliance-building on behalf of rhinos and those who live alongside them and those who seek to protect them is the only answer – but it sadly seems a long way off.

Professor Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; teaches journalism at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent; his book – Ivory Power and Poaching in Africa is published in November 2016.  He is grateful to the Comanis Foundation  for funding and organizing his research trip.

Taking the bull by the horns – dehorning rhinos to protect them

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

The large bull rhino, accompanied by a couple of rhino cows, was about a hundred metres away. The jeep carrying the darting team moved closer, there was a popping sound and the bull twitched and moved off with a dart clearly visible sticking in his upper leg. Within two minutes he was down on his knees looking groggy. The dehorning team was out of the jeep and over to him, attaching blinkers to cover his eyes and a group of ranch hands held him down and attached a rope to his back leg.

Things then happened quickly1 but with an assured and rapid routine that was impressive to watch. The vet monitored the rhino’s vital signs – it was sedated but not unconscious and not obviously alarmed or in any pain. The dehorners measured and meticulously recorded the circumference and height of the horn and calculated how much to remove. All the while the rhino was breathing loudly but steadily and made no attempt to get up or even shake off attention.

Once the measurements were taken and recorded, a line was carefully d2rawn around the horns (both the large front and smaller rear ones) leaving about four or five centimetres below the cut line to ensure growth would continue and there would be no damage to the horn bed where it joins the skull. A battery driven saw was then used to cut through the horn, which took little longer than a minute – all the time someone was spraying cold water on to the horn as it was cut to prevent over-heating and burn injuries.

3Then the horn was off. The team cleaned up the edges of the horn stump and brushed off any shaving or horn dust – which all went on to a big plastic sheet under the rhino and was gathered up in sealed and marked bags. The two horns were measured, weighed and marked with indelible ink and their specifications recorded. When a rhino (all of which are tagged and ID chipped) is first dehorned, DNA samples are taken so in future any horn from that rhino can be clearly identified.

From the first rhino I saw dehorned from feet away, the main horn weighed 565g, the smaller horn 67g and the shavings 45g – at the estimated market price in Vietnam and China (the main markets for poached ivory horn) this would be worth about $40,000. The horns and shavings from this rhino, though, would not be bound for the smuggling syndicates and illegal trade but for a safe in a bank or secure depository somewhere (we were not told where) in South Africa.

The two dehornings I saw took place at the huge rhino ranch at Klerksdorp, in South Africa’s North-West province, belonging to the world’s most successful breeder of rhinos, John Hume. His 8,000 hectare property carried 1,405 rhinos (mainly white rhino with just 17 black) and he has successfully bred 951 rhinos over the last 25 years. To give an idea of the importance of this for maintaining rhino numbers, South Africa has 18,796 white rhinos and 1,916 black rhinos (according to Save the Rhino), but 5,424 rhino have been poached in South Africa since 2006, and some feel this may be an underestimate as not all carcasses will have been found. The horn is poached by a variety of different groups – from poor Mozambican peasants to local South Africans to rogue professional hunters and even former vets and senior wildlife officials from the Kruger Park, I was told by Nicholus Funda, the head ranger at Kruger National Park.

4John Hume is a very determined and pugnacious man and since retiring from a successful holiday property has devoted his life and considerable funds to raising rhinos and fighting to find ways of saving them. His ranch is not a national park or sanctuary but a massive breeding operation with more rhino than you’ll see gathered together anywhere else. He told me, though, that it is not like a rhino factory farm with animals squeezed in and he estimates that in the vast rhino bull enclosures, there is just one bull to every 9 hectares and cows have about 8 hectares each. Only at feeding time do they gather in huge numbers – a variety of feedstuffs is brought in to supplement grazing; vital now that South Africa is in the grip of severe drought.

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Hume pays out two to three million rand a month for feed and another three million rand a month on security. He is currently trying to build a radar tower and install sophisticated camera systems to supplement his existing surveillance and patrolling capabilities.

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Hume and other private rhino breeders in South Africa are dehorning their animals to deter poachers. Dehorning doesn’t totally stop poaching as there is still a band of horn left which could be hacked off. But evidence from peer-reviewed studies has shown that dehorning, when widely advertised, does deter poachers, as they will seek to find the most lucrative targets (see Lindsay and Taylor.) and generally avoid farms/ranches with dehorning and good security. Even so, Hume has had attempted incursions by poachers.

The horn grows back on the rhinos and Hume dehorns his every 18 months to two years. The study of dehorning by Lindsay and Taylor suggests there is no long-term impact of dehorning, as long as all rhinos in an area are dehorned. In the wild, though, their study suggests that there could be reduced ability of cows to defend calves from predators like hyenas and lions. But on ranches, there is no obvious change in behaviour or health (Lindsay and Taylor). When I saw the two dehornings there seemed to be no great trauma involved and the rhino were on their feet and walking away in less than 15 minutes and there is no evidence that dehorning carried out every 18 months leads to any side-effects from the sedative.
The horn is made of the same substance as hair and fingernails, keratin. Rhino horn is chemically complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, but also tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate. It has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for millennia and now is believed, erroneously, in Vietnam to cure both cancer and hangovers.

Currently, the international trade in rhino horn is banned and the booming demand in China and Vietnam has created a huge and lucrative black market with horn fetching $60,000 a kg. This is a major threat to rhino numbers. John Hume believes that in the future only a combination of good security, dehorning at least on private ranches (few national parks and reserves want to dehorn, as Chief Ranger Nicholus Funda of Kruger and anti-poaching head Cedric Coetzee of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal told me) and the development of a regulated and closely monitored legal trade in rhino horn will save the rhino in the wild. This is a view strongly opposed by many conservation and animal rights NGOs and is unlikely in the near future to get sufficient support from governments around the world to end the 39 year old CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) ban on trade. It will be debated at the CITES Conference in Johannesburg at the end of September, when Swaziland applies to be allowed to trade in rhino from legal stocks and natural mortality – but no change is remotely possible at this stage. John Hume and a growing number of rhino breeders and conservationists believe it is the only answer. They have a mountain to climb to prove it can be done. But what is clear, is that dehorning is a very useful tool and one that can reduce the attraction of a rhino to poachers without any ill-effects for the rhino.

Professor Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; teaches journalism at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent; his book – Ivory Power and Poaching in Africa is published in November 2016. He is grateful to the Comanis Foundation for funding and organizing his research trip.

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by Martin Plaut, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: Christa Eybers/Eyewitness News

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: Christa Eybers/Eyewitness News

On Friday 27th of May this year South Africa’s state owned broadcaster – the SABC – announced that it would will no longer broadcast footage of people destroying public property during protests.

The SABC’s Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, said that the destruction of public property was disrupting the lives of many, and that as a responsible public institution the SABC would not “assist these individuals to push their agenda that seeks media attention. As a public service broadcaster we have a mandate to educate the citizens, and we therefore have taken this bold decision to show that violent protests are not necessary,” he announced. The SABC argued that continuing to broadcast this material could “encourage other communities to do the same”.

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by Professor Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Research Fellow and Extraordinary Professor, University of Pretoria

image: Reuters

image: Reuters

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Photo: copyright Keith Somerville. Madikwe, South Africa

On 24th September this year, South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The regular CITES conferences have since the late 1980s been the main battleground for the competing camps when it comes to the relationship between the trade in ivory and the conservation of elephants. This year’s meeting in Johannesburg from 24th September to 5th October will be no exception. The trenches are already being dug and the opening skirmishes have taken place more than two months before the delegates gather.

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By Sue Onslow, Senior Research Fellow, ICwS

Facundo Arrizabalga/EPA

Facundo Arrizabalga/EPA

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Before the poll, the uniform message from the other leaders of the 53-member association had been a desire for Britain to remain a member of the EU. To the Commonwealth, Britain was a powerful and privileged member within the EU trading bloc, with considerable opportunities for diplomatic leverage in broader Commonwealth interests.

But unlike their political leaders, Commonwealth citizens in Britain who were entitled to vote in the referendum (the approximate number varied between 890,000 and 960,000) were by no means a monolithic bloc supporting the Remain camp.

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By Professor Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Fantastically-corrupt-comment-by-David-Cameron

‘Fantastically corrupt’. Prime Minister Cameron discussing Nigeria with HM The Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker of the House of Commons

 

Just before May’s anti-corruption summit in London, British prime Minister David Cameron, made his now infamous public gaffe when he boasted to the Queen in a rather a silly, schoolboyish way that, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”.   The rudeness and stupidity of the remarks, made in front of TV cameras, apart it was also inaccurate.  Nigeria justifiably has a reputation for corruption and criminal networks, but it is by no means one of the two most corrupt countries in the world, Somalia and North Korea hold that distinction, according to Transparency International.  Nigeria also ranks as less corrupt as key British and American ally in the war against Islamists in East Africa, Kenya – Kenya is ranked 139 out of 167 countries and Nigeria 136.

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Image credit: Botschaft-Madagaskar

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This in turn led to calls for policies to be redirected. Countries were urged to strengthen their middle classes. The leading proponents were the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) followed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The OECD’s view is evident in its Global Development Perspectives 2012 report and the UNDP’s in its 2013 Human Development Report.

The main economists behind this push included World Bank chief economist Martin Ravallion, his former colleague, William Easterly, Nancy Birdsall from the Centre for Global Development in Washington, and Homi Kharas from the OECD Development Centre.

They define middle class as a group of people with a minimum of anything from US$2 to $10 monetary income/expenditure a day.

But such a reduced approach misses much of what is required for a proper analysis of a class – its character, and its positioning in and impact on society. Rather, the discovery of the middle class was linked to its anticipated role in promoting social change to which those in the “business of development” could pin their hopes.

This, however, shifts the debate away from the critical assessment of obstacles to development. It thereby gets in the way of a proper diagnosis of the real challenges to promoting more social equality and justice in some of the most unequal societies in our world.

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Remember Soweto poster

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