Wildlife in Crisis: Markets, responses, solutions.

25 May 2015 - 10:00


Wildlife in Crisis Seminar Series

The Wildlife in Crisis seminars brought together leading conservationists, anti-poaching and law enforcement officials, researchers and activists for three evenings of debate on some of the most critical, challenging and thorny issues in conservation today. Speakers in this seminar - which looked at current anti-poaching strategies and the role of communities and conservation

Wildlife in Crisis Seminar Series 2015

Over the past decade, the illicit trade in wildlife and animal parts has become a multi-billion dollar black market industry. A significant rise in the rate at which animals, across a range of species, are being illegally exploited has generated a global outcry. Last month the Republic of Congo’s president set fire to 5 tons of confiscated elephant ivory in Brazzaville.


In South Africa – home to about 73% of the world’s rhino population – more than 4,300 rhino have been killed by poachers in the past six-and-a-half years; sixteen times the number poached in the preceding 27 years. In Kenya, armed rangers guard the world’s last surviving northern white rhino, 43 year-old Sudan, around the clock.


Elsewhere, pangolins are fast disappearing, trafficked for their scales and flesh by the ton, as was discovered last month in Indonesia. In the forests of West Africa, whole families of adult chimpanzees are hacked and shot to death by poachers trying to capture their young for the exotic pet trade, and lions have become more valuable for their bones than they are alive.


The human cost on both sides of the conflict is immense. Game rangers, activists, soldiers and police have been killed and dozens of poachers are shot dead every year. Corruption is widespread. Our wildlife are in crisis.


The trade is driven in part by poverty and in part by growing demand, particularly in Asia, for wildlife products. No one solution seems fit for purpose. This is an issue that should concern all South Africans, but is often seen as a “white middle class” one. It is critical that this be changed.


Several species in South Africa are under threat, but the rampant poaching of white rhino has become an issue that has generated an intense public debate, with deep-set divisions on how best to proceed with the protection of the rhino from poaching and inevitable extinction.


Those who posit the option of legalising trade in rhino horn in the name of regulating the market are as impassioned and outraged as those who are against the idea. This became apparent at the public hearings held over three days in March this year at the request of the government-appointed Committee of Inquiry on matters relating to the rhino.


The Committee has the task of advising government on whether CITES, the international regime for regulating wildlife trade, should be requested to lift the ban on trading in rhino horn – effectively making the practice legal. Those opposed to legalising trade came with sophisticated arguments that, amongst others, claim that the sale of rhino horn would lead to an increase in demand and place even more pressure on the dwindling rhino population.


Those supporting the legalisation of trade produce equally cogent arguments supporting their case. They, for example, posit that unless a commercial value is attached to rhino horn to enable it to be traded legally, rhino owners and game conservationists will not be able to generate the revenue required to win the battle against sophisticated poachers.


“Trading is not the answer, more effective policing is required” the opposition might say. “The resources for this are not there and only the legal sale of rhino horn will help” is the retort.


Private rhino owners warn that many can no longer afford the soaring cost of protecting rhino from poachers. Law enforcement officials complain that they don’t have sufficient resources to do more. NGOs have voiced concerns about the militarisation of wildlife protection and anti-poaching operations.


The concerns and criticism are many, and almost every solution proposed is as vehemently contested. What is common cause, is the imminent extinction of Rhino as the first of several species in the same predicament, unless substantive steps are taken.


These debates mirror discussions around several other illicit markets now in the news: drugs, the smuggling of people, or the trade in cultural artifacts. In a context where illicit trade easily crosses national borders, and where state authorities lack the resources, skills and information to effectively respond, new ways of thinking and acting are needed.


This is now a key discussion in a globalized world – and success will determine whether or not we will leave sustainable wildlife resources as a legacy for future generations.


These issues will be explored in a series of expert lectures and discussions conducted over three evenings at the University of Cape Town, 18-19-20 May in the Kramer Building, Lecture Theatre 1. 

Wildlife in Crisis Seminar Highlights 

Seminar 1: The Current Status of Poaching &the Role of Communities in Conservation

18 May 2015 - People and wildlife: a status report.


Director of UCT's Centre of Criminology, Prof Mark Shaw, gives an overview of the first day of discussions at the Wildlife in Crisis conference, looking at all possible responses involving people and their interactions with wildlife.

The challenges of ending poaching in the Kruger Park were clearly laid out on the first night of the Centre of Criminology's series on Wildlife in Crisis. Johan Jooste, the head of anti-poaching operations in the park, described a situation in which there were three incursions by poacher groups every day and twelve poaching groups in the park at any one time. Armed clashes between rangers and poaching groups occurred weekly, with an estimated 4 300 poachers having entered the park in 2014.

When questioned as to whether SANParks' response was leading to a "militarisation of the park" including the use of language around the "neutralisation" of poachers, Jooste's response was unequivocal: if anyone has a better idea at the moment as to what to do, they should put it forward. Right now, however, the main task was to protect the remaining rhino.

Jooste was also clear that the fight could not be won in Kruger. What was required was a wider and holistic response, including better law enforcement responses to the sophisticated criminal networks that now drive the wildlife trade. There had been, he argued, good progress in Mozambique in the past number of months, but there remained much to do.

Corruption was a central challenge: new measures were being implemented including the 'truth testing' of rangers and managers at Kruger.

Moshakge Molokwane, national secretary of People and Parks argued that communities surrounding the protected wildlife areas needed a stake in the management of the parks if they were to be partners in stemming wildlife trafficking. He said that while those who were wealthy could hunt for "entertainment", ordinary poor people poached as a survival strategy or as "an act of defiance". Meeting the needs of poor communities living around the parks was therefore also a key strategy to counter poaching.

The complexity of responding to demand in Asia for rhino horn and ivory was outlined by Tess Rayner from the organisation Traffic. She concluded that changing behaviours was an enormous challenge and central to any strategy was to "make people think that they themselves had made the change." Change could not be imposed: people had to be included. It was not clear, however, given the current rate of poaching, whether there was time for demand-reduction initiatives to bear fruit.

The British High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith McGregor, outlined what her government, for its part, was trying to do stem illicit trade in wildlife products. A high-level meeting in London in 2014 had been followed by another in early 2015 in Kasane. There was progress, but bringing different country representatives together was always a complex process, and it required political will to make a difference. The Kasane meeting would be followed by one in Vietnam, a major consumer country. This signalled a strong commitment to building an international partnership, but it would take time.

The question of the lack of time that South Africa has to stem poaching and the illicit trade in wildlife products, most notably rhino horn, remained a key question. One questioner argued that given the iconic state of the rhino that a "state of emergency" should be declared. That raised the issue of what more could be done and are we doing enough – and whether there was any consensus at all as to possible solutions.

Watch Seminar 1:  People & wildlife - A status report 


Seminar 2: The Search For Solutions & The Trade Debate

19 May 2015 - A solution to South Africa's wildlife crisis? 


Prof Mark Shaw, director of UCT's Centre of Criminology, reflects on the illicit trade in wildlife and animal parts, and considers some of the solutions posed and hotly debated


The debate around legalised trade in rhino horn as one of the proposed solutions to rampant poaching is perhaps the most divisive issues in conservation today. Would a stable, regulated supply of rhino horn bring down current black market prices? Would it satiate the demand and put criminal networks out of business? And could the money from rhino horn sales be used to aid poverty-stricken communities and underfunded, under-resourced national parks and private reserves? 

These were among the key questions raised in a sometimes-heated debate during the second of three Wildlife in Crisis seminars hosted by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, in conjunction with Conservation in Action, at UCT. 


The dramatic spike in rhino poaching since 2008 has been driven by demand from new Asian markets, notably Vietnam, Dr Jo Shaw, the rhino project manager at WWF South Africa, said in a presentation sketching the roots of the current crisis. "It is not just one demand from one market for one product. It exists in Vietnam, it exists in China, and trade seems to be flourishing on the Laos and Myanmar border." 


Rhino horn has a "mythical status", in traditional Vietnamese and Chinese medicine, Shaw said. Traditionally it is believed to reduce heat and impurities in the body. In the last five-to-ten years it has also gained traction as a status symbol for the very rich and powerful. 

Three animals a day are being lost. Nearly 400 rhino were poached in South Africa in the first four months of this year, a nearly 20% increase on the same period last year. 


"We should not underestimate the effectiveness of the illicit supply chains," Shaw said, " ... or the impact of very rapid globalisation ... in terms of people's ability to move information, to move money and the product. These [criminal] chains are highly adaptive, they can move rapidly across national borders. Law enforcement agencies are simply not able to react at the same level and agility."


In order to prevent rhino from going extinct, it is as important to ensure that more rhinos are born, as it is to stop the killing. Shaw believes it is vital that conservation benefits communities adjacent to national parks and private reserves. There should be enhanced law enforcement efforts to target transnational organised crime syndicates and co-operation between governments should extend beyond "conference and talkshops". 


Alejandro Nadal, a professor of economics at El Colegio de Mexico, argued that trade is not the answer. There are too many unknowns and there is a very "real danger" that experiments with legal trade may create a "runaway expanding market". There is a "veil of ignorance" over the illicit market, Nadal said. "We know very little about the market. We know little about the ownership structures [of rhino horn trafficking syndicates], we know virtually nothing about the cost structures. How do [syndicates] look at their costs and make pricing decisions? How are they financed? Do we know how much of the market is concentrated? How will poachers compete with legal traders? Is the market contracting or expanding? From the killing fields to the retailers and final markets, what do we know about the value chain? How many stages or segments are there in this long chain of events? How many middle men? How many transactions? 

"If you don't know anything about these things, it is very adventurous to say that legal, stable supply will bring prices down. We don't even have an approximation of an idea of what the structure of this market is. No information whatsoever." 


In that void, Nadal said, it was "really alarming to make policy decisions". "Outcompeting the cartels is not guaranteed". 

"Everyone stands to lose. Many economists propose a conservation policy based on the easy slogan of 'what pays, stays'. I think the world they think they understand does not exist." In contrast, John Hanks an independent environmental consultant argued that legal trade deserves "a resolute and more dispassionate consideration as a sustainable solution if rhinos are to survive". 

"A horn on the illegal market is worth about R2-million (around $160,000). A fundamental rethink is needed on the way forward, otherwise rhino and many other species will continue to dwindle. 


"About 1 500 horn sets were poached and smuggled out of South Africa in 2014. That is a total retail value of around R4-billion (about $330-million) going to criminals." 


Hanks believes that a strictly regulated legal trade in horn would ensure that: 

  • Rhino horn can be supplied without killing a single animal
  • Live rhinos will be more valuable than dead rhinos (rhino horn regrows after it has been harvested; in males at a rate of about 1kg a year and in females at about 600 grams a year) 
  • Rhino horn stockpiles in government and private hands can be fed into the market, removing the high costs and security risks of keeping them
  • State reserves and private owners can generate substantial income from animals which, at present, are a massive burden
  • Controlled legal trade would encourage other private rhino owners and local communities to buy more rhinos and breed with them. 

He cited a recent study which found that a 16km squared community rhino farm could hold at least 60 rhino, create 100 full-time jobs and generate income of at least R12-million a year. 


Local communities surrounding parks and in areas where poachers are recruited are key to finding a solution to the poaching crisis, Hanks said. "Imagine you live there [in one of the 'poaching villages']. Real poverty, no job, malnutrition, no hope for the future and somebody comes into the village and says, 'Here is R20 000 in crisp new notes. Go and kill me a rhino.' Of course you are going to be tempted." 


Political will is lacking because there are so many other priorities for governments in Africa. 

"In South Africa, can we honestly expect government to put millions more into the conservation of one species when government is faced with so many pressing economic problems? Look at what is happening to our water reserves, there is the need for better education, for employment opportunities. Conservation of a single species is not seen as a priority. There is inadequate law enforcement linked to widespread corruption. There is the continued alienation of rural communities by punitive measures to protect wildlife. In too many cases there is little or no attempt to help these people develop alternative, sustainable livelihoods." 

Conservation areas across Africa are severely underfunded. "There isn't a single protected area that has adequate funding." 


Hanks believes South Africa should "present a very strong case for legal trade that will benefit agencies responsible for protected areas, private land-owners with rhinos and adjacent communities" to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, when its 181 members states meet in Cape Town next year. 

Will Travers president of the Born Free Foundation, an ardent opponent to legal trade disagreed, saying that "legalised trade will not stop poaching [and], in my view, will actually increase poaching as criminals launder money into the now legal rhino horn market and undercut whatever price is set by whatever mechanism you can come up with". 

"No one as far as I know has done any really serious analysis of the market, the drivers of the market, the size of the market [or] the desire of the market People talk about demand reduction. I prefer a clear focus on demand elimination." 

Referring to the lack of funds available from governments for conservation, Travers said this could be resolved, in part, in South Africa, with the introduction of a "conservation contribution of R50 for every one of the 9.5-million visitors who come to the country every year". 

"The burden of development challenges and eco-system protection cannot be placed at the door of a handful of high value species. 

"South Africa stands at a crossroads: that its current approach to rhino horn trade may unnecessarily isolate it from other countries in Africa, that it risks losing public goodwill and that it may be seen to be increasingly out of step with public opinion." 

South Africa, as host nation of the CITES conference of parties in 2016, "does not want to suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of its guests". 

"CITES can and will, I believe, reject proposals for the legalisation of rhino horn trade that I contend increases the threat to the species," Travers said. 

Story by Julian Rademeyer from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime. 


Watch Seminar 2: the search for solutions and the trade debate

Seminar 3: Law Enforcement & Legal Challenges in Tackling Wildlife Crime

20 May 2015 -No easy solutions to wildlife trafficking

There are no easy solutions to the growing scourge of international wildlife trafficking and the illicit trade in rhino horn and ivory. All too often, law enforcement efforts in countries that are directly affected stop where borders begin, allowing transnational syndicates to operate with impunity.

These were among the central themes in the third of three Wildlife in Crisis seminars hosted at UCT by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime in conjunction with Conservation in Action. Time and again the "wrong people" are brought together to debate possible solutions said John Sellar – an anti-smuggling, fraud and organised crime consultant, and former CITES law enforcement chief. Wildlife crime has been discussed at dozens of conferences in dozens of cities but law enforcement officials – the people on the frontlines – are invariably excluded from gatherings of politicians, researchers, environmental activists and bureaucrats discussing ways to stop the slaughter. "Millions have been spent bringing the wrong people together," he said. "It is time for action and we need a new set of players around the table." 

"I earnestly believe that reaching senior managers and policy makers in the law enforcement community is long overdue. They need to be convinced of the vital role they have to play. It is they who ought to be designing, adopting and implementing strategies to deal with organised crime, not politicians, organisations or campaigners." 

Sellar added that the heavy focus on military strategies and anti-poaching operations was misguided. "The cop in me makes me believe that military strategies should only be temporary. Military strategy may stop the killing but not the trafficking ... Every time a rhino is killed or an elephant's tusks are smuggled across a border, we have lost a battle. If you focus too much on anti-poaching you are not going to win the war."

The real issue, he said, is crime. "Wildlife trafficking is going to go on relentlessly until we either bring the people controlling it to justice or we make it too risky for those people to profit from it. 

"We have to get people around world who deal with organised crime on board. Can it really be that simple? I believe it can." 


Bonaventure Ebayi, director of the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations, said that wildlife crime in Africa should be seen "as a socio-economic problem". Wildlife crime is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars in lost resources and development opportunities. 

It poses a threat to national and international security, leads to the transmission of zoonotic diseases, degrades ecosystems, leads to a dramatic loss in biodiversity, undermines the rule of law and negatively affects the livelihoods of rural communities. 


More countries need to share information, there needs to be an increase in the number of countries with strong legislation to curb poaching and wildlife trafficking, and there is a need for improved technological responses to poaching. 


According to Paula Kahumbu, a Kenyan activist and CEO of WildlifeDirect, "we need to reinvent ourselves" to tackle wildlife crime. 


"There is an enemy out there and the enemies are the poachers with guns, bows and arrows, snares." 

Referring to the often fractious debate over legalised trade in rhino horn and ivory, she said: "We come into these meetings and act as if we are fighting with each other, but we are all on the same side ... Deep down we all believe in the protection of this magnificent wildlife heritage ... We must go to war with those who threaten our heritage ... We need to win the hearts and minds of everyone in Africa to support our heritage, eliminate supply of ivory, and extinguish demand." 

In Kenya, the Hands of Our Elephants campaign which she has spearheaded along with the country;s first lady, Margaret Kenyatta is having an impact, she said. There has been public pressure on courts to impose stiffer sentences on wildlife criminals. "We were able to show that 70% of case files went missing in Kenya courts and while there was a 78% conviction rate [in wildlife cases] less than 4% of those convicted went to jail."


In January last year as a result of public pressure a new law was passed which allowed for a fine of around $170 000 or life imprisonment to be imposed in cases involving offences against endangered species 

Kahumbu said there had been "major wins" in Kenya, with elephant poaching falling 50% and rhino poaching down by 40%. 

She argued that if South Africa did decide to push for a re-opening of legal trade in rhino horn, the impact would be devastating. "Kenya will lose every one of her rhinos." She said she was "really afraid" that if a trade proposal was passed by CITES in 2016, it would undo demand reduction campaigns that have been trying to persuade buyers in Vietnam and China to stop buying rhino horn and ivory and will be "heaven for poachers". 


Antoinette Ferreira, a specialist environment and organised crime prosecutor at South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, said there will "never be an end to poaching in South Africa". While the country has "wonderful legislation" it is "not making a difference". 

Corruption, she said, is the "thing that makes my job difficult". 

"There are people infiltrated in every chain of command where enforcement is involved ..... 

"Sophisticated environmental crime networks are aided by government enforcement agencies that lack political and financial backing to do their job. This is compounded by a lack of adequate training for police and customs officials in many countries to deal with environmental crimes." 

A minimum sentence of 15 years should be imposed in wildlife crime cases and there should be efforts to make it more difficult for wildlife crime suspects to obtain bail. 


Paul Gildenhuys, who heads up biodiversity enforcement at CapeNature in South Africa's Western Cape province, said state coffers were overwhelmed with competing funding priorities and laws were fragmented, limiting enforcement efforts. 

"It is essential that co-operation between countries is improved ... [and] there must be buy-in from all levels of government."

The impact of wildlife crime is not limited to charismatic species like rhino, elephants and lions. In the Western Cape, collectors and scientists have been implicated in smuggling rare colophon beetles, tortoises and plants including 80 000 proteas. 

Effective law enforcement to curb a range of wildlife crime activities requires dedicated, specialist staff with adequate resources and funding and properly implemented legislation. 

Story by Julian Rademeyer from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime. 


Watch Seminar 3: law enforcement and legal challenges in tackling wildlife crime