Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Experts raise alarm over China move to reopen rhino horns trade

Two rhinos in a park. Around 40 rhino horns worth millions of dollars have been stolen from the safe of a state tourism organisation in South Africa, a press report said Monday. The horns -- which are highly prized in some forms traditional medicine -- were taken from the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) at the weekend, the Lowvelder newspaper reported. PHOTO/FILE
Two rhinos in a park. China’s decision to reopen trade on rhino horn and tiger bones has raised alarm in conservation circles. PHOTO/FILE 
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China’s decision to reopen trade on rhino horn and tiger bones has raised alarm in conservation circles.
Many experts have condemned the move as one that could have dire repercussions for the endangered species as others argue that a controlled rhino horn market is the surest way to secure rhino’s future.
Critics have expressed fears that legalising the rhino horn market in Asia will directly encourage poaching in African countries and roll back the steps that have been made to protect the animal over the past few decades.
According to conservation policy expert Daudi Sumba, Kenya’s rhinos are facing serious threat from poachers and will require the government and conservationists to put more effort to keep them safe.
“Reopening the market has reactivated demand in rhino products and we can expect to see a sharp rise in poaching as illegal traders scramble to supply the market,” said Mr Sumba.
He said that the survival of the rhino under these conditions will depend on what the government and other stakeholders do to protect the rhino going forward.
“The government now needs to get even more creative with its conservation efforts. The first thing it must do is to increase resources for wildlife protection instead of just pointing fingers at the Chinese, and getting the local communities more involved in conservation efforts,” said Mr Sumba.
He added that while the government does engage communities in formulating conservation policies, it is not as enthusiastic in sharing tourism revenues with the locals who then struggle to understand how they can benefit from protecting wildlife.
“If local communities are not invited to share in revenue collected from tourism, then they will resent protecting these animals and they will work with poachers to make a quick buck,” said Mr Sumba.
In addition, he said that the government must raise awareness among the general population on why conservation is important, even beyond the money.
While China has specified that it would source rhino horn from animals farmed under strictly controlled terms to deter poaching, conservationists have said that as long as the market exists, there will be no way to ensure that poached horns do not find their way in.
"Demand for rhino horn is killing more than 1,000 rhinos each year," said Dr Philip Muruthi, vice president for species conservation at African Wildlife Foundation.
"The rhino horn trade is currently disallowed and should remain so. Allowing a legal trade will further jeopardise the already imperilled African rhino and will be used by criminal syndicates to mask their illegal trade. We already know this to be true from China’s experience with elephant ivory."
Kenya’s rhino population has been dealt a huge blow this year, first with the death of the iconic Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world, in March due to old age, and later in July, the death of 11 black rhinos in Tsavo East National Park.
The 11 died of dehydration after they were relocated from Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks to Tsavo where the water in the borehole they were drinking from was found too salty to drink.
International trade on rhino horn has been illegal since 1977 when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned it. CITES currently has 182 members, including Kenya.
Some have however argued that a legal rhino horn trade could be the key to growing rhino populations in Africa.

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