Wed, Mar 25, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Despite conservationists’ best efforts, the world is losing the wildlife war

It has been a year since 46 countries signed the ‘London declaration,’ a pledge to eradicate the trade in horn and ivory, but elephants and rhinos are still being pushed ever closer to extinction

By David Smith  /  The Observer

South Africa, which is home to 90 percent of Africa’s rhinos, has appointed a panel of 21 experts to examine the viability of a legal rhino horn trade.

Milliken accused it of failing to show leadership or political will.

“One of the biggest disappointments has been the lack of participation and profile of South Africa,” he said. “It has a very strong conservation record historically, but it is currently the epicenter of the rhino horn trade: More are being killed in South Africa than ever before. We’re starting to see greater evidence of internal corruption in South Africa that’s aiding and abetting the trade. We’ve not seen the government stepping up.”

Four out of five rhino poachers in South Africa come from neighboring Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, where villagers are tempted by the promise of money.

“Mozambique’s record since the London conference has been abysmal. Its first report came late and is barely worth the paper it’s written on. It’s a real failure of intent,” Save the Rhino international director Cathy Dean said.

The scale of impunity was vividly illustrated when Bartholomaus Grill, a German journalist with Der Spiegel, went to Mozambique to investigate the supply chain from South Africa through go-betweens to the horns’ ultimate buyers in Vietnam, where they fetch up to US$65,000 a kilo — more valuable than gold.

When he visited the home of a notorious poaching kingpin, Grill was taken hostage by an angry mob and threatened with death. Far from offering help, the local police appeared to be under the kingpin’s thumb.

Just as South Africa is hardest hit by rhino poaching, Tanzania is losing more elephants than any other country: an estimated 10,000 in 2013. Yet in contrast to South Africa’s conspicuous absence from the London conference, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete showed up and has been praised for toughening law enforcement over the past year.

In December last year, Feisal Ali Mohammed, an alleged organized crime boss and leading figure in the ivory trade, was arrested by Interpol agents in Dar es Salaam.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme, visited the east African country after the London conference.

“One of the things we were endeavoring to do in Tanzania was raise awareness among the judiciary of the seriousness of the crime and what this criminal trade is doing to Tanzania’s prospects,” she told the Observer in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, last week.

“You can do a calculation that shows that an elephant alive is worth a million dollars to the economy over the course of its life. An elephant dead gives some local — how much, a couple of hundred dollars, who knows? — which is big money for them, but petty cash when it comes to overall benefits,” Clark said.

“It does require a lot of mobilization of local communities around positive, constructive development to stop it; otherwise people go to the guys with guns and the money to get their income,” she added.

Politicians in Tanzania say they are aware of the need to tackle poverty.

“The villages that surround these sanctuaries have to somehow be taken care of in a manner that people do not feel that ‘we have to help poachers to poach so we can make a living,” said Tanzanian Deputy Minister of Communication, Science and Technology January Makamba, a potential presidential candidate this year.

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