Rhino Horn To Trade Or Not To Trade: Does It Really Matter
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Over the years, reports have valued the illegal wildlife trade to be a multibillion dollar industry (UNEP INTERPOL 2016). The opportunity to make huge profits with relatively low risk of punishment has given rise to the involvement of organized crime groups taking advantage of gaps in legislation, and weak law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Using sophisticated schemes they can quickly adapt to changing conditions to keep the supply going. Employing a complex web of poachers, illegal loggers, middlemen, networks of traffickers, transporters, and traders, these criminal groups stay one step ahead of the law. However, the illegal trade is not limited to organized groups as often it is small scale and country based, satisfying local demand or personal needs. The UNODC World Wildlife Crime Report 2016 goes into detail about the extent of the problem and explains how networks operate.Because of this criminal activity, our ecosystems are being damaged beyond repair and some species of wildlife are being pushed to the brink of extinction. This is contrary to the aim of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) a binding agreement concerning the trade in wildlife signed by 183 parties to safeguard many species from over-exploitation. Today, it accords varying degrees of protection to approximately 5,600 species of wildlife and 30,000 species of plants from a total ban in trade to trade under controlled conditions.How do we strengthen law enforcement response to the illegal wildlife trade Ideally, poaching should be stopped at the site level. This requires effective patrolling by dedicated law enforcement personnel i.e. park rangers with resources and equipment to face well-armed poachers. This is essential for deterrence, interception and in the worst-case scenario having to secure a crime scene. To complement these efforts, park rangers need to work alongside local communities who are the eyes and ears on the ground and can provide valuable information for investigations. The role of communities in law enforcement is essential since there are many small-scale, opportunistic poachers who are easily recognizable. Thus, incentivizing communities and raising local awareness helps law enforcement efforts.Enforcement agencies need to think like criminals, but act within the law. They need to understand how a criminal group operates and respond quickly to information received. Data is crucial for investigators who seek out crime perpetrators and aim to bringing them to justice under national wildlife laws or the CITES agreement. There are many challenges during this phase since laws are weak, sentences for wildlife crimes are not tough, corruption can lead to the case being dropped, and lack of capacity could lead to the case being overlooked due to technicalities. Furthermore, there needs to be a judicial process that is not hindered by political interference.Data is also key for intelligence officials who work proactively, building on information to develop intelligence packages on networks and routes. Such intelligence-led operations should lead to disruption, intervention and arrests to prevent crimes from being committed.To make this all work, it is essential that a robust wildlife crime legal framework exists that allows law enforcement officials to work effectively and efficiently. This requires strong political will and it is the role of government to enact the laws. Additionally, there needs to be careful investment in capacity building, data collection, investigative techniques, intelligence training and judicial training. The Global Wildlife Program, led by the World Bank and funded by the Global Environment Facility is facilitating elements of law enforcement capacity building across 19 countries in Asia and Africa.If the wildlife commodity is in transit, intercepting it requires understanding the transit routes (whether through air or ship) and knowing which containers/packages are most likely to contain contraband. The map below represents the flights used to traffic rhino horn products through the air transport sector. This includes instances where the product did not actually enter a country because it was seized earlier in the routes. Each line represents one flight and the bubbles represent the total number of flights to and from each city.
Wild vertebrate populations all over the globe are in decline, with poaching being the second-most-important cause. The high poaching rate of rhinoceros may drive these species into extinction within the coming decades. Some stakeholders argue to lift the ban on international rhino horn trade to potentially benefit rhino conservation, as current interventions appear to be insufficient. We reviewed scientific and grey literature to scrutinize the validity of reasoning behind the potential benefit of legal horn trade for wild rhino populations. We identified four mechanisms through which legal trade would impact wild rhino populations, of which only the increased revenue for rhino farmers could potentially benefit rhino conservation. Conversely, the global demand for rhino horn is likely to increase to a level that cannot be met solely by legal supply. Moreover, corruption is omnipresent in countries along the trade routes, which has the potential to negatively affect rhino conservation. Finally, programmes aimed at reducing rhino horn demand will be counteracted through trade legalization by removing the stigma on consuming rhino horn. Combining these insights and comparing them with criteria for sustainable wildlife farming, we conclude that legalizing rhino horn trade will likely negatively impact the remaining wild rhino populations. To preserve rhino species, we suggest to prioritize reducing corruption within rhino horn trade, increasing the rhino population within well-protected 'safe havens' and implementing educational programmes and law enforcement targeted at rhino horn consumers.
This willingness of the pro-trade camp to incriminate itself by admitting the facilitation of transnational criminal activity by supplying rhino horns destined for illegal markets in Southeast Asia and China is almost amusing.
The current CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) listings prohibit trade in products such as rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger bone. The sad truth is, however, that all this has really achieved is to push trade underground. Prohibition of supply does nothing to stop the demand, and the black market for these illegal products is still clearly thriving. This year rhino poaching has reached a tipping point with an average of 2-3 rhinos killed every day, and an estimated total of 900-1000 by the end of the year. We lose 1 tiger every day, an elephant every fifteen minutes4. And the killing doesn't stop there, with the heavy militarization of the \"war\" on poaching claiming victims on both sides - rangers and rustlers alike. The monetary costs aren't small either, with conservation resources being redirected to fund thefight against poaching.
The main ambition is that the income generated from the sale of certified farmed rhino horn would fund rhino protection and create jobs, therefore providing an incentive for local people to manage populations sustainably and ensure their long-term survival. Instead of being a heavily aid-dependent species, rhinos would, in theory, then produce funding for their own conservation.Admittedly, it seems a sorry state of affairs when species have to \"earn their keep\" in such away but, as Kirsten Conrad explained at the debate, it is this attitude which fuels the black market in illegal animal products4. Conrad argued that in Asian cultures the dominant motivation for the conservation of wildlife is for its use to humans (as opposed to its intrinsic value or its contribution to ecosystem function and biodiversity for example). This, she says, is the main reason the bans do not work. Whether we like it or not, the fate of these species is largely in the hands of the people who use these products and fuel the illegal trade. Rhino horn has been used in Asian medicine for millennia, and, despite the complete lack of science to support its effectiveness, it's not about to go out of fashion any time soon. The culturally imperialistic practice of telling other countries that their traditional medicines do not work and their beliefs are wrong doesn't exactly help to get them on our side either (now there's a science communication challenge for you!). If bans are not aligned to public values they will not work, you need to filter your message through people's value systems, and, Conrad argued, a legalized trade is one way to approach this.Of course it's not quite that simple, the key issue being how to prevent, or at least reduce the incentive for illegal poaching to continue on the sidelines. The case put forward at the debate was to compete directly with the criminals in order to make illegal trade less desirable. Forthis to be achieved:
This presents yet another problem - how do you ensure that illegal products do not find their way onto the legal trade market. There has been talk recently of micro-chipping rhino horns, but if the horn is sold as a powdered product, how could you be sure of it's origin Permits and I.D cards can be easily faked, turning the legal trade into a screen for more illegal activity. If a legalised trade would be just as difficult to police as an outright ban, it could be better to invest in enforcing the ban more effectively than introducing a whole new high-regulated trading system. As those in opposition at the conference argued, at least with a ban you know that all the products are illegal rather than having to spend time and money distinguishing between the two.
If we cannot do more to fight poaching and enforce the ban before it's too late, we may have to face the harsh truth that there are no palatable choices left. If legalizing trade is our only alternative, we have to decide: is a live, farmed rhino without a horn really better than no rhino at all 153554b96e