Posts Tagged ‘China


Mozambique: More mud in the murky “rhino-horn” underworld


My recent blog about potential illicit trade and messy politics in Mozambique didn’t open just my eyes, but a somewhat veritable ‘can-of-worms’.

With almost 800 unique page views in under 5 days – of which around 250 were in the first 24 hours – I’ve been quite taken by the 50-60 people who contacted me privately, with about a third of them sharing some stories or suspicions over related matters.

Most of these “informants” who mailed me, and with whom I spoke on the phone, chose to remain anonymous and used random email addresses and “private number” mobiles.  Each bit of feedback seemed interesting, or possible, on its own, but when one hears an almost identical story/theory from two or three totally unconnected people, then some substance starts to evolve.

This blog – quite a lengthy read here – is a brief record of many of these many detailed and deeply concerning allegations that I’ve been party to receiving. In fact, the situation is far more bleak than I initially imagined. From the perspective of where I sit, anyway.

In case you’ve not read “Mozambique: Internal politics and the illicit trade of rhino horn, ivory and Marange diamonds” – 10 April 2013 – here’s the link:

My hope through this post is that more readers might be able to join a few more dots in a gloomy picture emerging and come forward with bits of possibly related knowledge or experience they have.

One of the spin-offs has been the privilege of a few (seemingly) trusted and well-informed “security” folk making comms with me, so we’re setting up a little “intel” research network to collate information and add it to their database, in the hopes of joining many more dots.

Before I write about some of these really murky issues I’ve learned about – which need oxygen for wider awareness of this ‘bloody’ poaching war – let me make a few points:

1. I’ve given each person mentioned a pseudonym, for obvious reasons;

2. I’ve left out pieces from stories that might identify the informant to a third party, which could either compromise him or her and/or complicate our obtaining any more information;

3. Plus – finally – I’ve tried to break down issues into some key areas that make for their own ‘mini-stories’.

SWAZILAND – Casinos, denims and rhino horn …

First up, a map of the area – 


My blog was posted on the evening of Wednesday 10 April. On the Friday morning, a generic email offered to tell me about how a Chinese-owned denim jeans business in Nhlangano had links to one or more South African game hunting operators, based in the area between Vryheid, Piet Retief and Ithala Game Reserve, in terms of possible rhino horn trade and transit to Mozambique via Swaziland.

I looked at my blog stats and saw 2 unique page views from Swaziland that morning. (In the past 12 months, I’d never had a Swazi ‘reader’ on any blog, so it was easy to track reads from that country.)

I replied that I’d like to call the person (Sally) to hear more. Finally got to speak to her that evening, via a third person’s mobile number. Swazi readership was now 6.

Sally worked at Nhlangano Casino for a few years until just after the 2010 FIFA World Cup. She had a younger brother who worked for a Chinese denim jean manufacturer as a dispatch packer and a boyfriend (at the time) who was a truck driver at the same plant and did regular trips to Maputo, via Naamacha border post, freighting various goods between the factory and warehouses in Maputo.

After one such trip, she, the boyfriend and brother were chatting and a story evolved of two potential regular game-ranch farmers from SA – who were regular guests at the casino, often with foreign ‘clients’ – seemingly doing business with an owner/manager of the Chinese denim business that appeared to involve “horns or tusks” from dead animals. Smelly, heavy cartons containing black plastic bags, packed in newspaper were delivered to a Chinese wholesaler’s warehouse in Maputo under rather strange situations twice.

Around the start of the World Cup, Sally was on duty at the casino and noticed the Chinese manufacturer having drinks with the two South African game-ranchers, who’d checked in earlier, in a corner of the bar lounge. Naturally, she was suspicious, so she kept an eye on them. They all went out to the car-park. Since it was getting dark, she couldn’t see quite clearly, but it looked like two, rather bulky and heavy, black-plastic bin bags were being transferred from the rancher’s 4×4 vehicle to the Chinese guy’s SUV.  A few minutes later, they shook hands and the Chinese guy left whilst the two ranchers went off to one of their rooms.

That night, the ranchers and a couple of their guests accompanying them tried to change rather large amounts of US$ into SA rands, but the casino didn’t have sufficient cash on hand to assist. They all gambled, but not to any meaningful extent.

Sally’s (by now) ex-boyfriend had another job, but through her brother, she was able to ascertain that a day or two later a truck driver at the plant had delivered a truckload of cartons to a Chinese-owned factory in Manzini and one carton (that “stank”) to another Chinese guy at another small warehouse.

On the Sunday evening after hearing Sally’s story 2 days earlier, I got an email from a certain “Jaco”, who asked if he could call me.  Turns out, he’d worked for quite a large hunting outfit bordering the west of Kruger National Park for a year or so in 2008/9. He started his call to me by saying that he felt some rhino horn was being smuggled out of South Africa and into Mozambqiue via Swaziland. My ears pricked up.

He told the story of how a couple of Thai guys had been hunting guests for a couple of days, during which time he knew of 4 rhino that had been hunted by the ranch owner and a neighbour of his illegally, because they were almost certainly Kruger rhino on their land. On a Friday evening, one of the other young rangers employed there told him that the owner, the neighbour and the 2 Thai guests had gone to play golf and gamble in Swaziland for the weekend. On the Saturday, the owner’s wife mentioned that the Thai guests were going to fly back to Johannesburg from Swaziland and had taken their ‘trophy horns’ with them, but yet they arrived back at the ranch on Sunday evening.

Jaco drove them to a nearby airport on the Monday morning, but there was no sign of any horns. He kept quiet. No one ever said anything about this again.

A couple of months later – on a Friday or Saturday night – at a local town watering hole, he then heard a story about how his boss was part of a hunt on another neighbour’s farm where apparently 2 more Kruger rhino were shot, illegally, a day or two earlier. The next day, he heard from his employer’s son that the rancher had flown that weekend, with a few mates – one of whom had a private plane – and the neighbouring rancher where the latest hunt had taken place was in this ‘tour party’ – to Swaziland for a “bit of golf and gambling”. He wondered to himself about the rhino horns, but never said anything to anyone, and learnt nothing more.

He’d forgotten about all this until he read my blog via Facebook and simply felt there were too many suspicions from his own experience for him to remain quiet.


First up, another map of the relevant area.

‘Mark’ is a South African and works in the field of engineering.  He has done a “few years” of consulting work in building new manufacturing plants in Mozambique. One of his latest projects has been some work for a new Chinese investing company building a new cement processing plant near Maputo.

He’d been sent an email by a friend in conservation asking whether or not his experiences in Mozambique tied into some of what I wrote about in my 10 April blog. We spoke “completely OTR – off-the-record”, as work permits and his consulting work would be threatened by any untoward disclosure.

He alerted me to recent major investments in cement processing in Mozambique.
Here’s a relevant new link, given that these new plants involve substantial Chinese employment, trade and project funding –

Through his email-friend, Mark is linked to a conservation project near Kruger National Park’s southern border, and – as such – is deeply concerned about Mozambique’s rhino-poachers.  Through his many meetings with senior executives of Chinese investment companies in Mozambique, he believed that there “was or is” a very strong “cabal” within their Maputo community, where they seemingly have very senior government officials – “possibly right up to ministerial and senior party leaders” in their “back pockets”.

He told me he has had “far too many” conversations where Chinese role-players there who have told him they can organize anything – from “manipulated environmental impact reports” to “forced removals of peoples” on possible new production/factory land (as he alleges happened in the 80 hectare area of the new Magude cement plant), to “bribed” import permits and even having been offered “US dollars” if he needs “cash” to “grease the hands of community leaders, police and governmental officials who obstruct things” – or words to such effect.

He told me that, on “several occasions” over lunches, dinners or drinks, during small chit-chat, the issue of possible “business opportunities” via “cheap-cheap” Chinese goods, “unwrought gold” and “uncut diamonds”, and even “rhino horn and ivory” has been expressed by his Chinese counterparties, informally, much to his personal dismay. And which he tells me he most politely dismissed, as if it was an absolute “non-starter” for him.

To conclude his call, he related a story of an engineering colleague who has been doing some consulting work for a Chinese company invested with a large South African corporate in building the latest “cement processing plant” in the North West province.

Sephaku – a Johannesburg Stock Exchange company that is controlled by Nigerian multi-billionaire, Aliko Dangote – is building a major cement processing plant near Lichtenburg, using a Chinese construction partner, Sinona.

Story link –

Mark is quite clear that Sephaku and its stakeholders have no part whatsoever in the “conspiracy theory” that he then related to me and this information is simply for background.

He told me that, late last year, he had dinner with his old colleague in Johannesburg. During their conversation, they discussed Chinese investment in Southern Africa, which led his colleague to tell him about a rather strange and somewhat suspicious experience he’d recently had in Lichtenburg.

Apparently Mark’s friend met with a colleague at a local hostelry for a beer after work. Sitting in the corner was a “senior engineer” of the Chinese cement-plant contracting firm he knew, plus a well-known Chinese trader in Lichtenburg. They were in deep conversation with a well-known hunting outfitter in the area, plus some unknown, seemingly-rancher type, local fellow. Apparently the hushed word in the town was that the hunting outfitter guy might have been involved in some of the “Thai prostitute” illicit rhino hunts in the region and had sometimes been seen with “Far Eastern nationals” in his company.

Mark’s buddy went over to greet his Chinese engineer counterpart, out of courtesy, and apparently everyone seemed most uneasy. They left soon afterwards, leaving a couple of unfinished drinks.

Mark told me that the point of his call to me was that everyone should always “be alert to” foreign contractors who show an “unusual interest in our wildlife”.

Point well made, though no specific findings of illicit behaviour can be made, thinks ‘moi’.


Now, let’s introduce “Devan”, who made comms with me about 24 hours after my 10 April blog was published, and he read it via a rhino-page link on Facebook. (Another unknown emailer and “private number” mobile user!)

He, too, is a South African “engineer” who has worked quite extensively in Mozambique, and his special interest area is wireless/mobile telephony, an area quite close to my own heart, so I could understand bits of what he told me.

Let me translate – in the most simple terms possible – what he was seemingly trying to tell me … since this might be the “scariest” news of all here … in my humble opinion, looking forward …

A few years ago, Mozambique licensed a 3rd cell phone network operator, namely Vietnam’s state-owned, Defence department’s, “Viettel”.

The two main players at the time were Mtel (Mozambique’s state owned telephony company – TDM – has a reported 74% in the business, which is 100% state owned) and SA’s Vodacom (via Vodafone).

According to Devan, the challenge has been funding rural roll-outs – not defined in detail in the original licensing agreements – as well as optic fibre infrastructure for broadband. Veittel won its licence tender on this basis.

Accordingly, they went “live” in 2011 and then won a major African network operator award in late 2012 –

Here are some links:

A late 2010 announcement – from what I can gather –

10 October 2011 –

16 May 2012 –

22 November 2012 –

What has this got to do with “rhino-poaching” you will ask.  Quite simple, methinks …

a. According to Devan, they now have the best rural coverage in Mozambique, especially along the Kruger National Park border and environs;

b. Again, according to Devan, Viettel has Vietnamese company management strategically placed in key towns and villages and who are seen as the “great benefactors” (using his words) of these communities, so they have ‘high-standing’ therein and access to political and communal influence;  and

c. Finally – almost critically – he’s aware that Viettel apparently owns some very ‘smart’ tracing/listening and jamming software that means – if required – “could” (and he stresses that point) “over-ride” mobile telephone networks in the Kruger National Park from the Mozambique border, for anywhere between a kilometre and, perhaps, 10 kilometres, inside the park’s eastern boundaries, depending on terrain. Such actions, if implemented, could stymie (block?) wireless connections in these park border areas, PLUS, of course, any use of drones that use such networks for mapping and flight paths. All this “subterfuge” (my word) –  according to Devan – could be “smartly used at local base stations” with the “right flick of the switches”. (Alarming, at the least, sez I!)

Well – not being too stupid and yet not bright enough to speak on such matters technically, I thought this might be a fair reflection of a “worst-case-scenario” … hence my inclusion of this insight here.


1. Fred – in Mpumalanga – believes his former employer, who is quite wealthy, but was very cash-strapped at the time, took illegally hunted and harvested rhino horns to Mozambique to sell and subsequently bought a share in a game farm there … but he’s speculating because “things don’t add up”;

2. George – a South African in Maputo – had a strange experience where a Chinese client’s key director in Maputo (in a ‘cement project’) had scheduled a very important meeting on a day, but yet, when George arrived for it, he discovered that “Chen” had been out of the office most of the previous day and had flown to Mauritius suddenly. George told me that over lunch once, “Chen” had asked him if he knew how he could “lay his hands on some rhino horn for his grandparents in China”, and was then wary of the man;

3. John – ‘criminal lawyer’ – in Maputo made comms and said there’s so much corruption in the criminal justice system that it’s surprising any cases come to court and that major corruption allegations, serious theft of state assets, etc, are routinely lost in the system, and that protecting rhino, elephants and wildlife is simply “treated as being as petty as illegal parking tickets” … another sad comment for my memory bank;

4. Mario – a Mozambique “project manager” for road construction – mailed me and we spoke very briefly. He spent about 6 months in and around Moamba in 2007/8, when a Chinese consortium apparently rebuilt a key bridge that was washed away in flooding a few years earlier. He told me that during that time he was staggered at the trade in obviously illegal DVD’s, music CD’s, cheap cigarettes and clothing – plus more – that mushroomed during his contract in the area.  Apparently, he went back last year, and had to travel to Magude. He said he’d heard stories of how “strange things” happen on the road between Magude and Massingir where men with “rifles” get dropped off and collected 2-3 days later. He suggested I get people in the area to speak more about this;

5. Jenny (a former South African in Mozambique) wrote to me about deeply-rooted corruption there. She further suggested I not be too overly optimistic about reaching schools kids because teachers and community leaders controlled what was taught and how the system operated. She gave an example of how a teenage girl, who was an AIDS orphan, was suspended from a state school because she couldn’t pay the teacher for a key exam test, whilst struggling with zero resources to feed herself and her siblings … heart-breaking stuff, in my eyes; and – finally –

6. A word of meaningful insight came via a mail from a South African that runs a major game conservation programme in Mozambique, adjacent Kruger Park. Mike wrote of  how they spend a fortune annually on supporting anti-poaching initiatives, but these are thwarted by:
– The fact that Mozambique’s laws require that they need a ‘law enforcement’ (police) officer present for suspected poacher activity arrests, which costs are for the account of the reserve, and include daily wages for ‘law enforcement’ personnel, food and any transport;
– Mozambique’s failed judicial and law enforcement system whereby they are completely challenged when there is little or no follow up over suspected poacher arrests/handovers, despite proper reporting to the authorities; and
– Fortunately – and on a very bright side – they enjoy an excellent report with SANparks over area security and liaison, thus helping provide a “buffer” defence area between rural Mozambique and KNP, as difficult and costly as it might be, much of which is funded by benefactors of the reserve.


Very clearly, and based on both the SA statistics for poaching from Mozambique nationals plus my own little “Inspector Clouseau” information, this region is a minefield of murky dealings and serious law enforcement challenges.

My initial gut feel is to put this record out there and see how the cards fall.

Meantime, I do believe a complete think-tank is required in SA to resolve how civil society can engage the government of Mozambique.

People have suggested to me that we South Africans must lobby our own government for pressure. However, my own personal experience – with respect to both human rights and environmental/animal rights, plus lawless crime in neighbouring Zimbabwe, over a decade or more – shows a futile outcome.

To my mind, given the Zimbabwean precedents of a complete lack of any government initiative, on many frontiers, engagement by Pretoria and Maputo will be merely superficial and non-interfering of mutual state affairs. Thus, serious, well-considered geo-political discussions amongst informed and understanding South Africans is a great starting place to strategize, methinks!

If anyone wants to connect with anyone else here, or post me their private thoughts, ideas and information, then please mail me –
briang.sandberg <at> gmail (dot) com …

Hope this has been stimulating food for thought for you, even if somewhat long-winded reading. It’s been a rocky road for me for a week, plus.

Before I sign off, I must relate a fascinating observation on Friday 12 April …

I was tracking user connects on my blog during the day – almost hourly, out of interest, given the seemingly huge public readership.

By mid-morning, I’d had – from memory – 9 Mozambique unique readers/viewers. None from Vietnam.

And an hour or so later, I then had 13 Mozambique connects – i.e. 4 new ones. I was interested, given I’d had about 4 Mozambique unique viewers over the previous 12 months of blogging!.

About an hour later, I had 16 Mozambique connects and TWO from Vietnam.  Maybe completely unrelated, but I found it strange to get such an update from Mozambique and possible connects to Vietnam. Wish I could interrogate the user stats to see locations. Out of about 40 unique page-views in 2 hours or so, it seems most strange that 9 were from Mozambique & Vietnam, both not conforming with general viewer trends.

C’est la vie … 

Thank you for reading thus far and please remember copyright issues do subsist here, and – of course – the security of some important folk who’ve chosen to speak to me OTR – ‘off-the-record’. Please handle all this info with due care … thank you!

Brian Sandberg 
Durban. South Africa


Time to support Dr. Ian Player’s call for legal ‘rhino-horn’ trade, but – with conditions …


I know that I’m merely one small voice in a spectrum of regional and global voices of ‘rhinophiles’, who cry out daily to stop the carnage of poaching in South Africa, but I believe I can add some value to the complex – and often highly emotive landscape – of conservation, and, more specifically, growing and protecting this iconic species.

As a reference point, I have chosen to endorse the broad-based view of Dr. Ian Player, who is, and has been, undoubtedly the pre-eminent public face of the species protection – globally – for more than 50 years. As cliched as it might sound, I have learned more about conservation and this species from listening to, and reading, his wise counsel over many years than from any other conservator I’ve heard, read or engaged.

A number of readers here might not understand the rich legacy he has bequeathed this “ancient earth” – as he calls it – and Africa, and our treasured rhino species – so I will add some highly informative links in my footnotes at the end here. I believe they will add an objective perspective for those who rely simply on emotive polemics but have little background knowledge.

He’s called for a mature, objective dialogue on the matter, so I’m throwing my hat in that ring here.


In January 2012 – and even before – I stated publicly that I would endorse certain trade in rhino-horn, BUT – subject to some very key conditions.

With parliamentary hearings on rhino poaching matters held around that time in SA and the subsequent appointment of a “Rhino Issue” task team by our Department of Environmental Affairs to canvas all stakeholders and public opinion on the matter, I remained generally silent, looking to those who knew more than me to proffer sustainable solutions.

Whilst I have always believed that a serious dialogue over potential legal trade in horns was an option – and that seems to be the broad consensus from this stakeholder project – I am hugely encouraged that our Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, felt the initial report was incomplete and tasked the “Rhino Issue Manager”, Mavuso Msimang, to continue the team’s work and provide more detail early in 2013.

I salute the Minister for this objective decision, as my somewhat limited knowledge of various inputs and recommendations also points to a paucity of detail and a clearly defined solution, if indeed ‘legalized trade’ is one of the core solutions.

My singular aim here is to provide some ‘flesh and muscle’ (call it ‘horn’ if you will – LOL!) to the skeleton of a ‘legal trade’ concept, since I know of no specifics that offer a more holistic solution, considering my semi-outsider knowledge of most parties’ submissions to this crucial national engagement.


In the weeks ahead, I will write a detailed proposal, but – for now – my broad-based thinking – although lengthy, because of deeply complex issues – addresses some critical issues, for me, anyway, and they are laid out as follows:

1. Investment in African conservation:

It is an indisputable fact that Africa is home to much of the planet’s greatest natural resources, wilderness areas and wildlife.

It is equally indisputable that the continent’s historical underdevelopment of our people and nations is starting to reverse and this is fast placing inordinate pressures on our finite natural heritage. Whether one likes it or not, human development – which is an absolute necessity – impacts greatly on the environment and new, cohesive thinking is required to deal with such major challenges in ensuring sustainable development for humankind and nature-kind.

By 2050, it is estimated there will be two billion Africans on the continent – double today’s population – and, unless quality economic development can take place, several hundred million Africans under the age of 30 will be consigned to a life of poverty and hopelessness.

This alone is cause for grave concern as many of the areas of social deprivation, poor infrastructure development and poverty are adjacent, or in close proximity, to wilderness areas. There is a plethora of research to support proof that most poaching and illicit wildlife trading is sourced from such communities. I cannot prove via scientific data but I can fairly safely assume that, whilst Africa’s total population will double by 2050, these communities will more than double, simply by virtue of increased life expectancy and poor socio-economic rural development programmes and investment by governments.

As democratic development takes root, more and more governments will be under increasing pressure from their electorates to spend more and more of their limited resources on human development needs, and less and less on natural resource protection, leaving little hope for any further development of wilderness areas and wildlife species.

New sources of revenue and investment will need to be found, over and above developing eco-tourism further. We cannot escape the harsh reality that ‘smarter, justifiable and transparent’ trade in by-products of wildlife is an imperative of the future. Governments simply do not, and will not, have the financial resources to meet the needs of African conservation in the decades ahead. And neither will international donors. There has to be a multi-pronged approach.

In my simple business model – assuming CITES approves trade in rhino horn from natural mortality in 2016 and that the range states and consumer states meet all the requirements by 2018 – then, for a period of 31 years, I project, by 2050, the following can potentially be achieved:

a. The rhino population in African range states will approach 100 000;

b. About ONE BILLION US$ will be invested in conservation by African rhino owners, the majority of whom are national agencies of rhino range states and need new revenues to survive and hopefully grow;

c. Approximately US$ 180 million will be invested in NGO programmes in African rhino range states, with some of revenues applied to non-range states for key conservation programmes;

d. Approximately US$ 125 million will be invested in NGO programmes in China and Vietnam to develop greater conservation projects and reduce illicit wildlife trade and any commercial dependency on threatened and endangered species; and

e. Approximately US$ 25 million will be invested in NGO programmes in Asian rhino range states in order to arrest and positively turnaround the imminent extinction of more of the rhino sub-species.

(A graphic posted after this summary section shows more. My final detailed proposal will have accompanying financial model spreadsheets to support these projections.)

2. ‘Wildlife Trading Company’:

This must be a transparent, clearly defined, centralized ‘Wildlife Trading Company’ that is structured to maximize social responsibility investment (SRI) in conservation, wilderness and species development, skills development, law enforcement and consumer education, whilst securing well-managed distribution channels to avoid both ‘black-market’ dealers and opportunistic spectulators who might otherwise manipulate markets via proposed auction platforms.

The company must be co-owned by the majority of African rhino owners in partnership with a ‘Wildlife Development Trust’ that shall be led by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, to ensure high standards of corporate governance, ‘fair trade’ (if one might call it that) and the efficient and optimal application of SRI funds for pre-agreed programmes.

The ‘Wildlife Trading Company’ shall form subsidiary companies in China and Vietnam that shall be joint-ventures between the state and civil society stakeholders in each country. These subsidiaries will act as wholesale distributors, trading directly with registered traditional medicine practitioners, subject to stringent compliance standards and monitoring, all supported by legislation and active law enforcement in both regions.

I can find no organization anywhere worldwide that is structured in such a manner, for such a key purpose. So, I believe it could become an international pilot that eventually might set a benchmark for possible trade in other threatened or endangered species, under certain strict conditions. Through high standards of transparency and public reporting, valuable lessons should be learned and shared and which, hopefully, will impact positively on the protection and development of many other thousands of species that are subject to both illicit trade and/or current commercial trade where poor oversight and compliance exists.

Primary ownership of WTC must vest with rhino-horn owners. I would think 10-15% of them should be from rhino-range states outside South Africa, and the share allocation should be in some kind of ratio to both ownership of existing horn stock piles, as well as rhino owners that wish to trade future mortality stock. Some form of contractual supply agreement annually for at least the first few years (from stockpiles) would most likely best serve the allocation of shares – whether they be state, parastatal or private owners.

3. ‘Wildlife Development Trust’

The ‘Wildlife Trading Company’ (WTC) shall be incorporated in South Africa and 25% of its issued share capital shall be held by the ‘Wildlife Development Trust’ (WDT).

Its founding ‘rules’ and shareholder agreements will specify key processes, policies and parameters. Any changes to critically designated items will require a shareholder resolution supported by 75% plus one share of the shareholders. This will ensure any possible changes designed to meet purely commercial needs of the 75% rhino-owner shareholders could be blocked if the WDT deems the organization’s founding values and objectives are not being served optimally.

Stocks of rhino horns from duly authenticated natural mortality – all DNA recorded and processed according to traditional medicine practitioner needs – will be exported from WTC-SA to either WTC-China or WTC-Vietnam. A percentage of these export sales will accrue to the WDT for specific pre-agreed programmes. A margin on purchases from rhino horn owners will allow for reasonable operating costs and a small return on sales (suggest 3%) for shareholders.

A similar model will be used in the two JV companies of the WTC in China and Vietnam, with the WDT strategically partnering key stakeholders and NGO’s in those countries to optimize the application of those SRI funds effectively and transparently.

The WTC shall be a public company and will publish detailed annual reports widely and the WDT will also ensure its operations and fund applications (with monitoring thereof) are similarly subject to wide public scrutiny.

4. Why a separate public-benefit trust ? 

Over many years, I have engaged many community leaders in areas adjacent to private or state wilderness areas. I’ve also read dozens of reports by numerous researchers and sustainable development agencies. There is a common thread that runs through all my related experiences – land ownership disputes and ‘trickle-down’ benefits.

It is common knowledge – supported by extensive research – that most of Africa’s proclaimed wilderness areas involved the relocation of traditional communities onto new and underdeveloped lands outside these reserves’ boundaries. In the private sector – often called ‘wildlife ranching’ – this is equally true. This has created historical tensions and bitterness, and is mostly still unaddressed.

Additionally, many of the more contemporary developments of wilderness areas have been done on the back of ‘strategic community partnering’, but yet the biosphere developers seemingly – and I speak broadly here – pay ‘lip service’ to attributable revenue sharing and benefits. Some programmes work exceptionally well. Many fail dismally. Again, failed partnerships create conflict and so potential retribution results, thus fueling breeding grounds for wildlife crime.

Boards of both public and private sector “wildness enterprises” need to maximize revenues for their respective future sustainability. They create business models based on profits from related trade (in accommodation, viewing, filming, hunting, ‘live’ animal sales, hunting, concessions, and more), but yet they do not define – in most simple terms – what constitutes a valid cost against profit.

This means that social responsibility investment (SRI) and strategic partner revenue sharing is subject to other operational cost pressures of the respective enterprise. No wonder projected income distributions to affected communities and ‘strategic partners’ are subject to constant tensions. No wonder poaching across Africa is off the Richter scale.

Owning or managing a wilderness area – or rights thereto – plus all its natural life thereof – is not like owning a business that makes widgets, or someone owning a private home or vehicle.

It embraces a unique and custodial obligation on those under whose care the entire legacy of humanity devolves, since man created borders, but nature didn’t. To me, it’s like a guardian obligation in running an orphanage. The administrators – whether the state, or an NGO, or a private sector enterprise – have both a fiduciary responsibility and a conservator-value obligation to diligently manage any and all related outcomes.

The widget factory owner can define his or her terms of business, trade or engagement. As can a private property owner. Flora and fauna, and our “ancient earth”, with its waters and sky, cannot. They need a defined and social compact from all stakeholders in their assumed preservation.

Hence a much-needed independent trust, led by elders in rhino conservation, and supported by an advisory board of related conservators of our planet, who – together – will define the final outcomes.  They will ensure social responsible investment via pre-guaranteed ‘royalties and/or commissions’ on all wildlife by-product sales, pro-rated to rhino-owners’ related communities and programmes.

Any commercial use of the planet’s finite resources requires stringent oversight, independent eyes and knowledge, plus a fully accountable relationship with the world’s citizenry. More so in Africa, because of Afro-pessimism, widespread corruption and lack of proper corporate governance, with accountability and transparency.

5. Traditional medicine and respect for cultures: 

I am a human rights activist and I often see my greatest challenge is promoting an ethos of mutual respect and dignity amongst all humanity. The United Nations Charter defines this obligation of all of us that are linked to this global body through our member states.

I have long said that one cannot fight for environmental rights issues unless one places an equitable emphasis on human rights issues. This, for me, is about acknowledging our interconnectedness. Our souls intertwined with mother earth. Our Yin and Yang, as it were.

As part of this respect and dignity process, one needs to pay special attention to traditional medicine and its related practices. Such wellness programmes are hugely prevalent here on my beloved continent, as they are in nations like China and Vietnam, and elsewhere.

Western critics are often quick to denounce these therapies which have endured in these regions for many, many centuries, but they readily forget that their own ancestors also relied on natural healing. Nowadays, many critics of traditional medicines themselves promote natural remedies and organic foodstuffs – and even repudiate ‘synthetic’ modern medicine and food – but yet they fail to recognize the evolution of this combined knowledge over millennia. That – to me, anyway – smacks of some kind of selective partisanship.

In terms of medicinal value of rhino horn, I cannot opine, save to say that the lengthy desktop research I’ve done over months indicates centuries of some valid therapy – in either physiological or psychological terms, or both – plus some seemingly inconclusive research analysis amongst more modern practitioners and researchers as to any potential efficacy, without any properly managed, independent studies done in China, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Based simply on my own limited knowledge and research, coupled with my enormous respect for traditional medical practices worldwide, I must refrain from taking a position on whether or not ‘rhino horn’ is an effective therapy or not. It needs a global study,  under independent, universal clinical trial standards, agreed by both modern and ancient medicine practitioners.

Again, as a human rights activist, I subscribe fully to the dictum that the globally accepted ‘precautionary principle’ must be adopted.

In simple terms – one cannot change that which has long been held as common practice, or in certain circumstances, without objective and scientific proof.

In addition to independent, international clinical trials, I must also call for an independent and detailed market analysis, that not only looks into potential supply and demand scenarios, coupled with possible pricing mechanisms, but also trade in other threatened and endangered species.

To conclude this point on respecting traditional medicine: I am acutely aware that certain traditional medicine practices abuse our natural heritage. There are, again, many studies in this arena, and criticisms, as well as calls for bans of such therapies. Of course, as an environmental rights supporter, I endorse such actions. No natural life must be subjected to any abuse whatsoever by cultural and traditional healing practices.

However – there is clearly no link to any level of wildlife suffering should a ‘guardian’ of a rhino ‘donate’ (or ‘trade’)  part of their mortal remains for the practice of healing.

In fact – it might just stop this iconic species from being utterly decimated and, hopefully, lead to a new era of smartly-managed wildlife trade that stops poaching … if widely considered, as well as being widely debated and endorsed, with – of course – support from a strongly committed, national and international law enforcement.

We all need to be mature and objective in this emotive debate-space.

6. Allocating Social Responsibility Investment revenues 

In my opinion, the WDT needs to operate as a ‘programme hub’, managed and overseen by a secretariat.  This, led by a board of eminent persons, should operate as ‘lean and mean’ as possible, to maximize the application of revenues.

Additionally, as the secretariat would be charged with oversight and management of funds raised in China and Vietnam for programmes there, a smaller secretariat in each country would perform similar tasks in their regions.

I envisage FIVE programmes, although I am more than open to engage on specifics, and I see each programme having an equitable share of the divided revenues. Each programme would have it’s own ‘board’ or committee, comprising experienced and knowledgeable  persons in that particular subject. The allocation of funds should be done on a quarterly, bi-annual or annual basis, thereby ensuring the majority of their work can be done online, on a part-time basis. In effect, it would operate similar to a LOTTO distribution project where worthy causes and applicants apply for grant funding, related to each programme’s defined criteria.

Additionally, in SA and rhino range states, funds would broadly be allocated to respective programmes in those areas and communities near or adjacent to those biospheres from where rhino horn was sourced for trade.  This is a little difficult to be specific over when one might have many sources for stock, so some smart thinking needs to be applied, to ensure reasonable equitability, without allocating very small amounts where little can be accomplished.

The secretariat would levy each programme fund a management fee, to ensure the WDT’s operational cost needs are met.

Broadly, my suggested 5 programmes are:

a. Wilderness Development –

With more land being taken by urbanization, deforestation, agriculture and enterprise, it is imperative to keep growing wilderness areas and rehabilitating them.

b. Environmental Protection –

This must cover the wide ambit from physical protection issues, where support is needed, to training and strengthening law enforcement capacity, as well as growing environmental law practice and actions, coupled with legislative development and lobbying.

c. Research and Skills Development –

Individual and institutional cadetship, bursary, scholarship and research grant funding for environmental matters has become increasingly important. This programme would enhance this burgeoning need, especially for students and researchers sourced from communities near related wilderness areas.

d. Eco-enterprise Development –

Developing eco-tourism opportunities for communities surrounding wilderness areas requires investment funding support, as does innovation, product development and programme implementation for better, healthier and more sustainable communities. There are several good agencies to strategically partner with in this programme.

e. Communication and Public Awareness –

My particular concern is reaching our youth in schools and their communities, particularly surrounding wilderness areas. I’ve seen some excellent work by some NGO’s, but – generally – this facet needs more focus.

With respect to allocation of funds in range states outside SA, to general African programmes and specifics for those in China and Vietnam, wide input and extensive dialogue should generate viable spending on related programmes.

In simple terms, when looking at South Africa primarily – as the following graphic will show – each programme would spend around half a million US$ per annum. Smartly allocated and correctly spent, these monies could do an enormous amount of good .


In terms of parameters I have used, here are the core essentials –

a. Legal trade commences late 2018 – early 2019;

b. At that point, I’ve taken the total African range state population of both white and black rhino at 20 000;

c. I’ve grown populations at 5% annually, noting that figures of 6.2% and better have been recorded;

d. I’ve assumed an average life span of 40 years – thus a 2.5% mortality rate annually – when some experts put the average life expectancy at 35-38 years;

e. I’ve assumed a ‘starting stockpile’ of 15 000 kgs, although figures of upwards of 20 000 have been mentioned by knowledgeable commentators;

f. I’ve grown annual sales volumes by 2.5% per annum, in line with the mortality rate;

g. I’ve no fixed opinion on pricing, which I would hope might come down a little over time, and rise a little in the short to medium term. So I simply took an end-consumer price of US$ 25 000 per kilogram, allowed a retail mark-up of approximately 75-80%, excluded VAT (China – 17% and Vietnam 10%) and arrived at a wholesale price of US$ 12 000 per kg;

h. I then allowed the purchase price from owners to be subject to a wholesale mark-up of 50%, so I could allocate 20% of wholesale turnover to SRI programmes, and leave sufficient margin for SA and China-Vietnam operating company expenses, with a small return for shareholders;

i. I kept purchase and wholesale prices constant over the period, simply to get a perspective on SRI income and potential returns for rhino horn owners. That way, if someone believes horn prices should be doubled or halved, for example, they can apply the same factor to SRI projected revenues; and

j. I split sales between China and Vietnam on a 75:25 basis, as well as splitting the 20% SRI allocation 50:50 between regional trading operations, save for the fact that I took 10% of each SRI spend in China and Vietnam and re-allocated it back to general African conservation programmes to align any NGO work there with reciprocal work in Africa.


Where to from here ?

Dr. Player has called for a serious conversation between all interested parties. I’m simply adding my little voice in that mix.

HOWEVER – I mentioned I have some conditions before I would formally support legalized rhino-horn trade. Here they are:

1. I do NOT support any trade in any horn harvested from a ‘live’ rhino. Dehorning has only come about because of poaching. Our primary focus is to eradicate this scourge, thereby making dehorning in the future no longer necessary. Additionally, it crosses the threshold for me of the fine line between ‘farming’ and preserving and developing ‘wildness’;

2. I do NOT support proposed auctions in SA – at OR Tambo airport – or anywhere else. Auctions allow too much ‘speculation’ for consumer pricing. Besides, product distribution can still be manipulated by current poaching syndicates and ‘black-market’ dealers, even if ‘masked’ via seemingly legitimate buyers. IF there is to be any LEGAL trade whatsoever, it must be strictly for the purpose of supplying traditional medicine practitioners and the entire supply chain must be controlled, to ensure monitoring of regulatory compliance. I’ve never heard of an auction by a ‘pharmaceutical’ company to sell antibiotics, for example. If one is to respect traditional medicine, we should apply similar values;


3. I do NOT support ANY legal trading entity or ‘rhino-horn owner’ consortium project that does NOT have a substantial SRI programme that is auditable, measurable and transparent, plus includes a beneficial input and oversight role by civil society and independent conservators. Particularly in this highly sensitized matter and – even more particularly – in respect of the growing mountain of challenges we face in ‘wildness’ protection and development in SA, and Africa at large.

So now – let further conversations arise … via another perspective here!

Brian Sandberg
Durban. South Africa.
20 December 2012.


Some compelling links to critical matters that Dr. Player raises – – His address to the World Wilderness Conference in Alaska in 2005 – His website – The Wilderness Foundation he founded and inspired – The WILD Foundation (USA) that he helped found and inspire

And lastly … for obvious reasons … a “caveat” …



Rhino Horn Trade : a litmus test for environmental governance

Here is an opinion piece that I submitted to Business Day some weeks ago, written from my own viewpoint as an environmental governance activist and from the perspective of that paper’s readership profile.

As it has not been published, I thought I would publish it here – as submitted – given the rising debate in South Africa over rhino horn trade. Hopefully, it will add some value to the conversations.

RHINO HORN TRADE : A litmus test for environmental governance


There’s a growing voice to lift the global ban on rhino horn trade and an investment analyst, Michael Eustace, is a high-profile, South African promoter. His seemingly compelling argument was published in Business Day (Rhino poaching: what is the solution? January 20).

For me, as a concerned citizen – and conscious of our national species’ custodial obligations – five key issues arise.


Firstly, I believe it’s critical to define the globally-accepted litmus test for any national, environmental decisions.

In a landmark 2007 Constitutional Court ruling (known as the Fuel Retailers case), Ngcobo J was clear that the National Environmental Management Act of 1998 “requires ‘a risk averse and cautious approach’ [that] entails taking into account the limitation on present knowledge about the consequences of an environmental decision”.  Internationally, this tenet is called the “precautionary principle”.

Our former Chief Justice explained it as being “applicable where, due to unavailable scientific knowledge, there is uncertainty as to the future impact of the proposed development”.  He stated that “authorities [need] to balance environmental needs and environmental concerns [as this] is the principle of sustainable development”.

Given such legal precedence, methinks Eustace (and others) should present a more comprehensive scenario that includes risk and threat analyses to counter their upside, commercial revenue projections.


Secondly, Eustace is highly critical of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Their 175 member states regulate global affairs and defined rhino trade from 1977. Of their trade embargo, he states that “while well intentioned, the ban has been a miserable failure”.

Southern white rhino research in 1999 by two internationally respected scientists, Emslie and Brooks, noted “it is currently the most abundant subspecies of all rhinoceros taxa and its recovery has been recognised as one of the world’s greatest international conservation successes”.

From 2000 to 2007, on average, 15 rhino were lost to poaching annually, 30 times less that the gut-wrenching, bloody stats of 2011. A CITES report records SA’s population in 2009 at about 18 000 rhino (roughly 200 times more than when the ban began) as a result of a decade’s annual growth average of 6,6% p.a.

Personally, I struggle to find a “miserable failure” in a 30-year triumph.

In analysing mitigating factors of current poaching properly, independent researchers should study, inter alia, ‘pseudo-hunting’ (from 2003, via ‘rogue’ hunters), poor law enforcement and weak permit management (locally and internationally), the rapid growth of Far Eastern regional trade, investment and foreign employment, high growth in improved transit routes and telecommunications, and local corruption allegations.


The third issue is that SA holds almost 90% of Africa’s rhino population. Given abnormal premium pricing for horn, objective comparisons with other species facing similar threats must be undertaken, scientifically. For me, two similar examples are caviar (sturgeon) and ivory (elephants).

The Caspian Sea is home to about 90% of global sturgeon. Despite united and concerted efforts by regional law enforcement agencies of the 5-nation sea-neighbours to stop illegal poaching over the last 3 years – mainly driven by large criminal syndicates – this species’ future is now threatened. Russia’s called for a 10-year moratorium on all fishing and Iran recently gazetted a 5-year ban.

‘Raw’ ivory is altogether different, since global trade is banned. From 2003, increased poaching and illegal trade led to certain states, including SA, being allowed to sell ivory in 2008 to China and Japan, via auctions, to counter strong, pent-up demand.  However, 2009’s 16 tonne interceptions of large illegal shipments (i.e. those over 800kgs) was trumped by an all-time record of over 23 tonnes in 2011.

These two premium-priced species’ examples highlight genuine global management efforts to meet consumer demand being undermined by sophisticated criminal activity. Other examples exist. International conservator role-players now mistrust managed supplies for any demand of premium-priced, threatened wildlife.


Fourthly, legalizing rhino horn trade is promoted for its status to meet traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) demand.  However, this is somewhat fallacious, given China legislated a rhino horn ban in 1993. Vietnam and many other key south-east Asia countries later followed suit.

Rhino horn was officially removed from TCM’s pharmacopeia. Substantial international NGO and multilateral agency funding for China and other TCM markets has promoted more responsible and ecologically sustainable use of wildlife for over a decade.

No evidence exists that promoters of legal horn trade have formally approached China, or other states, for opinion as to their positions on amendments to laws permitting horn trade.  It would be quite laughable if, for example, SA decided to legalize marijuana (dagga) and built a business model around exporting it to meet pent-up medicinal demand in, say, the USA (where it’s currently outlawed) without bilateral discussions first. My analogy isn’t different from the principle of supplying TCM demand  where rhino horn has been illegal regionally for almost 20 years.

Furthermore, hundreds of wildlife species’ ingredients are banned in TCM. There’s no known precedent whatsoever for the re-introduction of a premium ingredient (such as horn) in TCM compounds after lengthy trade embargoes. Questions arise when assessing collateral damage for other banned species that might be publicly misconceived to be similarly now ‘unbanned’. Thus, related trade officials must apply the “precautionary principle” in their decision reviews, given an absence of knowledge for future, consequential damage.


Fifthly, SA Tourism recorded approximately 1,5m non-African arrivals, Jan-Sept 2011. A fair assumption would be 2m annual visitors. At current levels, the average inter-continental visitor spends roughly ZAR 11 000 (about US$ 1500)  per visit.

With SA’s growing international media exposure for poor environmental governance over poaching, coupled with increasing criticism in social media over calls to legalize horn trade, plus government’s drive to grow eco-tourism, there’s clearly a risk that poor, sensitive decisions will impact on future overseas arrivals.

If arrivals drop by, say, 1%, then 20 000 annual overseas tourists are lost – i.e. R220m in revenue losses, at current pricings – each year. One therefore must evaluate expensive global marketing of a Big 5 experience, which would include viewing dehorned rhino, plus any associated costs for additionally marketing such explanations.


Eustace wrote that the SADC Rhino Management Group asked the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to motivate a CITES trade ban lifting in 2013. Dr. Mike Knight, the group chairman, refuted such a claim in the Saturday Star on 3 December 2011 after Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, was quoted making a similar claim.

Jones also claimed the DEA and TRAFFIC – the international monitoring group for wildlife trade – supported trade. Subsequently, both parties refuted his claims.

To conclude, I believe it’s vital for rhino security that objective dialogue continues, to find smarter, optimized solutions.   I’m not opposed to trade, if there is compelling, scientific justification. All I seek is a ‘risk averse, cautious approach’.

Ngcobo J’s wise counsel rings in my ears again when he recounted the Global Judges Symposium’s Johannesburg Principle where delegates affirmed they’d “spare no effort to free all…from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities”.

Brian Sandberg
Durban. South Africa.

02 April 2012.

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