Posts Tagged ‘illicit wildlife trafficking

20
Dec
12

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

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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.

INTRODUCTION : 

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.

MY BROAD-BASED PROPOSAL :

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 .

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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.

AND FINALLY – 

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;

and

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.

FOOTNOTES: 

Some compelling links to critical matters that Dr. Player raises –

http://vimeo.com/6646884 – His address to the World Wilderness Conference in Alaska in 2005

http://ianplayer.com/ – His website

http://www.wildernessfoundation.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26&Itemid=31 – The Wilderness Foundation he founded and inspired

http://www.wild.org/main/about/ian-player-perspectives/ – The WILD Foundation (USA) that he helped found and inspire

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

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