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Crisis Persists Despite Slight Decline in South African Rhino Poaching

Shannon Benson

South Africa’s Minister for Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, announced Thursday that 1,175 rhinos were poached in the country during 2015. This is a slight drop from 2014, when a record 1,215 poached rhinos were officially tallied, and is the first year since 2007 that has not shown an increase over the previous year. Kruger National Park, the epicenter of poaching in the region, recorded 826 rhinos illegally killed in 2015, one fewer than 2014’s total of 827.

Minister Molewa hailed the reduction as “very, very good news” and said it “offers great cause for optimism”. She attributed it particularly to the efforts of law enforcement and security agencies who, she said, had managed to avert the spike in poaching that normally occurs around December as poachers seek extra money for the Christmas holiday season. She said that South Africa’s rhino population “continues to be stable” according to the most recent census data.

South African Court Upholds Effort to Legalize Domestic Rhino Horn Trade

Investigators inspect the carcass of a poached white rhino in Kruger National Park, May 2015 (Adam Welz/WildAid)

WildAid is deeply concerned that South Africa's moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn was effectively lifted today in a Pretoria court, on a technicality related to incorrect government procedures. 

The court rejected the government's appeal against a judge who had found that, while a ban may be prudent, the government had failed to follow its own procedures for soliciting public comment. The South African government, concerned that domestically-sold horn would leak out into the international market, had attempted — but failed — to prevent the moratorium from being lifted.

"There is little, if any, consumer demand for rhino horn within South Africa, and we agree with the government that horn sold domestically will likely be laundered into the international market, increasing the already serious threat faced by rhinos," said Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid. “We urge them to take the correct procedural measures in a timely way in order to reinstate the moratorium."

There have been persistent reports that prominent private rhino owners who contested the moratorium hope to attract east Asian citizens to South Africa to consume rhino horn in-country as a form of "medical tourism." The lifting of the domestic trade moratorium facilitates this scenario. 

 
 

Richard Branson Speaks Out Against Rhino Horn Trade

Design by OgilvyOne Beijing; Photo by Kristian Schmidt

In recent years, few species have faced a greater threat from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade than the magnificent rhino. After wild populations in Africa enjoyed a few years of relative safety, the number of animals brutally murdered for their horns has increased dramatically lately. In 2014, more than 1200 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. First estimates for 2015 don’t look much better.

Most of this spike in wildlife crime is driven by increased consumer demand in China and Vietnam, where rhino horn is used primarily as a remedy for all sorts of ailments, even though it has long been shown that it doesn’t have any medicinal properties whatsoever. It’s a sad story of superstition and misinformation on one end of the chain that is responsible for mass slaughter and suffering on the other.

I’ve long argued that the illegal wildlife trade must be addressed along the entire supply chain. Strengthening the capabilities of those brave rangers fighting what looks like a losing battle in many of Africa’s national parks is part of the solution, and it has to go hand in hand with better governance, greater accountability, and more effective law enforcement. Yet, supply reduction can only work when we tackle demand at the same time. In other words: only when the buying stops, the killing can, too.

This is one of the reasons I went to visit Vietnam in September last year and met with local business leaders and other stakeholders. Our conversations about wildlife and the role of Vietnamese business in ending this madness were productive and fruitful. Over dinner, several dozen business leaders pledged to start a movement to end the use of rhino horn once and for all.

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Facing Public Pressure, Hong Kong Will Phase Out Ivory Trade

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (far left) meets with conservation advocates including WildAid's Alex Hofford (right)

HONG KONG (13 January 2016) —In his Annual Policy Address, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that the government will legislate a ban on local elephant ivory sales, joining mainland China and the United States in a global effort to end Africa’s elephant poaching crisis that has claimed up to 33,000 elephants a year.

Responding to several hidden camera investigations into the city's ivory trade released last fall, Hong Kong environment officials had previously said they are “open-minded” to the possibility of ending legal ivory sales reversing their previous position that the trade was “strictly regulated.”

Leung also announced that maximum penalties for endangered species trafficking would be sharply increased to seven years imprisonment, compared with the current two years under Hong Kong's Endangered Species Ordinance.

“History has shown that legal ivory sales only serve to provide a cover for illegal trade, which fuels the rampant poaching we see across Africa. Hong Kong has always been the epicenter of that trade, so we congratulate CY Leung and the government for this historic step. Coupled with a 50% drop in ivory prices in China over the last 18 months, the end of the crisis may be in sight,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. 

Victory! Peru to Protect Largest-Known Giant Manta Population

In a significant move to save one of the world’s most-treasured marine animals, Peru has approved strong regulations to protect the giant oceanic manta ray, a species particularly vulnerable to fishing activity.

Manta ray populations are under serious threat worldwide from fisheries targeting mantas for their gills and meat, and from accidental entanglement in nets and fishing line. Peru has one of the largest remaining populations of giant oceanic manta rays. Last spring, a giant oceanic manta caught in a gill net by a fisherman in Peru made international headlines, sparking calls to strengthen protections for mantas, whose gill plates are often sold in some Asian markets for use in a “health tonic.”  

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