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Legal Rhino Horn And Ivory Trade Should Benefit Africa, Says Swaziland Government

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Reuters


The government of Swaziland has called the destruction of rhino horn “extravagantly wasteful destruction” and accused western NGOs of compromising Africa’s wildlife by blocking the legalisation of the ivory and rhino horn trades.


 In an official document sent to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) the government of the tiny African state claimed unnamed NGOs have become dominated by “activists who do not live with the day to day realities on the ground, who do not face the grave dangers of protecting rhinos [from poaching] in the bush, who do not cover the enormous costs necessary to protect them”. 


Cites banned the international trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn in 1989 and 1977 respectively. On Sunday, the congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a motion that softened the ground for a ban on all domestic trade in ivory as well.


Swaziland called trade bans a “failed policy”. The only way to fight the poaching gangs, the document said, was to sustainably manage stocks of elephant and rhino and sell their valuable protuberances legally.


“African rhinos belong to Africa and they should surely benefit those countries in Africa which own them,” the document said. Swaziland estimates it could raise $9.9m from its 330kg stockpile of horn collected from naturally deceased animals and confiscated from poachers. Swaziland surprised the wildlife community earlier this year by issuing a proposal to sell its stockpile in order to pay for the conservation of its herd of 73 white rhinos. There is a similar push from Namibia and Zimbabwe to lift the global ban on ivory for tusks from their countries. The motions will be discussed at the triennial Cites conference to be held in just over two weeks in South Africa. 


None of the proposals are expected to succeed and Swaziland blames “armchair preservationists or anti-trade activists” for hijacking the response to a poaching crisis that has seen a 10-year 30% decline in African savannah elephants and could send rhinos to oblivion within decades. The Swaziland government says that NGOs are trying to “impose their foreign values and influence on Africa”.


The idea of legalising the trade in a species’ parts in order to preserve them it is not without backers beyond the southern African states. Enrico Di Minin, an economist at the University of Helsinki, believes the trade could bring $717m to South Africa and protect its rhino populations. 


“Only a legal trade in ivory can stop elephant poaching,” Dan Stiles, a member of the African Elephant Specialist Group, told the Guardian. 


But there is strong opposition from many conservationists to any move back towards a legal trade. WildAid is one of many NGOs that has attempted to drive down demand for the products in Asia, using celebrities to spread their message. 


WildAid CEO Peter Knights said: “It’s not just western activists, most African countries think it’s a bad idea too. The reality is we’ve tried ‘strictly-regulated’ ivory trade twice [and] poaching quickly escalated.” Heather Sohl, WWF-UK’s chief advisor on wildlife said that funding conservation through a legal trade was merely theoretical. “

 

 

 

 

 

At present, there is no proven way for consumer countries to manage a regulated horn trade without allowing significant quantities of illegal horn into the market. 

For these reasons legalising trade runs huge risks of exacerbating the current poaching crisis rather than resolving it,” she said.

 

 

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The Swaziland submission was partially drafted by the operators of Big Game Parks, a private company that manages three game reserves in the tiny kingdom. The CEO of Big Game Parks Ted Reilly also heads the government’s anti-poaching body.

 

In May, the head of Kenya’s wildlife service Richard Leakey accused Swaziland of acting as a puppet for South African game farmers who recently won a legal battle to legalise the domestic trade in that country.

 

Reilly, who co-authored the Swaziland position paper, said the accusation was “absolutely wrong” and denied any influence from South Africa’s game parks or its government.

 

“We stand totally independently on this position and we have got a lot of support from other southern African states,” he said.

 

 

The missive did not reserve criticism for NGOs. On Thursday, the US government and San Diego Zoo destroyed a stockpile of rhino horn worth $1m. This type of symbolic destruction has become common in recent years as governments demonstrate their commitment to treat certain animal products in the same way as illicit drugs.

 

But Swaziland’s government said these events were “extravagantly wasteful destruction”.

 

“What is the difference between burning $170m worth of self-renewing natural resources and taking $170m in cash out of the bank and throwing it all on the fire?” said the submission.

 

“Only a rhino needs a rhino horn, and it’s time we all understood that,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe on Thursday as his officials burned their contraband.

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