By Kevin Heath
South Africa has released its latest rhino stats which show that so far in 2014 558 rhinos have been killed in the country. This is a leap of 62 rhinos killed since the last rhino stats were published 10 days ago on 30th June 2014.
The figure shows that current projects and enforcement actions are failing to secure the safety of the rhino across the country. With the peak rhino poaching season still to come later in the year the lass of an average of nearly 7 rhinos a day must be disconcerting to authorities.
The latest rhino stats come as the CITES meeting in Geneva comes to an end. The meeting has looked at the growing illegal wildlife products and how to tackle the growing epidemic. Of particular concern of the CITES committee was the action plans for the elephants and how far the 8 countries singled out for being involved in elephant poaching has tackled the issue.
The time has surely come for the CITES to discuss the plight of the rhino and to force consumer countries – and that is predominantly Vietnam – to get their act together on ending the trade or face trade sanctions. The CITES trade convention does have considerable power and penalties in its arsenal but so far has been unwilling to consider their use for any reason.
Rather than the CITES meeting in 2016 being used as a way to introduce a possible legal trade in rhino horn the meeting needs to be considering what trade sanctions can be used to apply pressure to consuming nations to fight the rhino horn trade and bring users and sellers to court.
The trend this year for rhino poaching is upwards and this trend will remain in place for as long as there is the possibility that a legal trade may be established. It gives the criminal gangs a reason to boost their poaching activities to start stockpiling stocks of rhino horn that can be laundered into the possible legitimate marketplace.
Unless a very clear signal is given by the CITES management committee that it will not tolerate a plan or proposal to introduce a legal trade then rhinos will face increasing threat as the potential for a legal market approaches. The next 2 years will see the rhino face high pressure and increasing threats. At the moment the rhinos are just about holding their own with birth rate and poaching losses being about equal but it is almost inevitable that rhino populations will start to decline before the CITES meeting is held in 2016 unless it is clearly stated that there will be no option to launder the horn through a legitimate market.
South Africa and host nations of rhinos are dedicating a lot of resources to trying to protect the rhino but not enough is being done to apply pressure to the major consuming nations to take action on their markets. This is where the focus needs to be. The question is ‘are CITES ready to use the tools available to them to bring real pressure to bear on Vietnam through trade sanctions?‘
At the moment there is no signs the CITES wants to be anything other than a talking shop.
Rhino poaching statistics