By Asha Kaushal
If you are an avid follower of nature-oriented television channels, you would have heard the tagline: “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”
Reiterating this was Dr Ronald Orenstein, who recently presented a talk entitled ‘Ivory, Horn and Blood’ in Kuching.
During his presentation, which was organised by the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre and the Kuching branch of the Malaysian Nature Society, Orenstein enlightened the audience on a very little known crime – poaching.
Unknown to many of us, wildlife poaching has long been an international criminal enterprise, equivalent to the illegal arms and drugs trade.
Rhinos have long been killed for their horns, which are believed to hold medicinal and healing properties.
East Asian communities believe that the horns, when ground and consumed, can cure everything from fever to cancer. It is also believed to be an aphrodisiac and all-purpose health tonic.
This is a myth that has not been proven. These claims are merely marketing ploys that victimise the ill, increase profitability for the irresponsible involved in the illicit wildlife trade, and cause the murder of thousands upon thousands of wild animals.
Horns are made of the same type of protein (keratin) that make up our hair and fingernails. In other words, consuming rhino horn is essentially equivalent to biting and swallowing your fingernails or hair. Orenstein explained the need to debunk myths related to the therapeutic uses of rhino horn.
Rhino horn and elephant tusk ivory have also been associated with wealth and status all around the world.
Those who can afford genuine and exclusive decorative items made from horn and ivory have encouraged the trade of these two items on the black market.
Orenstein pointed out that rhinos and elephants are at risk of disappearing, thanks to the menacing automatic rifles brandished by poachers who are funded by the very same international gangs that back wars and the illicit drugs trade.
Rhino horn is said to be as valuable as gold or cocaine, and in this horrendous trade, hundreds of park rangers and those responsible for protecting these animals, particularly in Africa, have been murdered.
During his presentation, Orenstein showed graphic photos of murdered park rangers, and rhinos and elephants left for dead after being brutally mutilated for their horns and tusks.
In his plea to the audience, Orenstein emphasised the need to educate and sensitise the general public to the carnage and atrocities that take place just to acquire horn and ivory.
Orenstein’s talk was based on his recently published book entitled ‘Ivory, Horn and Blood – Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis’, which examines the historical and current situation faced by elephants and rhinos, and trade in ivory and horn.
Orenstein is a Canadian and part-time resident of Kuching. A wildlife conservationist, he has authored eight books on science and nature. He is a recognised expert on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
He acts as a consultant for Humane Society International (HSI) and has represented HSI and other organisations at many Cites meetings, including all Meetings of the Conference of the Parties since 1987, as well as at other treaty meetings including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
At the 1987 Cites meeting, Orenstein was seconded to the official delegation of Malaysia, and oversaw the successful adoption of three Malaysian government proposals to protect Malaysian wild species.
At the 1989 meeting, he was one of the engineers of the compromise amendment that led to an international ivory ban.
He served on the official working group that prepared revised criteria for listing Cites species, adopted in 2004.
Orenstein has worked for many years on elephant and rhinoceros conservation issues.
He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Species Survival Network (SSN), a coalition of over 80 non-governmental organisations working with the Cites treaty, and also of the Elephant Research Foundation (ERF).
He is also a member of MNS Kuching branch and frequently posts about Sarawak’s natural history on his blog ‘A Wandering Naturalist’ (ronorenstein.blogspot.com).