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Rhino Trafficking

conservationists shame Asian buyers

news item dscriptionLonnie Shekhtman, Christian Science Monitor

January 16, 2016

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Before the dust settled on this week’s news that trafficking hub Hong Kong

committed to ban its elephant ivory trade, and just months after the US and

China promised to do the same, conservationists are moving on to another

urgent wildlife target: the rhinoceros.

Rhinos are being poached in Africa in record numbers, their horns prized

for their supposed aphrodisiac and medicinal qualities.

Kenya-based African Wildlife Foundation and San Francisco-based WildAid

recently launched public awareness campaigns in China and Vietnam, the

biggest markets for rhino horn, to try to tap into people’s emotions and

motivations in an effort to clear up misconceptions about the rhino horn's

therapeutic value.

Advertisers will tell you that you win the heart and the mind follows,

Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid tells The Christian Science

Monitor in a phone interview.

Conservationists are seeing a path to progress emerging. They're using

celebrity endorsements, reason, and harrowing images to convince people to

stop buying rhino horns, drawing on tactics that have already helped reduce

demand for ivory from elephant tusks in China, one of the world’s largest

consumers of wildlife products.

The value of illegal ivory has fallen by half there, as awareness of the

impact of the trade on Africa’s elephants has grown among consumers.

Protecting vulnerable animals in the wild, such as elephants, rhinos,

sharks and tigers, and lobbying world leaders to change international

policies related to the wildlife trade are instrumental. But some

conservation organizations, such as WildAid, are turning to psychology to

make it socially unacceptable to purchase wildlife products.

The point is to show that society has moved forward, says Knights.  If

you’re not there, you’re behind the curve, he says.

Convincing enough buyers of this would render the illegal wildlife trade

uneconomical. By reducing demand for rhino horns, prices drop and it

becomes a less viable business for poachers.

It’s all about economic reasons, says Mr. Knights, an economist by


Poaching crises invariably coincide with rapid economic growth in

countries, like China, where there is huge demand for wildlife products. As

long as there is demand, says Knights, regardless of whether the trade of

wildlife products is legal, prices will stay high enough to encourage an

illicit supply.

Celebrity-studded education

To choke demand, WildAid and the African Wildlife Foundation, with partners

in China and Vietnam, are deploying luminaries such as Virgin Group founder

Richard Branson, and other celebrities including Vietnamese-American

actress Maggie Q, famous Chinese actress Li Bingbing, and Chinese actor and

singer Jing Boran, to persuade the public that horn is not worth brutally

killing rhinos for.

In a campaign called Nail Biters celebrities featured on billboards,

magazine ads, documentaries and public service announcements, much of the

media donated, explain that rhino horn is primarily made of keratin, a

protein also found in human nails and hair. But contrary to local myth, it

has no medicinal or recreational drug value.

One English-language commercial features a casual Mr. Branson biting his

nails as he points out the sad irony of rhino horn, his message buoyed by a

few images of mutilated rhinos briefly flashed across the screen.

I think what Richard Branson is saying is “Hey guys, don’t be scammed,?

says Craig Sholley, vice president at the African Wildlife Foundation, in a

phone interview.

From an economic standpoint, you’re just being completely scammed at the

expense of losing one of the world’s most iconic mammals,? he says.

It’s a technique straight out of the anti-smoking campaigns playbook. The

highly effective Truth campaign, as National Geographic points out, more

than a decade old, has been instrumental in turning young people away from

smoking. It abandoned futile warnings of smoking’s health threats in favour

of showing rebellious, young smokers that they were being manipulated by

tobacco companies.

It has worked before

The good news is that targeting demand already has helped to reduce

interest in rhino horn in the United States and Europe in the 1980s, and in

Taiwan in the 1990s, when it was the biggest market for horn.

And more recently, it has helped reduce interest in ivory in China, where

an explosion of wealth has encouraged an insatiable appetite for the prized

carving material.

Conservationists reported the illegal killing of 100,000 elephants in

Africa between 2010 and 2012, that’s 33,630 each year, in a 2014 study by

WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and others. In 2013 and 2014 the

numbers were slightly down, though far from sustainable.

Before conservationists started aggressively campaigning in China in 2012

to help reduce ivory demand, they surveyed the Chinese public, about two

thirds of which didn’t know ivory came from poached elephants. When they

asked again two years later, there was a 50 percent increase in

awareness that ivory comes from poaching not from natural causes.

Two years ago, I would wake up in middle of the night with nightmares

(over losing elephants), says Mr. Sholley. Today I’ve got a much better

feeling, because I feel like we’re beginning to turn a corner, he says.

For rhinos, the situation is dire, Sholley says. There has been an alarming

surge in killings in recent years, from a few in 2007 to 1,160 reported

cases of rhino poaching last year in South Africa, home to most of the

remaining rhinos on the planet, about 25,000 of them. This was a slight

improvement from the 1,215 poached in 2014.

Sholley says he is hopeful about their future despite the bleak statistics.

Surveys that measured evolving perceptions about ivory in China, also show

that the percentage of people who believe that rhino horn has medicinal

benefits has dropped by nearly a quarter, from 58 percent in 2012 to 45

percent in 2014. And about half of the Chinese people polled know that

rhinos are killed for their horns, a 52 percent increase in awareness since


I am confident that in Asia, once they’re aware of the circumstances,

we’re going to turn things around and generations forward in Africa and the

world are still going to have a nice population of elephants and rhinos,

Sholley says. here


Germany may block import of tusks from giant elephant shot by hunter in Zimbabwe

Import of trophy tusks from one of Africa's largest elephants could be illegal, warns Germany, as reward offered for hunter's identity

hunter with tusks

A hunter with the tusks taken from an elephant killed in a hunt organised by SSG Safaris close to Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park

Germany will consider blocking the import from Zimbabwe of the tusks of one of Africa’s biggest elephants killed by one of its nationals, it said on Friday amid growing global outrage over the hunt.

The country’s nature conservation agency said it had in the past refused entry for animals killed in trophy hunts and would not hesitate to do so in this case if the hunt had infringed German wildlife regulations.

Nkombo the elephant

Nkombo the elephant who was killed by hunter in a hunt organised by SSG Safaris close to Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park

Some conservationists believe the animal migrated north from South Africa’s Kruger National Park into Zimbabwe before it was killed. If confirmed, the hunt would be classed differently because the animal had crossed state borders and the trophy import would be banned, Germany said.

However, EU officials and Zimbabwean hunting experts questioned the legal distinction, raising speculation about why Germany might wish to prevent the import of the high-profile hunting trophy.

It came as animal rights group Peta's Germany branch announced on Friday that it was offering a reward to anyone who could identify the as-yet unnamed hunter. 

READ MORE: German hunter pays €50k to shoot 'magnificent' bull elephant - bringing back memories of Cecil

One of Nkombo's Tusks

One of Nkombo's tusks is placed on a scale 

"We haven't yet had anyone come forward with information. It's important that we try to show that a German can't just go abroad to satisfy his desire for hunting,” said Vanessa Reithinger, Peta's campaign coordinator in Germany.

Celebrities including Ricky Gervais have condemned the killing of the massive “tusker”, which was shot on October 8 in a private hunting concession bordering Zimbabwe’s southern Gonarezhou National Park by a hunter who paid $60,000 (£39,000) for his prize.

The elephant was one of several different species he shot during a 21-day hunt. The man had a permit to hunt and was accompanied by an experienced professional hunter who told The Telegraph on Friday he had already shipped the tusks to Germany, having had them stamped by Zimbabwe’s National Parks Authority and filled in the relevant export forms. 

The Nature Conservation, which issues import permits to Germany, said it would “definitely not” issue a certificate if the elephant was proven to have come from the Kruger. "The hunter might have shipped the tusks, but he then wouldn't have the proper documentation,” he said.

Nixon Dzingai, the professional hunter who led the hunt, said the elephant had arrived unexpectedly one morning towards the end of the German’s trip, and they had not realised the size of his tusks until it was too late.

"We did not have to stalk the elephant it just showed up at 7.30 in the morning, before the heat. I was so surprised when we saw how the horns. My client did not ask for this, he just wanted an elephant,” he told The Telegraph.

He defended the hunt as legitimate however, pointing to the age of the elephant. “I estimate this one was 60 years-old,” he said. “Anyone could see it was a very old elephant.

The "Queen of Ivory" arrested in Tanzania

Breaking News

“The Queen of Ivory”, a Chinese national, arrested by a specialized Task Force in Tanzania. To date, she is the most important ivory trafficker ever arrested in the country.

Dar-es-Salaam, 8 October 2015 – A specialized wildlife trafficking unit under Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) arrested a number of high-level Chinese ivory traffickers led by a woman who is now thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker brought to task so far in the war against elephant poaching. She is believed to be behind the trafficking of a huge quantity of ivory over the last several years.

The woman, now dubbed the “Queen of Ivory”, is a Chinese national named Yang Feng Glan, 66, and has been followed by the Task Force for over a year. She recently disappeared from Tanzania, moving to Uganda, but returned one week ago, when the Task Force swiftly moved and arrested her. After confessing to many of her crimes she has been taken to the high court of Dar es Salaam facing a maximum sentence of 20-30 years imprisonment.

Mrs. Yang Feng Glan is originally from Beijing and is a wealthy woman, owning at least several houses, a farm, a restaurant, and three cars. According to the first information collected by the Task Force, she first came to Tanzania in the 1980’s working as an interpreter and she has been trafficking ivory since at least 2006, working with the most high-ranking poachers in the country and in the region. She is connected to various companies abroad, all Chinese-owned, and circulates in the upper echelons of Chinese citizens living and working in Tanzania.

Tanzania has been the ground zero of elephant poaching in East Africa for the past several years, having lost 85,000 elephants between 2009 and 2014, according to a recent elephant census in the country. A slaughter of industrial proportion such as this cannot have happened without the involvement of high profile, corrupt individuals and government officials at the two ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar, and elsewhere in civil society.

“It’s the news that we all have been waiting for, for years”, commented Mr. Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the Elephant Action League and WildLeaks. “Finally, a high profile Chinese trafficker is in jail. Hopefully she can lead us to other major traffickers and corrupt government officials. We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephant”.

“Everyone she has been dealing with will now become a target for law enforcement,” concludes Crosta.


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