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Conservation - Rhino Horn and Ivory: a sensitive issue

Matias Offline
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( This post was last modified: 10-09-2018, 07:19 AM by Matias )

I open this topic to focus news, articles and reports on the theme of the rhino horn and marfim. A space for discussion and dissemination of good information, promoting a qualified understanding on this global theme.

"There is a tendency for the two to mingle, giving the impression that the policy adopted for one species is also good for the other, signaling to address a unique conservation strategy for the two species. Elephants do not survive after ivory removal, so there is no means of a selective and sustainable retreat. For rhinos, livestock farming is a viable path, where sustainable and regulated use can provide a quantitative historical recovery. A species has no other means than its effective protection. The other can self-finance, use economic means to make it viable. And this mix can disrupt conservation policies for both species"

Illegal trade seizures: Rhino horn - Mapping the crimes


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Has rhino poaching decreased, or are we running out of rhinos?

By Janine Avery  - 1 October 2018  - IOL  - FREE TO PUBLISH CREDIT CAT

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South Africa is home to the densest population of rhinos in the world and saw a 9 000% increase in rhino poaching from 2007 to 2014. Picture: Amiee White Beazley/The Washington Post.

strategic report on poaching just released by the Department of Environmental Affairs shows that fewer rhinos but more elephants are being killed. Of concern, however, is what it leaves out.
Until August this year, 506 rhinos were poached in South Africa, 333 in the Kruger National Park. That’s 185 fewer than the same period last year. At the same time poaching incursions into KNP increased from 1 702 last year to 1 873 this year.

Taken together – higher incursions and fewer kills – it’s bad news, meaning there are fewer and fewer rhinos left to hunt. And as rhino kills decline, elephant poaching has increased, with 58 shot this year.

‘If we look at the bigger picture,’ said wildlife filmmaker Bonné de Bod, while the government lauds the success of fewer rhino poaching incidents, the rhino population numbers, specifically white rhinos, have seen an alarming decline. There are just fewer rhinos left in the park to poach.’ 

IFP Chief Whip in Parliament, Narend Singh MP, agrees. ‘Although the report shows a decrease in the poaching of rhino’s in South Africa, the IFP maintain that even one rhino killed for its horn in South Africa is one too many. More must be done by government, especially in our SAPS, NPA and judiciary.

According to the DEA report, 400 rhino poaching suspects were arrested in 2018, of which 162 were in Kruger Park. In addition, five Chinese and eight South African wildlife traffickers were arrested by the Hawks.
However, arrests are not translating into court appearances. Only 70 cases, involving 163 accused, have gone to court. There are also still 530 rhino poaching-related cases still on court rolls, which involve over 750 accused on more than 1,700 charges. And despite 300 of these cases being trial ready only a handful appear to have set court dates.

‘Far too often we are seeing cases being bungled by poorly executed SAPS arrests and untrained prosecutors,’ says Singh. ‘There is the ever-present spectre of corruption and then, when there is a conviction, the sentence handed down is simply far too lenient.’

‘We have major concerns regarding the consistency of the courts and the legal system,’ says Ross Purdon of the Democratic Alliance. ‘We’re aware of lenient sentencing from the Skukuza court and the granting of bail to repeat offenders. The early release of the Thai kingpin of illegal rhino poaching and horn trade, Chumlong Lemtongthai, is an absolute disgrace.’

Some of the arrests show that poachers are sometimes getting ‘inside’ help. Since January, four Kruger officials have been arrested by SANParks enforcement staff for poaching-related offences. These include members of the SAPS and the SA National Defense Force.

The report also mentions that a total of 538 live rhino were exported from South Africa since 2014, with 177 going to locations in North America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. However, there is no mention of the current welfare of these rhinos, which remains a concern.

‘The export of our rhino to Asia cannot be seen to be a long-term sustainability initiative,’ says Kim Da Ribeira of the group Outraged SA Citizens Against Rhino Poaching. ‘The scientific authority does not monitor the welfare of these rhinos once they have left our borders. Until they do, there should be no live export.’

According to the report, following the lifting of the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn, 28 permits have been issued for the sale of 1,219 rhino horns.

According to the Environmental Wildlife Trust, this presents opportunities for laundering illegal horn through legal trade channels. Responding to the report, it said: ‘there is a concern that it’s not possible to keep track of all legally supplied rhino horn and to distinguish it from illegal horn due to capacity constraints, resource shortages and corrupt practices.

‘As rhino horn is mostly a consumed product traceability once acquired by a consumer is even more challenging than may be the case for ivory or other wildlife products.’

Link: Has rhino poaching decreased, or are we running out of rhinos?
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New research shows Myanmar’s Growing Illegal Ivory Trade with China

October 2, 2018
Save The Elephants

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Increased amounts of ivory are flowing into China from Myanmar, according to a new publication by Save the Elephants.
The report ‘Myanmar’s Growing Illegal Ivory Trade with China’ released today (subs: October 2, 2018) shows that one town in particular, Mong La - a frontier town in the notorious Golden Triangle on the border of China - has experienced a ‘prolific growth’ in ivory trading. The number of new ivory items seen for sale  in the town grew by 63% in three years, and now accounts for over a third of the ivory seen in the country.

The report by ivory trade specialists Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin recounts how Chinese visitors smuggle worked ivory from Mong La back home with little concern about getting caught. This ivory has often come up the Mekong River into the lawless eastern periphery of Myanmar where it is for sale in both retail and bulk. The wholesale price for African raw ivory in late 2017 in the Golden Triangle region has remained stable at about USD 770 to USD 800 per kg since late 2015.

Myanmar has the largest captive, or ‘domestic’, elephant population in the world with over 5,000 individuals. Traders there say that the internal ivory trade is legal for trimmed domestic elephant tusk tips and from licensed animals that have died, and operate accordingly. (Trading in the tusks of the remaining wild elephants in Myanmar – numbering perhaps 2,000 – is acknowledged to be illegal). The ivory from captive elephants is used for local carving and retail sale especially in Mandalay and Yangon. Their tusks are also sold wholesale in Mandalay to Chinese traders, who smuggle them across the China border in contravention of the existing international ivory trade ban.

Traders reported that 90% of buyers were Chinese wishing to smuggle the ivory home, as also found by the same authors in market surveys in Hong Kong (2015) and Laos (2017). In Vietnam (2016) this was estimated to be 75%. 

Poaching is a problem for elephants in Myanmar but the country also provides a largely unchecked conduit for illegal African ivory carved in the region to be smuggled into China, in violation of International Law. The authorities are not deterring ivory smugglers and trade in ivory and other endangered wildlife products that is running riot to meet the continued Chinese demand.” says Lucy Vigne, the lead author of the report.

The researchers found five towns and cities (of eight visited) with 51 shops openly displaying 14,846 ivory items for sale. These were Mong La, Mandalay, Yangon, Tachileik and Bagan.  In Mong La, ten open Chinese shops were counted, nearly all specializing in selling ivory, displaying 5,279 recently-made ivory items. Of these, 2,467 (mostly large pendants stacked like dominoes on wall shelves in transparent plastic wrapping) appeared to be newly arrived. The figures show a soaring 63% increase from a comparable TRAFFIC survey conducted in 2013/2014 (add link) which found 3,302 ivory items for sale.

Around 10 Myanmar ivory carvers remain active in Mandalay, with fewer in Yangon. Most still use simple hand tools, while a few may use electric drills. In Mong La, a computer-driven machine in one shop enables Chinese artisans to mass produce decorative ivory items. These items are in more demand by Chinese buyers than ‘unfashionable' traditional Myanmar ivory carvings, with Myanmar carvers complaining of slow sales of this apparently legal product in the past two or three years.

In contrast most ivory items preferred by the Chinese - small trinkets that can be easily smuggled across the border -  had significantly increased in price. Bangles, the most popular, had soared 600% to an average of US$444 in 2017, up from US$61 in 2002. Similar increases were seen for chopsticks, cigarette holders and name seals. The researchers also saw intricate carvings and figurines that appeared to have been smuggled in from China where sales are now illegal following the introduction of the country’s domestic ivory ban.

“This new study from Vigne and Martin shows the scale of the challenge that remains for elephants in the face of the ivory trade. Despite great political commitment from the Chinese government and the moral leadership of influential citizens it will take continued united action to end the issue. China’s new laws have to be rigorously enforced, borders must be controlled and everyone must be made aware of the terrible consequences of buying ivory,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants.

Key findings from the survey, conducted in late 2017:
  • Ivory items were found on display in five towns and cities out of eight visited, with 51 shops openly displaying 14,846 ivory items for sale.
  • Vendors stated that Chinese customers buy about 90% of what they sell.
  • The illegal ivory trade in Mong La on the Chinese border soared by 63% increase in three years. In late 2017 there were ten shops open with 5,279 recently-made ivory items openly for sale. A TRAFFIC survey in 2013/2014 found 3,302 worked ivory items.
  • While traders claim that much of the worked ivory on sale has been crafted by Myanmar carvers, from Myanmar’s elephants, over a third of the ivory items seen were in shops in Mong La on the China border, and appeared to be from African elephants.
  • According to ivory dealers, domestic trade in licensed ivory from Myanmar’s captive elephants (trimmed tusk tips and from animals that have died) is legal. This is contested by at least one organisations in Myanmar. The trade in tusks from Myanmar’s wild elephants is illegal.
  • Larger raw tusks from Myanmar’s male elephants are sometimes sold in Mandalay to Chinese buyers and smuggled across the Chinese border, in contravention of the CITES ban.
  • Raw tusks of Myanmar elephants were selling wholesale for local carving at an average of USD 961/kg.
  • The wholesale price for African raw ivory in the Golden Triangle region was about USD 770–800/kg. The price appears to have remained stable since late 2015.

This report is dedicated to the memory of consultant Esmond Martin who was killed on 4th February 2018.

The report, ‘Myanmar’s Growing Illegal Ivory Trade with China’, was funded by the Elephant Crisis Fund and published by Save The Elephants.

For more information:

Lucy Vigne, ivory researcher, tel: +254 722 411 037
Email: [email protected]
Save The Elephants +254 727 276 409
Email: [email protected]
About Save The Elephants (
Save The Elephants works to secure a future for elephants in Africa.  Specializing in elephant research, STE provides scientific insights into elephant behaviour, intelligence, and long-distance movements and applies them to the challenges of elephant survival. To battle the current surge in ivory poaching, our Elephant Crisis Fund is identifying and supporting the most effective partners in Africa and in the ivory consuming nations to stop poaching, thwart illegal traffickers and end demand for blood-stained ivory.
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Japan and its contradictions. In conservation issues their positions represent the worst practices, such as the annual massacres of whales, dolphins and sharks, their best known face. Look here a little bit about your role in the international trade of ivory. A notorious saboteur of international politics, submits most of his opposing votes at IUCN meetings.

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Namibia – Chris Brown believes legalising rhino horn trade could net country N$2bn; response to Chinese legalisation of rhino horn and tiger bone trade

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[b]Date: October 31, 2018 Author: somervillesustainableconservation[/b]
[b]Conservation Imperative[/b]
Dr. Chris Brown is the CEO of the Namibian Chamber of Environment. Below is a letter that was sent out to NCE members and friends in response to the Chinese government’s reversal of the ban of rhino horn and tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine.
Dear NCE Members and friends,
The ban on endangered wildlife in Chinese medicines has never been enforced with any commitment or conviction by the Chinese authorities. Now China is partly lifting the largely unenforced ban on rhino horn and tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine (see New York Times article at…/…/china-rhino-tiger-poaching.html…).
The fact that these products, like pangolin scales and many others, have no proven medicinal properties does not seem to deter the growing number of users who presumably get some placebo effect enhanced by the conferred status of being able to afford elitist medication. Chinese traditional medicine is said to be a US$ 100 billion industry.
The Chinese government has identified this as a growth industry, to compete worldwide with Western scientific approaches to medicine – particularly in Africa. If this is the case, we can expect the demand for such Chinese traditional medicines to grow, and pressures on wildlife to similarly grow.
So what should our response be? Should it be business as normal? First let us consider rhino horn. As demand for rhino horn increases, as prices increase, as poaching becomes ever more professional, more determined and more ruthless, do we simply gear up by doing more of the same?
If you think that the answer is “yes”, then I refer you to the comment attributed (or misattributed) to Albert Einstein – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
I believe that the time is right for Namibia, preferably in partnership with neighbouring countries, to take some bold steps regarding rhino horn and rhino management, for the purpose of long-term rhino conservation. I believe that Namibia should:

• Engage in international trade in rhino horn. Ideally this would be under CITES approval with international monitoring and audit procedures in place. Alternatively, if blocked by the CITES member states, it should be despite CITES, and then transparent monitoring and auditing becomes even more imperative.

• To achieve this, a national dehorning of all rhinos would take place in national parks and on communal and freehold land, on a two to three-year cycle. Each removed horn, as well as all stock-piled horns, would be micro-chipped, a DNA sample taken and a passport issued.

• Horns would be strategically released for sale to pre-approved buyers under a de Beers type marketing system. The passport would accompany the horn throughout its life. A small royalty would be taken on each sale to cover the cost of dehorning (done by nationally approved teams), DNA analysis, storage, management and sales. The bulk of the horn value would revert to the owner or custodian of the rhinos from whence the horn came, i.e. to the national parks, to communal conservancies, to private owners and to MET for custodian rhinos.

• Current approaches to black rhino ownership should be relaxed to allow private and communal ownership, as is the situation with white rhino. Freeing up legal wildlife markets inevitably delivers conservation dividends.

• Custodians and owners of land should be encouraged to expand their wildlife operations to include both species of rhinos (where habitat is suitable), and land under livestock should be encouraged to expand to include wildlife with rhinos. In reality, no real encouragement would be needed, as market forces would provide all the necessary incentives. So support should be offered, e.g. AgriBank could expand its loan facility to allow farmers to invest in rhinos and other wildlife under approved business and management plans that include adequate levels of wildlife expertise.
• Land under wildlife with rhinos and with an international trade in rhino horn in place would generate far greater returns per ha than any other form of land use, short of finding a diamond-rich Kimberlite pipe on your land (the diamond resource would be depleted over time, but the rhino horn resource would grow).
I have estimated that an international trade in rhino horn would contribute close to N$2 billion per year to the Namibian economy, and this would grow as rhino populations expanded.

Tax revenue to the state would be significant. A legal trade in rhino horn would help enable land reform, create jobs, address rural poverty, help adapt to and mitigate climate change and mitigate many other challenges.

In short, there is no other natural renewable resource that comes close to the value of rhino horn that would prosper in the semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of Namibia and Africa.

Dehorning of the national rhino herd would significantly reduce the incentive to poach – the risk-to-reward ratio would be heavily skewed towards high risk and low reward, and the markets would simultaneously be well supplied with legal horn.

Some people have said that there may be an increase in rhino calf mortality in areas with lions and spotted hyaenas if rhino mothers don’t have horns. The data is equivocal. Based on limited sample sizes it is not statistically confirmed that calf losses are higher to mothers that have been dehorned.

And even if the losses were somewhat higher, this would be largely insignificant against poaching losses of adult animals. Legalising the rhino horn trade would bring many buyers into the open, where their businesses would be legitimised.

Businesses far prefer to be legal, where business terms are well understood and rules are clear. They would be unlikely to jeopardise their legal standing by dealing in “blood rhino horn”. And DNA sampling would quickly reveal illegal horn on the market. Legal dealers would be inclined to give information to law enforcement on illegal dealers to reduce competition.

The demand for rhino horn will grow. We can grow the supply. And we can do it in a way that protects and conserves our rhinos while harnessing the economic opportunities thus created and realising a suite of other conservation and socio-economic benefits.

Namibia would then be “optimising its global comparative competitive advantages” as we are challenged to do by Vision 2030. Not to do so would have us miss huge economic opportunities while we witnessed the inevitable decline of rhinos, probably accompanied by a “rhino war” of attrition where everyone would be the loser.

At this point I would like to differentiate between tiger (and the substitute lion) bone industry and that of rhino horn. Rhino horn is a renewable resource. It can be harvested without harm to the rhino – the horn simply regrows.

While this is happening, rhinos fulfil their ecological role in the environment, breed and, through their huge value, safeguard landscapes under natural vegetation and provide collateral protection to other indigenous biodiversity. And if this initiative is strategically linked to incentives for open landscapes, it could turn around the harmful game fencing mania we currently face, where the landscape is fragmented and wildlife populations become increasingly isolated.

Indeed, the value of rhinos and their horn could be the economic driver for a rewilding of much of Africa. Africa could then really build on its global comparative advantage – its wildlife – as a core plank for long-term development.

By contrast, there is no moral or conservation value to be had from the tiger / lion bone industry. It is a very unpleasant, corrupt industry with huge animal welfare issues.

South Africa has done itself severe reputational damage by its engagement in the lion bone industry and its legalised sales quota of lion bones to Asia. Namibia should steer well clear of any such trade, with severe penalties for transgressors.

Kind regards
Chris Brown.
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SAPS and the dirty truth around rhino poaching
2018-10-24 08:53
Simon Bloch, Correspondent

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Piles of rhino skulls at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

Fresh charges of a cover-up around possible government links to rhino poaching and organised crime networks have surfaced again.

This after details confirming the arrest of a highly-trained police officer from an elite police unit bust for rhino poaching two weeks ago were only released to the media on Sunday, just one day before his bail hearing this week.

Last Monday, Constable Sizwe Buthelezi, 36, was charged for unlawful possession of a firearm; unlawful possession of ammunition; unlawful possession of protected endangered species (rhino horn) and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon.

Information leaked to News24 last Thursday mentioned Buthelezi, who is a member of the SAPS Tactical Response Team stationed at KwaMasane, was nabbed red-handed at KwaZulu Natal's flagship iMfolozi Game Reserve on October 11 with two freshly cut rhino horns, an unlicensed and illegal .458 rifle without a serial number, ammunition and three hunting knives.

He appeared in court on Monday, October 15, where he was formally charged.  

Details were sketchy at that stage, and nothing had been shared with the media by either the South African Police Service (SAPS), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) or the Department of Justice.

It was only after an inquiry by News24 mid-morning this Sunday that Brigadier Vish Naidoo confirmed the arrest, and released a prepared media statement from the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, titled 'Policeman arrested for rhino poaching'.

During his bail application on October 22, Constable Buthelezi was released from custody after being granted R2 000 bail at the Ngwelezane court.

This is the same court that has been mired in controversy after allegations of bribery and corruption around Zululand rhino poaching case trials surfaced. His case was postponed to November 28, 2018.

Both the NPA and the Justice Department have repeatedly failed to answer written questions around rhino poaching cases at the same court.

On Friday Bongani Gumede, the court manager, flatly refused to assist the media with enquiries or answer questions about rhino poaching trials at his court.

The same day, a freelance journalist was escorted off the court grounds by security officials after an Empangeni attorney representing a rhino poaching suspect from Hazyview, Mpumalanga, raised a commotion when the journalist attempted to take his client's picture outside the courtroom.

According to the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure statement, Buthelezi had been spotted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife anti-poaching rangers exiting the park’s Makhamisa section at approximately 08:45 with another suspect, who allegedly managed to escape.

Rhino 09 SAPS members and Ezemvelo officials were mobilised and attempted to stop Buthelezi during a stop-and-search operation in the Ntambanana Fuyeni area, however, he sped off and lost control of his vehicle when it crashed into a perimeter wall at one of the homesteads.

This member, who was entrusted to combat poaching, is alleged to have abused his powers and opportunistically resorted to crime for self-enrichment.

""The South African Police Service will continue to root out corruption within its ranks as this scourge serves only to undermine the authority of the state.

"We also want to urge the people of South Africa to continue supporting the police in its efforts to bring down the scourge of crime, because together we can do more," the police statement said.

Asked whether Buthelezi would be immediately fired from the SAPS, spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale responded: "According to labour law(s), due processes must be followed."
On Monday, DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, who also sits on Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Police, called for an immediate inquiry.

"I have no doubt that the firearm is an illegal weapon that was possibly stolen from the SAPS13 evidence room. This is the rumour that goes around constantly, that arms kept in the SAPS13 stores are taken out illegally, only to be used in crimes and then returned, which makes for a perfect alibi."

The SAPS13 register is a reference number allocated to a firearm that was reported lost or stolen.

"The fact that we as taxpayers are paying to train people who are using this training to commit atrocious acts like this, is stomach churning," Kohler Barnard said.

"Not only does it seem (as if) the SAPS have tried to keep this shameful act under wraps without a word released until 11 days after the rhino slaughter... and only then because a journalist caught wind of the story... but now we find out that he has been released on negligible bail.

"I will be raising this not only in both houses but call for a full inquiry by the police portfolio committee," she said.

Andrea Crosta, executive director and co-founder of the international NGO Elephant Action League (EAL) and founder of WildLeaks, said: "The South African government’s astonishing level of corruption, short-sightedness, and incompetence represent formidable obstacles to fighting the rhino poaching crisis and the international trafficking of rhino horn.

"The information that we have collected, and the inability to share it with trusted, capable, and powerful government officials in South Africa, is so overwhelming that it is challenging to express the sheer magnitude of the problem, and difficult to continue to have hope for the future.

"While there are also many honest rangers and government officials in South Africa, these individuals sometimes, with the help of a very small number of well-prepared NGOs, manage to hit those criminal networks and cause disruption of their operations, as very recent arrests show. Unfortunately, it is usually just a temporary disruption," he said.
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( This post was last modified: 11-30-2018, 06:30 PM by Matias )

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 Open Access

The Allure of the Illegal: Choice Modeling of Rhino Horn Demand in Vietnam

First published: 16 October 2017


Using choice modeling, we explore willingness to pay for rhino horn among existing and potential future consumers in Vietnam. We find that wild‐sourced horn, harvested humanely from the least rare species, is the most highly valued product. Furthermore, consumers are willing to pay less for rhino horn products under a scenario where international trade is legalized compared to the current situation of illegal trade. We discuss the potential implications of our findings on rhino poaching and international trade policy.

Poaching remains a critical threat to the survival of many species worldwide, including tiger and rhino (Milliken & Shaw 2012; Saif et al2016). The global conservation community, working through international bodies such as CITES, is committing significant resources to the fight against poaching as well as demand reduction measures (CoP16; Decision 16.85, 2013). However, serious question marks remain concerning the effectiveness of current approaches and policies, as poaching rates and demand for animal parts, especially those used in traditional Asian medicine, remain stubbornly high (Challender & MacMillan 2014; Olmedo et al2017).

Crucial aspects of the demand and supply for wildlife parts used in traditional medicine ™ remain poorly understood (Collins et al2013). In this article, we explore demand for rhino horn in Vietnam deploying a choice experiment (CE) to estimate willingness to pay (WTP) for rhino horn with different attributes. In traditional Asian medicine, rhino horn is prescribed for a variety of ailments and conditions including fever and alcohol poisoning, and is greatly valued as a gift in family and business circles in Vietnamese society (Biggs et al2013). Our sample was drawn from 857 Vietnamese citizens who have purchased or who expressed an interest in purchasing rhino horn for medicinal use, and is the largest survey conducted to date with these consumer groups.

The CE method has been used to investigate consumer demand for illegally hunted wildlife products, in the context of rural households in Tanzania for reducing consumption of bushmeat (Moro et al2015); to estimate the willingness of illegal bushmeat hunters in Tanzania to reduce time spent hunting (Moro et al2013), in the demand for bushmeat in Vietnam (Shairp et al2016); and the demand for bear bile (Dutton et al2011). CEs are particularly well‐suited to investigate the demand for illegally obtained wildlife products as data on actual consumption preferences is hard to acquire because of their illegal nature and presenting hypothetical choices avoids the need to interrogate about actual use.

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Ecology & Rewilding

Botswana is evacuating black rhinos amid poaching threat

Lack of tourism during the pandemic is exacerbating an ongoing problem in Okavango Delta.

Battling ongoing flooding, government workers in northwestern Botswana are racing to evacuate the few remaining black rhinos in the vast, swampy Okavango Delta. The effort during recent days to find and move the rhinos—which has been complicated by floodwaters that have engulfed area roads—comes after a surge of rhino killings by poachers in March that left at least six animals dead.

© NGP, Content may not reflect National Geographic's current map policy.

Botswana officials consider the evacuation essential now because they’re increasingly concerned that poachers are emboldened by the absence of safari tourists in the Okavango during the coronavirus pandemic, says Dereck Joubert, who with his wife, Beverly, leads the Botswana nonprofit Rhinos Without Borders, an organization dedicated to relocating rhinos from poaching hot spots in South Africa to areas believed to be safer in Botswana. Reduced human presence makes it easier to move around unseen, and last month, six poachers were killed by law enforcement, according to Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.
“The Ministry is very conscious that poachers may try to take advantage of the lockdown and the lack of movement by tourists in remote areas to carry out their illegal activities,” the Botswana government said in a press statement on April 27, adding that it has been intensifying anti-poaching surveillance efforts in the past month. Since the country’s coronavirus lockdown began in early April, no new rhino poaching incidents have been identified.
Across Africa, there are an estimated 20,000 white rhinos but only about 4,500 black rhinos, which face the possibility of extinction. Both species live in the Okavango, but only the critically endangered black rhinos are being evacuated to safety. In 1992, Botswana’s last native black rhino fell to poachers, and since the early 2000s, a small number of the imperiled animals have been reintroduced into the area from South Africa (some of those with the Jouberts’ help). The Jouberts, who are both National Geographic explorers at large and also run a number of ecotourism lodges in the Okavango Delta through their company Great Plains Conservation, estimate that fewer than 20 black rhinos may roam the delta today.

The ongoing rhino evacuation efforts to an undisclosed location are urgent not just because workers are racing to beat poachers—they’re also trying to get the job done ahead of the full moon, Joubert says. In early May, when the moon will be full, its bright light will make it easier for poachers to find and kill rhinos without flashlights—a key clue rangers look for on their night patrols in the delta. (The full moon last month, during the first week of South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown, is believed to have been a key factor behind a spike in rhino poaching there.)
“Every time there’s a blood moon or a full moon in Africa everyone involved in conservation—particularly conservation of rhinos—shivers,” Joubert says.

Wildlife officials therefore are trying to evacuate as many of the rare animals as possible in the coming days. Rhinos Without Borders was asked to assist in the evacuation effort and is lending equipment to the operation, including trucks and veterinary supplies.
With the heavy rains and flooding, finding the rhinos—difficult in the best of times—is especially challenging. They’re being spotted from the air, and then trucks are sent in to take them out wherever roads are passable, the Jouberts say. “When the area gets a lot of rain, the roads do get very muddy, and that’s part of the romance of the place,” says John Hilton, a conservationist who has carried out bird surveys of the wetland area as the regional director for the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project. “It’s part of the reason tourists want to go there—because it is so inaccessible, and that’s part of the wonder.” In a typical year, he says, this would be peak tourism time, and people would come in via air or boat, even with the flooding and the recent rains.
The rhinos’ destination in Botswana remains confidential. “All I can say is we are taking the necessary measures to protect our rhinos,” says Cyril Taolo, acting director of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, who declined to provide specific information about the evacuation. “I’m not in a position to talk about any details regarding ongoing operations.”
It’s crucial to take this action now, the Jouberts emphasize. Poaching incidents in Botswana, of both elephants and rhinos, have been increasing during the past couple of years. The lucrative rhino horn trade in the region is controlled by international criminal syndicates, wildlife experts say. Last year, poachers slaughtered more than two dozen rhinos throughout Botswana, and already that number has been surpassed during the first four months of 2020, Dereck Joubert notes.
Still, he considers Botswana one of the safest places in Africa for rhinos. “While we mourn every rhino that gets killed, and every elephant for that matter, it needs to be seen in context,” he says. “The Botswana numbers are still relatively low.”
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Matias Offline
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The article portrays well the temporal issue of poaching in the Okavango region. The notorious tourist area of The Chief's Island has seen a large number of rhinos poached over the past 12 months. The rhinos in this area are more concerned with tourist issues - an animal that aggregates recipes, but that on two occasions have been extirpated and returned.

Last year the Joubert couple suffered serious accusations (LINK). Both are references in conservation, but something doesn't smell right.

Mr. Keabetswe Newel's central argument is simple, just show me the existence of a formal lease or permit, with the Botswana Tourism Organization or the Tawana Land Board (NG23A concession). Is it up to Mr. Joubert to just present the documents or not? And it continues with the same rhetoric, demonstrating that the NG23 concession also operates without a formal contract, either with the Botswana Tourism Organization or with the Okavango Community Trust.

The network of benefits obtained from wildlife films is not being tested. The National Geographic channel plays a very important role in raising awareness, where your films are the only contact for millions of people in the wild. This fact does not promote any right for Mr. Joubert to obtain favors and other non-formalized public benefits.

In Khama's time, the couple enjoyed countless benefits and made up the government's propaganda network. The rural population suffers a huge range of losses, while tourist camps enjoyed extensive state protection. I think it is unfortunate to reach this point, but it is possible that, in his time in government, Masisi promotes a better balance between communities and tourism enterprises run by foreigners. He was elected because he promised to review a series of issues on which communities (CBNRM) claimed change.

I understand the sensitivity of the matter made public. I am not against or in favor of Joubert, the same for Khama or Masisi. 

Closing my eyes doesn't seem prudent, after all "it's not enough to do the right thing, it also has to look right".

In terms of conservation it is good to have rhinos in the Okavango, but at the time of great demand for horns in the Asian market, every effort can be in vain. As long as demand is high, rhinos cannot be left free to roam. The only rhinos that survive far from fences are in northwestern Namibia, which are very well supervised by rural communities that benefit from ecological tourism and regulated hunting in their  communities conservancies. Result of the empowerment, receiving effective income from their conservation.
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