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Posts Tagged rhino

A Tale of Two Rhinos Brendan Moyle Nov 04

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One of the challenges in modern conservation is agreeing on what conservation is.  There is a widely held belief that conservation is about reserves, it’s about protecting wildlife and it’s about banning their use. But most wildlife doesn’t live in reserves.  Many endangered species are in developing countries. They don’t have a lot of resources to put into conservation. Corruption and weak institutions make it harder.

white-rhino

What this means is porting over a Western conservation management strategy to other countries hasn’t worked out so well. One might even argue that it doesn’t even work so well in NZ. We can’t conjure up enough resources to control the invasive pests that ravage our native ecosystems. Developing countries struggle to treat conservation as a money sink.

In practice, conservation means working with people with diverse values.  They won’t agree on what conservation means. For Inuit in Canada, conservation means being able to co-manage polar bears and hunt some. It works. Polar bear numbers have trended upwards. In Papua New Guinea, the estuarine crocodile is sustainably harvested. It works. Numbers have risen under this regime. This is a place where reserves and enforcement are to put diplomatically, challenging to implement. The industry and the local villagers agree on the need to conserve crocodiles, basically because they’re worth money. That works to curtail poaching and enhance habitat.

This conflict between what some people think conservation is, and what it actually is, is tragically illustrated with the two rhino species. The black rhino Diceros bicornis used to be abundant, with a range that extended up into the horn of Africa. There was still an estimated 60,000 black rhinos in 1960. Numbers have collapsed despite an international trade ban in 1976 and the use of an orthodox conservation approach.

Trends in Rhino Populations

Trends in Rhino Populations

Source: Michael ‘tSas-Rolfes

The white rhino has undergone the reverse trend (up until very recently). From very low numbers in the 1960s, numbers of white rhinos have overtaken black. The difference was a more encompassing conservation approach. There was a greater willingness to undertake translocations. Management was shared between the state, local communities and private owners.  In South Africa, 25% of the white rhinos are privately owned.  This included trophy hunting.  Again, while not everyone agrees that hunting has a place in conservation, and many find it abhorrent, the result is more rhinos.

The reason rhinos are in decline is poaching. This is now at catastrophic levels. Two to three rhinos on average, are killed each day. 2013 could see 1000 rhinos killed by poachers. Private game parks in South Africa are considering getting out of rhinos completely because of the security risks and costs.

The reason rhinos are poached are for their horns. The horns are largely keratin and grow back. This is partly why the dehorning experiments started in 1989 (with Namibia) failed. Nonetheless, as Biggs et al (2013) argue in the journal Science [1], the economics of farming rhinos stacks up well. Horn can be humanely and regularly shaved off the animal. This would get 8 times as much horn as a one off killing by a poacher. Here is a product we can supply, whose demand has remained resolutely high despite the trade-bans, without having to kill any rhinos. It’s worth debating if the current strategy is delivering what we want for rhinos, and whether trying something new is warranted.

[1] Biggs, D., Courchamp, F., Martin, R., Possingham, H. P. Legal Trade of Africa’s Rhino HornsScience 339 1038-1039 (2013).

 

How to write a news report on Wildlife Poaching Brendan Moyle Nov 07

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After reading many of these over the years, I believe I have discerned the formula for writing the successful news report on wildlife poaching. This is all that it takes:

1) Always support the trade-ban. Trade bans are always the right thing to do. They are a brilliant conservation strategy that creates much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the actual black-markets. Removing legal competition, inflating prices and creating a niche for organised crime always discourages poaching. Because everyone knows that bloating the profits of crime syndicates through a ban, is the last thing these guys want. Rhinos have been subject to an international trade-ban since 1977. Don't question its effectiveness. Making criminals rich has got to deter poaching eventually.

2) Tantalise and shock the reader. Everyone needs to be told that wildlife is poached for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). And TCM is only ever used for one thing of course- aphrodisiacs. Readers love being told this stuff. On no account should you actually tell the readers that wildlife is poached for a myriad of reasons and it is almost always, has nothing to do with aphrodisiacs.

3) Call for more law enforcement. Obviously nobody has since say, 1977 for rhinos, ever thought of this before. The shoot-to-kill policy adopted towards some poachers in African states is just us being soft towards poaching. What we need to do is 'more'. Whatever that means.

4) Call for more education. Anti-consumption 'education' campaigns have been running in many Asian countries since the 1990s. We're not entirely sure where the consumers are or what their motives are, so broach-brush approaches are being used. Because nothing kills off demand faster than the constant reminder to people that the wildlife products have medicinal properties in their culture.

5) Make proposals to reduce value of the wildlife. For example, dehorning rhinos was started in the late 1980s as a way to discourage poachers. With barely any horn left, poachers would have little desire to hunt the rhinos. We've been waiting for this to work for two decades of course.

6) Mock anyone who expresses doubt. The trade-ban is the corner-stone of a brilliant conservation strategy. The collapse of rhino numbers due to poaching, the extinction of the Western Black subspecies, the loss of all wild rhinos in Vietnam- are all utterly minor setbacks. Anyone who wonders if we should be considering legal trade isn't a "true" conservationist. They're in the pay of the Chinese or the hunting fraternity or something. The trade-ban is brilliant so there's nothing to debate. We just need to spend more money on doing what's been failing for over 30 years.

(Sorry, I'm in a slightly dark mood)

#Rhinos- the Aphrodisiac Confusion Brendan Moyle May 15

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From the usually well researched Economist magazine we have:

"Long prized in South-East Asia for its supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac vim, rhino horn is now being peddled as a cure for cancer too."

Please just stop peddling this baseless myth that rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. Nowhere in Traditional Chinese Medicine is rhino-horn recommended as an impotence solution.

It is used in traditional medicines as a cardiotonic or antipyretic [1]. This is actually a documented pharmacological effect. It may not be on par with Western medicinal alternatives but there is some medicinal value to rhino horn. You're not going to convince the traditional medicine community in Asia to take your claims seriously if you don't know these medicinal effects.



Rhinos are not being poached because of impotent Asian men wanting a cure. It is seriously counter-productive to propagate this myth. If you want to develop demand-reduction strategies, going after people who aren't using it is an utter waste of energy and resources.

[1] Mainka, S.A. and Mills, J. (1995). Wildlife and Traditional Chinese Medicine- Supply and Demand for Wildlife Species. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 26(2): 193-200.

#Rhinos- the Aphrodisiac Confusion Brendan Moyle May 15

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From the usually well researched Economist magazine we have:

"Long prized in South-East Asia for its supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac vim, rhino horn is now being peddled as a cure for cancer too."

Please just stop peddling this baseless myth that rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. Nowhere in Traditional Chinese Medicine is rhino-horn recommended as an impotence solution.

It is used in traditional medicines as a cardiotonic or antipyretic [1]. This is actually a documented pharmacological effect. It may not be on par with Western medicinal alternatives but there is some medicinal value to rhino horn. You're not going to convince the traditional medicine community in Asia to take your claims seriously if you don't know these medicinal effects.



Rhinos are not being poached because of impotent Asian men wanting a cure. It is seriously counter-productive to propagate this myth. If you want to develop demand-reduction strategies, going after people who aren't using it is an utter waste of energy and resources.

[1] Mainka, S.A. and Mills, J. (1995). Wildlife and Traditional Chinese Medicine- Supply and Demand for Wildlife Species. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 26(2): 193-200.

I’m not sure I get the point of some of these petitions. Brendan Moyle Mar 01

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One of the consequences of blogging (& similar) about wildlife conservation is getting emails from various well meaning, and very well intentioned groups.

I think I am now subject to a fairly regular stream of requests to sign say, petitions to stop rhino poaching or send money to save tigers. And mostly I'm thinking, umm, have you really thought about this?

Signing petitions to make governments stop rhino poaching is kind of well, what do you think has been happening since 1977? Trade in rhino parts has been halted, governments have thrown money at the problem. And we've got a lot less rhinos now than we had in 1977. If asking governments to stop poaching was all that it takes, why hasn't it worked yet? Maybe we should try to understand the problem better, why we've go this colossal policy failure. Just maybe, governments involved in stopping this trade really don't know what policy is going to work.

And then there's the tiger ones. Aah, the send money now and we will save the tiger. That's been the motif of many a conservation group for decades. We've spent a lot of money on saving the tiger, and the final outcome is we have a lot less. In fact, we have so few left now, they're gone from Vietnam and Cambodia. So spending more money doing the same thing that's been failing for 20-30 years is going to help the tiger how exactly? The one thing tigers seem to be good at, is getting people to donate money to conservation groups. I haven't seen anyone send me a message saying, send us money and we'll save the gharial.

I mean gharials are obviously different right. Unlike tigers which are a top predator in their ecosystem, gharials are a top predator in their ecosystem. And unlike tigers which have shrunk to a mere 6% of their original range, gharials have an enormous 2% left. And tigers with their wild population of say 3200-3500 animals should evoke far more concern than gharials with their population of 1000. Obviously conservation groups should be more concerned about saving tigers than gharials…what have we got to be worried about with gharials?

It would be a little more convincing if groups didn't show quite the intense interest in charismatic animals at expense of other endangered- and that they actually have a viable plan to save tigers that test the payoff from these donations.

“Trade fuels demand”: Phrases that should be banned Brendan Moyle Nov 28

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There are many phrases that cause me to wince. The oft-used ‘missing-link‘, beloved by newspaper headline writers, creationists and 1950s B-movie writers is one.  Another that is stubbornly popular in conservation literature is the oft-repeated claim that trade will fuel demand for wildlife parts.  This is typically used as a reason why trade in wildlife (or their parts) should not be allowed.

There are of course, legitimate reasons why trade could lead to increases in sales of wildlife parts (both legal and illegal). These are issues like laundering, a conspicuous problem during the 1980s with elephants.  Now, I would really prefer to debate these sorts of real reasons trade generates risks.

Instead we end up going over the same old ground, time after time.  Wildlife apparently is different to other economic products.  The act of making these goods available is sufficient to cause people to want them. Poor McDonalds or the like, have to spend advertising dollars in an effort to get customers into their stores. All wildlife producers have to apparently, is make their stuff available. It practically sells itself.

This is rather counter to our evidence. The trade in rhino horn has been banned since the 1970s, and despite proposals from time-to-time to have a legal trade (a legal harvest could simply remove horn from time-to-time on living animals), we’ve not seen that this has curbed demand. Poaching levels have remained unsustainable, populations of rhinos have been wiped out, and the price has soared from $US500 per kg in the 1980s to $50,000 per kg now.

Now, we don’t really have the counter-factual available here (would rhinos do better with some system of trade?), and the increase in price could also be sustained by the decline in supply.  So let’s have a bit more of a formal look at another example.

The idea behind trade fueling demand could be manifested in a couple of ways.  First, if I increase the supply of wildlife products in one year, this should increase demand (and sales) in the following year.  More people will want these products as their demand has been piqued. So increases in supply should lead to further increases in sales, decreases likewise.

The second way is via prices. If we’re increasing sales, is that because we’ve increased production and the market has cleared at this higher output? Or is it because demand has increased.  Well, a key variable there would be prices.  If prices go up- even as we’re increasing production- this would also imply supply is fueling demand.

So lets have a look at the Louisiana alligator production.  It’s a classic wildlife product, and at one stage subject to unsustainable harvests. It’s also a long data set, as the production and harvest level go back to the early 1970s.  This should be long enough to pick up any trends.

So, first question- does an increase in production in say one year, lead to an increase in production in the following:

Red line- the actual data from the Louisiana alligator market
Green line- the estimated data based using the previous year’s production as the predictor
Blue line- the residuals, the graph of the difference between the actual and estimated values.  The tighter and closer this graph is to the 0-line, the better the fit.

Regression: Farmed Skin Supply

Regression: Farmed Skin Supply

The regression had no significant fit here whatsoever, neither does the previous years supply have any effect on this years.  So this quick and simple test doesn’t support trade fueling demand. The blue-residual line is extremely volatile, reflecting the insignificant fit.

Let’s then consider whether there might be a price effect from this supply.  Again, I want to know if an increase (or decrease) in supply in a previous year will fuel (or correspondingly, reduce) demand in the current year.

Regression: Production and Prices

Regression: Production and Prices

And once again, there’s absolutely no relationship. The quantity supplied in the previous year has no detectable influence on prices. We’re not able to fuel demand here by our supply-decisions.

The third point is that maybe, it’s not that legal trade fuels demand for the farmed (or ranched products), but that it fuels the demand for the wild product. This may better reflect the concern conservationists have.  It is also something we can again test.  Louisiana has wild harvests operating alongside their farmed output. So lets see if our farmed output is affecting our wild harvest levels.

alligator-wild

Again, there’s no relationship. Supply decisions in the farmed industry in a previous year, have no effect on either the price or the output of the wild skins in the current year.

In summary, there’s no good reason to give wildlife a special status.  There are certainly good reasons why a legal trade could increase conservation risks.  But the supposition that it will fuel demand is not one of them. The evidence we have from trade in wildlife products is that the usual market parameters drive demand. There’s nothing unique about wildlife that would cause a departure from this.

One also suspects that the opposition to trade in many cases is based on the charisma of the wildlife involved, rather than inherent conservation reasons.  It’s clear that there’s more opposition to say, trade in rhino parts than there is in alligator or crocodile.

Losing the battle to save rhinos Brendan Moyle Nov 14

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The upsurge in poaching of the Asian and African rhino species has continued for the last few years. Underlining this is the declaration from the IUCN that the Western subspecies of the black rhino is extinct. This is sad news in light of the once prolific numbers of this species. At the beginning of the 20th century there were an estimated 100,000 black rhinos in Africa. Their range extended from below the Sahara all the way to the Cape. In 1960, there were still an estimated 60,000 of these large animals.[1]

This is an animal that in the past had little to fear from predation. Elephants and lions are wary of these animals. The black rhino can gallop at 50 km per hour and easily smash their way through thorn brush. The threat it faces is well known. Rhinos are hunted for their horns. This slaughter has been unsustainable. By the late 90s, only one unfenced population of more than 100 animals existed (Namibia).[1]


White Rhino picture- via http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1262665

So what in a nutshell has gone wrong?
Well, we've gambled nearly everything on one premise. That is if the trade in rhino horn is illegal, then demand will disappear. This premise has driven conservation policy decade after decade. And it ultimately it has failed. The loss of the western black rhino emphasises this.

Another measure of how badly the policy has failed is the price of rhino horn. Rhino horn has reputed values of between $40-60,000 per kilogram. In the period 1982-86 the average price of African horn was $538 per kilogram.[2] An adult rhino can have horn weighing up to 5 kg (albeit average weights are lower). In short, no collapse in horn-prices has been observed. Rather rhino horn has become one of the most expensive wildlife products on the planet (in comparison, a tiger is worth about $US50,000 in the black market).

A dead rhino in effect, is worth over $US250,000 to the poaching syndicate that is trafficking it. It's difficult to see how this is acting as much of a deterrent to poachers. The current prices are sufficiently high that killing dehorned rhinos still makes economic sense. There is enough horn left in the stump to make the effort worthwhile.

Demand in Asia has remained stubbornly high. This is despite anti-consumption campaigns. This is despite law enforcement. This is despite attempts at suasion. China banned the trade in rhino horn in 1993, and at the same time purged mention of rhino-horn medicine in TCM guides. Demand for rhino horn is based on three main uses. The first is in the Middle- East where they're used as jambiyyas- a type of dagger handle. The second is in China and Vietnam where it is used as an ingredient for traditional medicines (as a cardiotonic or antipyretic)[2]. The third and emerging use is as a reputed anti-cancer agent.

It is worth repeating that rhino horn is not used as an aphrodisiac. There is no research in TCM that supports it having this trait. Its use as a cure for impotence is not mentioned in any TCM texts. Middle-aged men who encounter problems getting a hard-on are not the cause of the rhino's demise.

One suspects that if we had been using legal trade over the last 30 years and had achieved this outcome, conservationists would be clamouring for a change in policy. Instead, the loss of the Western black rhino is unlikely to alter the situation at all. Many conservationists will continue championing the current strategy of banning trade and relying on law enforcement to save the rhino.

We are now trying to confront sophisticated crime networks, who are better equipped than many of the local enforcement agencies. The demand in Asia is indifferent to Western concern and it has been unaffected by anti-consumption campaigns. It is hard to see that the current plan to save rhino numbers has a realistic chance of succeeding. It is perhaps time, to be debating other options.


[1] Cunningham, C., and Berger, J. (1997). Horn of Darkness: Rhinos on the Edge. Oxford University press.
[2] Mainka, S.A. and Mills, J. (1995). Wildlife and Traditional Chinese Medicine- Supply and Demand for Wildlife Species. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 26(2): 193-200.











Call for legal trade in rhino horn to be debated Brendan Moyle Sep 21

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I spotted this piece by conservationist Dr Ian Player yesterday on the rhino poaching issue.
Daily News

Rhino species in Africa have undergone a precipitous decline in the last century. Cunningham and Berger[1] note that around 1900 there were perhaps 100,000 black rhinos in Africa. By 1960 it was 60,000. By the 80s it was extinct in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. The continent had 3,500 left. In 1993, Zimbabwe revised down its extimated population of 2000 animals (1991) to 250.

While white rhinos have done a little better, Southern Africa is undergoing a resurgent poaching problem. In 2010, 333 rhinos were killed. By September this year 285 have already been killed.

Like many other charismatic species (like tigers), decades-old efforts to deter poaching have failed. This has prompted Player to suggest we should start debating the legal trade issue again. This is a brave step to take, as often in the conservation-world, suggesting we debate the feasibility of market-policies against poachers, means the person is in favour of carte blanche open-trade.

The reality is we have a policy based entirely around law-enforcement that is failing. And we have people refuse to debate whether legal trade could deter poaching. Again, I don't know whether the trade mechanism Player suggests (using horns from rhinos that have died naturally) will be effective.

What concerns me more is that so many conservationists refuse to debate these issues
. Poaching syndicates have become sophisticated, violent, international criminal organisations. They're branched out into other markets. Rangers risk their lives to try to stop poachers. Yet so many people have decided that trade somehow will fuel demand or that Asian consumers base their purchase decision on whether Western conservationists approve of the market. There are some good reasons why trade could fail. But there are a lot of bad reasons that have become part of conservationist-folklore that do need better scrutiny.


[1] Cunningham, C. and Berger, J. (1997). Horn of Darkness: Rhinos on the Edge. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.

Old Myths Never Die: Rhino Horn Brendan Moyle May 09

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I got the chance to catch up on some conservation stories in the weekend, and this one from the Independent (via NZ Herald) caught my eye. This reported on the recovery of Nepal’s rhino population (there are 5 species of rhinos, Nepal has the “Indian” species).

The good news was the recovery of the 435 to 534 animals since 2008. The impact of the Nepalese civil war on their reserves is well known. This caused a drop off in management and the infiltration of these reserves by more poachers. Like the rhino, Nepal’s tiger population has also increased since peace has returned. In 2008 Nepal had some 121 tigers left, and this has increased to 155.

Sadly, what really caught my eye was the note:
Rhino horn is popular in East Asian medicine as a supposed sexual stimulant.

Can we please stop repeating this myth, it is wrong!

Rhino horn has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) since at least 200 BC and never as an aphrodisiac [1]. It is commonly prescribed as a cardiotonic or antipyretic (relieves fever). The horn from Asian rhino species are believed to be more potent than the African. (The other big black-market use of rhino horn is for the traditional decorative dagger handle or jambiyyas in the Middle East [2]).

The use of rhino horn as an aphrodisiac is not noted in any TCM text. Please, the reality is that most wildlife poaching in Asia is not undertaken for the purposes of alleviating sexual dysfunction.


[1] Mainka, S.A. and Mills, J.A. (1995). Wildlife and Traditional Chinese Medicine: Supply and Demand for Wildlife Species. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. 26(2), 193-200

[2] Cunningham, C. & berger, J. (1997). Horn of Darkness: Rhinos on the Edge. Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford.

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