Since 2007-8 a number of species have undergone a sharp increase in poaching.
These include the African elephants (savannah and forest), the pangolin and African rhino (black and white). Poaching of rhinos is nothing new. It’s been taking place since the 1960s and rhinos have all but disappeared except for their strong-holds in Southern Africa. South Africa and Namibia bucked the trends by increasing their populations. Almost all of the gains in the graphic below come from the increases in Southern Africa.
Ironically, this growth was accompanied by conservation policies that many regard as being antithetical to conservation. This included rhino-farming and trophy-hunting. Much of the growth in South Africa occurred on private land, not in state protected areas. Those countries that tried a more orthodox approach (nature reserves, no hunting) lost their populations, even after in some cases, gambling on removing the horn from rhinos in reserves to deter poachers.
Nonetheless, poaching has intensified in the Southern African region, and along with that, debate on the policies that will best conserve these species.
al-Jazeera published a useful infographic on the post-2007 situation, which I’m sharing here. I like it also because it correctly lists the things rhino-horn is supposed to cure in TCM. This despite popular social media claims otherwise, does not include impotence.
To Trade or Not to Trade?
One of the papers I recently published looks at the conditions under which a trade ban minimises illegal sales of wildlife. There has been an international ban on the trade in rhino parts (among CITES members) since 1976. In 2009 South Africa placed a moratorium on domestic sales in response to the rising poaching rates. This did nothing to halt the increase in poaching.
One of the problems with relying upon a ban is that market is abandoned entirely to the criminals. This prevents any reduction in illegal sales from competition. The hoped for benefit, is this eliminates any laundering of illegal wildlife products in the legal market. If there’s no legal market, criminals can’t exactly pass their products off as legal and feed them into this market.
For this to truly reduce illegal sales to their minimal value, then laundering has to be the main, and overwhelming, distribution network for illegal wildlife. It also means that if most of the illegal sales are occurring outside the legal market, then this strategy is not optimal. The ban eliminates all competition effects, with little impact on illegal sales as these are bypassing the legal market.
It is hard to be confident at the moment that the bans in place will produce the conservation outcomes desired.
Rhino photo in header, taken during anti-poaching research in Kenya, 2014.