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SOS Rhino : In the News : Fair game? Africa tries to turn back clock

Fair game? Africa tries to turn back clock

  Sun 26 Sep 2004

OVER centuries they were hunted to the brink of extinction in the big game safaris of southern Africa. Now the lion, elephant, leopard and the rhinoceros are at risk again as impoverished states try to increase hunting quotas and lift the ban on the ivory trade.

Proposals to allow big game hunters to kill more of Africa’s wildlife will be debated at a meeting about endangered species in Thailand this week.

Southern African countries want to put game trophies and ivory back on to the world market and they will be pushing to increase quotas at the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Special (CITES).

Animal conservation groups have condemned the moves and will lobby the 166 signatory countries of the CITES treaty, claiming that lifting the ban on ivory will encourage more poaching and endanger the species further.

Of particular concern to Africa at the meeting in Bangkok from October 2 to 14, are proposals involving four of the so-called ‘Big Five’, the lion, elephant, leopard and the rhinoceros. There are no calls for changes in quotas for the fifth endangered animal - the buffalo.

The CITES meeting, which is held every second or third year, comes a year after the World Parks Congress held in South Africa at which the group Conservation International warned of the possible extinction of hundreds of species in the next 10 to 20 years. It said that if an extra 2.6% of the world’s land area was set aside for conservation, it would help stop the imminent extinction of two-thirds of species.

South Africa and Namibia want to be allowed to export as hunting trophies five and 10 Black Rhinoceros respectively. It has for many years been forbidden to hunt these animals. Namibia wants to increase its quota for leopard trophy hunting from 100 to 250 and South Africa from 75 to 150. The two southern African countries also want amendments to regulations on trade in elephant ivory.

A range of animal conservation groups which have observer status at the meeting will lobby member governments on the various proposals. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for example, will urge member states to reject the proposals by South Africa and Namibia.

"It is our moral obligation to ensure that we go out of our way to protect these animals," said Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW’s Southern Africa director who will be joining 14 other IFAW officials from around the world at the meeting to persuade government representatives to adopt measures to conserve various animal species. "We are losing species at a rate of knots," he told Scotland on Sunday.

IFAW will support Kenya’s efforts to propose minimum conditions for the export of registered stocks of ivory and to have a 20-year moratorium on all ivory trade. The east African country will also propose stricter methods for combating illegal trade in ivory and to control internal markets.

South Africa and Namibia seek amendments to regulations on trade in ivory from elephant tusks which CITES banned in 1989. In 1997 and 2002, however, it allowed the one-off sales from ivory stockpiles in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia in recognition of the southern African region’s good management of elephant populations. These sales have been postponed until controls are put in place in both importing and exporting countries.

Namibia wants to be able to export two tonnes a year of raw ivory, ivory products and goods made from elephant leather and hair. It proposes that these materials would come from elephants that have died naturally or those culled in conservation programmes. South Africa is asking CITES to allow it to trade for commercial purposes in products made from elephant hair and leather.

IFAW, which is concerned that acceding to the requests will dramatically increase poaching, will recommend that delegates reject both proposals. Bell-Leask noted that there are "very, very active" domestic markets for ivory in certain African countries, including those which do not have any elephants. This means that those markets are being supplied by illegal sources. "We see figures and reports coming out of various institutions that illegal trade in wildlife is second to drugs and weapons," he said.

It is estimated that 97.6% of the world’s black rhinoceros population is in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. The species is classified as "critically endangered" by the World Conservation Union.

Both South Africa and Namibia have shown increases in numbers of the black rhinoceros between 1980 and 2001 and both display high levels of investment in conservation programmes and monitoring and law enforcement.

Swaziland wants a permit to export both live and trophy white rhinoceroses, a species which was re-established in the southern African kingdom in 1965 after having become extinct. It claims that its current population of 61 is approaching its carrying capacity and that it will plough back the earnings into rhinoceros conservation. IFAW opposes this proposal.

The IFAW delegation will, however, support Kenya, which is asking for increased protection of the African lion which it maintains is at risk from civil unrest, trophy hunting, being poisoned or shot by farmers, the illegal trade in body parts and the loss or destruction of its habitat. The lion has disappeared from northern Africa and about 43% of the population occurs in Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa. The species is further under threat from diseases, including feline Aids, bovine tuberculosis and canine distemper.

Ireland, on behalf of the European Union, will propose various resolutions to protect the great apes which are on the edge of extinction particularly due to the increase of the trade in ‘bushmeat’. Bushmeat is a common term for the meat derived from animals such as apes, elephants and crocodiles. IFAW supports Ireland’s draft resolutions on the strengthening of legislation.

The great apes are further threatened by the destruction of their habitat by logging and the conversion of land to agricultural use and the spread of the Ebola virus.

While observer groups cannot vote at the CITES meeting, they suggest that concerned members of the public lobby their own governments through letter-writing campaigns.

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