Mankind: Critically Endangered to Suffer loss of its Wildlife Heritage


Rushing to Water_2012_09_03_5990-2

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Field A_2010_07_29_0436_250x375pxYou have all heard that saying about the elephant in the room… it’s a metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth which goes unaddressed. It’s a risk that nobody wants to discuss. Our elephant in the room is as real as it will ever get, yet everyone is sticking their heads in the sand, to excuse another idiom. In the news this week is the story that a recent three year survey has “revealed a dramatic 30 percent decline in savannah elephant populations.” i

African lion populations have been declining rapidly too. Some say that 75 percent of the lions have been wiped out in the last 50 years. The world lion population is estimated at between 25 and 30 thousand… that is barely more than twice the number of athletes at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. By the next games, Olympians may well outnumber lions in Africa.

One doesn’t have to search too hard for information to establish the dramatic decline in the now critically endangered rhinoceros populations, the now vulnerable lions, not to mention Grizzly Bear, the Polar Bear and the Great White Shark. These species are still being hunted. You would have thought man would be smart enough to realise his destruction of our environment. But no, we are told this is conservation.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) lists 18 species as critically endangered. Nearly half of those species are African! A further 30 species are simply endangered, with African Wild Dog topping the list and a few other African species being prominent. ii One might begin to point fingers towards incompetent governance, corruption, land encroachment and poaching. They are all rife in Africa. We might well cry loud about the insatiable Asian demand for animal parts too. We know the hunters will also rush to defend their patch.

Take as an example the case of the rhinoceros, killed for the horny growth on their forehead to make dagger handles and used supposedly as an Eastern medical remedy. Zimbabwe’s wildlife parks have succumbed almost entirely to being poached out. There are an estimated 800 rhinoceros left in Zimbabwe almost all of which are in privately owned parks in the hands of rhino conservationists, but even those are under attack, often with filthy politicians being complicit! Twice the number of rhinoceros were poached in 2015 compared with the previous year!

National Parks and Wildlife Management in Zimbabwe recently ventured into dehorning rhinoceros in what is described as a desperate attempt to stop poaching. One wonders what will happen to the horn? Will they destroy it or will it be whittled off to some Chinese trader to enrich some politician or bureaucrat? Why have National Parks not destroyed the huge stock of ivory in their possession? Who has his eye on future enrichment?

The point is, we are awash with information on the problem, yet nobody with the power at their disposal has the courage to stand firm on real conservation of African species. The solutions can only lie in Africa. Yes we have a whole army of tree huggers, conservationists, and animal lovers barking at the world, but nothing they do will reverse the trend. Indeed it is like one man trying to push over an African Mahogany tree; with his head.

Governments need to prioritise actions to reduce the destruction of our African heritage. We as wildlife enthusiasts need to boot them in the right direction. Organised Wildlife needs to speak out and become more prominent and active in this fight. Sadly, if they don’t and during my lifetime, the rhino population will have dwindled to naught, lions will have gone too and the elephants will perhaps survive me on the critically endangered list. What great African wildlife heritage we are leaving to our grandchildren!

i Agence France-Press
ii World Wildlife Fund

Is the Battle for the Rhinoceros on its Last Legs?


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XISouthern African conservation of the rhinoceros is severely threatened despite years of intensive preservation effort, mostly by private enterprise and non-governmental entities. Renewed demand for rhinoceros horn, basically a material called keratin, similar to hair and nails, has stepped up the pressure upon Africa’s most treasured fauna heritage. Criminal syndicates are hard at play while African governments slumber.

It is estimated that near 95 percent of all rhinoceros horn poached in southern Africa ends up in the Far East. China is often cited as a major consumer nation, yet the probability is that Vietnam may well be more predominant. Vietnam can hardly be proud that she lost her last Javan rhinoceros to poachers in 2010. With Asian rhinoceros numbers now depleted, to shamefully low levels, the East is looking at its new frontier of horn supply, Africa.

The principle cause of foreign demand is perceived pharmacological benefit in treating high fevers, influenza, hepatitis, and leukaemia amongst other things, according to ancient Chinese writings. Yet, no medical research in the last 30 years has concurred with these antediluvian authors. Asian rhinoceros horn is considered more potent than that of its African cousin and commands a five-fold higher price too. Alas for Africa, superior horn from the now critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros, the latter disgracefully down to a mere world population of just 30 animals, is nearly impossible to acquire!

Africa is not just victim to this effect, but catalyst to the cause as well. The ‘great white’ hunters of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries set a poor precedent in animal slaughter, but poverty would, today, seem a principle cause. This is a by-product of Africa’s heritage and political mismanagement; the doctrine of want, greed and destruction; conflict and warfare; and all the apparent misdemeanours of post-colonial government. Such poverty has presented opportunity for both indigenous poacher (who would never benefit from the live animal in the wild) and foreign trafficker alike.

Picture ©2008 Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sums it up succinctly,

“A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos and increasing illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.”

Africans have been far too passive in controlling the poaching scourge. Inadequate policing; ineffective legislation; poor conservation awareness and consequent pittance budgets are germane. Misdirected land policies; political attitude with hapless foresight in the face of many other priorities, usually brought about by greed, patronage, corruption and incompetence, contribute to poaching successes, trafficking wealth, and foreign demand.

Trafficking rhinoceros horn has become a lucrative business, so much so, that even the official keepers of Africa’s wildlife heritage are succumbing to its temptations. Your average poacher has stepped up the sophistication ladder too, armed with high powered rifles; state of the art darting equipment and specialist sedative drugs; chain saws; night vision instruments and helicopters as well. Often, the horn ‘reaping’ resources of criminal syndicates far ‘outgun’ those of the protectors. It has become a no win situation for Africa.

Trade in African rhinoceros horn is becoming so lucrative that opinions in some parts of the conversation camp are turning towards legitimising its trade. To some, that would be akin to decriminalising drug trafficking because the problem has become too large and too hot to handle. A few thousand rhinoceros in the wild are hardly likely to service the demand of a quarter of the world’s population. Massive breeding and livestock rearing programmes would be needed: something way outside the capacity of ‘developing world’ coffers and way down the priority list too. The scale is just too immense, besides poached horn is free, or at least cheap.

Pertinently, Africa can hardly feed itself, yet alone nurture its wildlife. Can Africa look to its Eastern horn market for help? Strange as that may seem, Asia, being the principle source of demand, has not seen fit to properly conserve or indeed escalate or ‘farm’ its own rhinoceros populations to service horn demand. Why should they? The ease with which Asia has managed to supplement dwindling supplies of, albeit less powerful, horn out of Africa should be ringing bells loud and long for African politicians.

Conservationists have been tolling these bells for decades. Zimbabwe’s Campfire programme has long identified the need to allow poor rural communities, the have-nots, to be rewarded and benefit from their wildlife heritage through conservation projects alongside the wealthy. Could African communities, using Campfire styled strategies, benefit from massive rhinoceros breeding schemes and how effectively could governments protect their efforts if they did? It seems that this has been left to private enterprise, which is actually stifled by regulatory control against trading the horn they reap from living, rather than slaughtered, beasts.

Little doubt the debate will continue, but swift action is now the only hope. In the meantime, Africa’s rhinoceros populations are on the decline, being decimated, following the Asian trend. Clearly, Far Eastern nations, responsible for the destruction of African fauna, need to play their critical role in controlling illicit trade, yet that outcome is remote.

That leaves the issue squarely in the hands of poorly resourced Africans. It does not bode well for the rhinoceros, short of implementing some rather draconian measures. How does one expect African governments to fair against illicit horn syndicates when more powerful and better resourced nations have failed against the drug cartels? The other option is to succumb to legitimisation of trade in horn. That will only enhance our acceleration towards extinction of the species because, seemingly, Africans lack the will and capacity to change and have run out of time to alter their course.

“Despite the action of conservation programmes, 25% of mammals are at risk of extinction. For example, the reassessments of several Rhinoceros species show that the subspecies of the Black Rhino in western Africa, the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) has officially been declared Extinct. The subspecies of the White Rhino in central Africa, the Northern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is currently teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as Possibly Extinct in the Wild. The Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is also making its last stand, as the subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus is probably Extinct, following the poaching of what is thought to be the last animal in Viet Nam in 2010.” – IUCN

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Unabated Rhinoceros Slaughter


By Andrew Field
Flickr_Andrew_XIRhinoceros poaching in Africa has resulted in the slow and brutally endemic slaughter of one of the few mammal relics of a bygone age, gruesomely performed over the last decades. This carnage has been committed to satisfy an insatiable demand for the horn of this near extinct beast. A boneless piece of fibrous material, keratin, protruding from the frontal nasal bone, remains in demand for both ornamental and medicinal use. It is a lump of protein, in simple terms, and has been the undoing of the rhino in Africa.

It may seem that Africa’s corrupt regimes are simply going to allow this extinction of the rhino, and it appears too that the World will just look on. It is evident that those select few, who now rule Africa, are plundering Africa’s wildlife heritage with a greater passion, especially where rich rewards are realised. What is even more damning is that organisations, which supposedly boast high ethical standards in the name of conservation, are simply turning their heads the other way. Arab dagger merchants and Chinese traditional medicine men are laughing with rhino blood on their hands.

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The rhino’s annihilation might well be compared with the post colonial destruction of Africa. As nation by nation relinquished their colonial bondages, after the long pursuit of freedom’s Holy Grail, the looting by the nouveau elite began, with a vengeance, and with impunity too. Thus, like these emerging nations, the Rhino became the victim of man’s insatiable greed and his filthy corruption, becoming the object of great destruction and pillaging. And the World looked on afraid to comment, lest they might offend, or simply turned the other cheek.

The colonials are not without their blame here. The white man’s forays into Africa commenced with the wholesale carnage of African game beyond our wildest imagination, back then to reap trophy upon trophy and more significantly elephant ivory. ‘Great’ white hunters left a legacy of mass slaughter in the wild and this was not just restricted to Africa. So, we can blame it all on the colonials, once more, and every one will be content, except, that is, the poor old rhino. Much like Zimbabwe’s land parallel, two wrongs just do not make a right.

In Zimbabwe, according to conservationists, some 50 rhino have already been taken this year, against 120 slaughtered last year, and all this to reap between 3 and 4 kilograms of horn per beast. The carcass is wasted. Zimbabwe’s rhinoceros population is now down to about 350. That is just three years’ supply.

Rhino Death II

Recently, poaching activity involving Zimbabwean politicians, including a high level Cabinet Minister, was uncovered. The evidence was overwhelming, apparently, but the police docket against them mysteriously disappeared and now nothing will happen. Both police and army personnel have turned poacher too, lapping at the bowl of political patronage. Of course, it is not only the politicians involved, but they have certainly created the platform.

Patronage appears to be the real problem in Africa, and Zimbabwe seems to have mastered this in recent years. Zimbabwe’s fragile unity government has hardly murmured a word about this looting of its wildlife heritage. There is no condemnation and, most certainly, there will be no prosecutions of that hallowed political fraternity or its minions feeding from the same trough.

Clearly, those who fight the plight of the rhino are paddling up a raging, murky, rapid, with little hope of meeting their objectives, unless, of course, there is a return to true democracy, the breaking down of the patronage system, and the de-politicisation of the civil service and armed forces. Carbon emission controls might seem easier to achieve.

The country needs to revisit the concept of full transparency and see the restructuring of those government departments that concern themselves with our wildlife heritage and conservation. As it stands, this is going to take a very long time, perhaps years to achieve. For the rhinoceros, the problem is that time has actually run out. Zimbabwe’s rhino population might well become truly extinct before any of this happens.

Pictures by Andrew Field (top) and an anonymous photographer (bottom) supplied by Johnny Rodrigues (Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force)