Legal Trade in Rhino Horn seems to be off the table - for now!
from Michael 't Sas-Rolfes
Greetings Tim et al,
Just a quick update from Jeju. Yesterday there were a few significant sessions. First, there was an update on the elephant and rhino poaching crisis in Africa. The Chinese (and Vietnamese) were conspicuous by their absence.
I did not learn much new from this session other than the shocking figure that 68 field rangers have already lost their lives this year alone in skirmishes with poachers in Africa.
This was followed by a small workshop on 'mobilizing knowledge for enhanced governance of trade in wildlife between Africa and China'. There was one Chinese representative present, a number of TRAFFIC / WWF folks and a few South Africans, including Bandile Mkhize and Thea Carroll from DEA. We did not learn much from China in this session. They continue to treat rhino trade as a serious offence and have no idea to what extent it takes place within the country.
The main market is still perceived to be Vietnam. No official from Vietnam attended either session, but a WWF representative who had done work on the Vietnamese market expressed the opinion that it will take a long time - possibly several generations - for Vietnamese attitudes toward the consumption of rare wildlife products to change. He explained that consuming products such as rhino horn is a status symbol and aspirational, driven by top politicians and successful yuppies.
There was also a USAID rep present who said that Hilary Clinton has now taken a personal interest in cracking the poaching problem. And WWF-International announced that they are throwing their weight behind a massive campaign to raise the political profile of the poaching crisis to mobilize more political will and resources.
I raised the concern that perhaps this might still not be enough, referencing the failure of the War on Drugs, despite the mobilization of significant resources for that. To this, Steve Broad, the head of TRAFFIC, responded by stating his belief that the wildlife market was different to the drugs market, that there are relatively few kingpins and that it would be easy to take them out with a more focused effort. We shall see.
Thea Carroll from DEA pointed out that South Africa was spending massive amounts of money to try and solve the poaching problem through enforcement and so far had little to show for it. She expressed concern that we simply can't keep this up without seeing some return on this investment in the foreseeable future.
The bottom line is that WWF / TRAFFIC remain committed to the enforcement approach and, as far as they are concerned, legal trade was not really even up for discussion at this point.
In the evening there was another relevant meeting, this time to discuss a proposed IUCN motion aimed at phasing out the practice of bear farming in China. This is relevant, because bear bile, like rhino horn, is considered important in Traditional Chinese Medicine. For this meeting, many Chinese representatives were present (from the Chinese State Forestry Association and TCM representatives, among others) and they expressed very clear opposition to the motion.
Alongside this meeting I had some discussions with some folks who are close to the Chinese and aware of their position. Their bottom line is that they strongly defend their use of TCM and have no intention of backing down on this. They are not willing to yield much ground on bear farming: although they have apparently invested quite heavily in improving farming practices for the sake of bear welfare, they wish to continue with bile extraction and firmly believe that this helps with the conservation of wild bears.
With regards to rhino horn, they have removed it from the official pharmacopeia but are not willing to condemn its use in traditional medicine as ineffective, because they remain of the belief that it does have healing powers. In Vietnam, I believe that rhino horn remains 'in the books' of both the official and unofficial traditional pharmacopeia references, not as a cancer remedy, but to treat other ailments.
So, all in all, Tim, I think the chances of traditional practices relating to medicinal use changing anytime soon are not great. I can't comment on ivory, but I also note there is a strong Asian culture of status, prestige and gifting, which is also very unlikely to change anytime soon, coupled with a belief that people are way more important than animals, so I would say we are fighting an uphill battle on the 'demand reduction' side.
The WWF Vietnam guy also expressed the opinion that getting Chinese heroes like Jackie Chan to denounce the use of rhino horn might impress some teenage Vietnamese girls but would be very unlikely to have any influence on the politicians and entrepreneurs who are the real users of the product.
I hope these comments are useful!