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The U.S. Embassy in South Africa’s office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) donated border enforcement equipment and tools to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) at their K-9 facility in Kempton Park today. The equipment will be utilized in support SARS’ efforts to safeguard the borders in South Africa. The donation, valuing more than $105,000, includes vehicle GPS units, field binoculars, night vision goggles, handheld thermal imagers, radiation detector/pagers, and contraband detection kits.

The donation is a part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s longstanding partnership with the government of South Africa to support border security, trade facilitation and combat wildlife trafficking. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Jessye Lapenn said, “Following South Africa’s success in hosting the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016, we are delighted to support your continued efforts. This equipment will be used to help conserve your incredibly diverse wildlife species, promote economic development, and combat the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade within your borders, across our borders, and globally. I am proud of the great work our South African and American teams have done together on these issues. Together, we are making a difference.”

An executive for Customs at SARS said, “from the South African perspective, we acknowledge and receive these ‘tools of the trade’ from the United States with gratitude. This donation will strengthen our long-lasting relationship with the United States, which has been assisting us since the 1990s. Our work together has helped us improve our fight against the illicit economy.”

With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade. As the United States’ first unified border entity, CBP takes a comprehensive approach to border management and control, combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive activity. The men and women of CBP are responsible for enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations. On a typical day, CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals, and seizes nearly six tons of illicit drugs. Annually, CBP facilitates an average of more than $3 trillion in legitimate trade while enforcing U.S. trade laws.

Source:  APO on behalf of U.S. Embassy Pretoria, South Africa.

EcoWatch

South Africa should adopt a “shoot-to-kill” policy to show that it is serious about halting the country’s rhino poaching crisis. Like hell? Like hell, yeah!

This is the controversial view of two University of Botswana academics‚ who raised a storm by urging South Africa to adopt the highly controversial policy.

Writing in the latest issue of the SA Crime Quarterly journal‚ Goemeone Mogomotsi and Patricia Madigele argue that the policy‚ adopted in Botswana in 2013‚ was a “legitimate conservation strategy” and “a necessary evil” to protect rhinos from extinction.

Mogomotsi is a legal officer in the University of Botswana’s department of legal services‚ while Madigele is a resource economics scholar at the university’s Okavango Research Institute.

They argue that the policy has reduced poaching levels in Botswana by sending out a message that if anyone wanted to poach in South Africa’s northern neighbour‚ it was possible that “you may not go back to your country alive”.

“We believe parks are war zones and that rules and principles of war ought to be implemented‚” they argue in the journal’s special issue on environmental crime‚ published jointly by the Institute for Security Studies and the Centre of Criminology at the University of Cape Town.

Guest editor Annette Hübschle makes it clear that the journal’s publication of the shoot-to-kill proposal was not in any way an endorsement of the policy and also suggests it would not be allowed under South Africa’s constitution. Hübschle and journal editor Andrew Faull also comment that South Africa and many of its neighbours are constitutional democracies that had abolished the death penalty.

“Introducing ‘shoot-to-kill’ may catapult us back to the dark days of apartheid and colonialism where the rule of law and fair process were applied selectively; ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies target the lowest tiers of organised crime networks while the upper echelons remain untouchable‚” they said.

Mogomotsi and Madigele‚ however‚ contend that Section 49 of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act allowed police and other arresting authorities to use “lethal force” or “reasonably deadly force”.

 “It is hence our view that South Africa’s legislative framework allows for anti-poaching forces to be empowered to shoot at poachers if it is in the interests of their safety and the security of the endangered species. To the moralists‚ such a position is very difficult to accept; however we argue that it is a necessary evil‚ considering the obligation to protect rhinos from extinction. It appears poachers will do anything to ensure that they kill these animals‚ unless they are made aware of the possibility of their own death in the process.”

They also note that Africa’s elephant population had declined by as much as 50% from 1970 to the early 2000s‚ while the continent’s black rhino population had plummeted by 67% from 1960 to the early 2000s. They also state that Zimbabwe’s elephant population increased from 52 000 to 72 000 animals after that country adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in the later 1980s‚ adding that shoot-to-kill was “the only anti-poaching method that clearly signals that wild animals deserve to live”.

They argue that there is a real risk of rhinos becoming virtually extinct in several parts of Africa and that South Africa “seems unable to deal with sophisticated criminals‚ including poachers and wildlife trackers”.

“In light of the above‚ South Africa is encouraged to seriously consider the adoption and implementation of Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. We believe that Botswana has demonstrated that its policies … deter poachers in general and rhino poachers in particular.”

A spokesman for Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has not responded so far to requests for comment on the controversial proposal.

However‚ senior SA National Parks rhino special projects leader Major General Johan Jooste has made it clear that he does not support such measures.

In a separate interview in SA Crime Quarterly‚ Jooste said legal officials met rangers on a regular basis to train them on the legal rules of engagement with armed poachers.

“They drill it into them that you cannot take the law into your own hands because it is not nice to see a fatality‚ nobody likes to see that. And‚ by the way‚ we don’t support shoot-to-kill‚ it will not solve the problem. It will only demean and degrade who and what we are.

“We get really emotional people who respond to the barbarity of poaching depicted in a photo‚ by saying ‘shoot them’. But we as law-abiding citizens have never given consent (to such acts)‚ no matter how angry we were.”

Jooste also told Hübschle there was no evidence that killing poachers would solve the problem.

“I have never seen (an example) where (killing poachers) helps. It is misleading when one is protecting some rhinos very well to say it’s because of ‘shoot-to-kill’.”

Jooste said he believed that law enforcement alone would not solve the horn-poaching crisis‚ though anti-poaching teams were obliged to “buy time” for now‚ while other solutions were sought at a global and regional level.

“We all wish that rhino poachers were gone so that we don’t have to live like we live. I was in Kruger (recently); we’re asking impossible things of people. The stress and emotional strain that this so-called war causes are not things we should extend one more day than is necessary.” Source: TimesLive

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tons of ivory from a shipping container arriving from Malaysia on July 4.

The seizure was made at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, and once its weight is confirmed, the haul could become a record seizure – the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database – narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002.

According to a government media release, the consignment was declared as “frozen fish” and the tusks hidden beneath frozen fish cartons.

The massive seizure underlines both Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s role as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory. Three people – a man and two women were arrested in connection with the seizure.

The ETIS database is managed by the NGO TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

Under CITES guidelines, any seizure of 500kg or more is considered indicative of the involvement of organized crime. All parties making such large-scale seizures are obliged to examine them forensically as part of follow-up investigations.

Dr Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East Asia, said, “No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port. The case for increasing penalties has never been stronger.”

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation regarding wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years, a timescale that is out of step with neighboring mainland China which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. Source: Maritime Executive/TRAFFIC/HongKong Government – Photo’s: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture - Carl de Souza - AFP]

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture – Carl de Souza – AFP]

Desert black rhinoceros, South Africa [Picture credit: africagreenmedia.co.za

Desert black rhinoceros, South Africa [Picture credit: africagreenmedia.co.za

South Africa has made no final proposal on legalising the global rhino horn trade as a way of reducing the level of rhino poaching in the country, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Friday, rebutting recent media reports on the issue.

Last year, the Cabinet authorised the department to explore the possible legalisation of the rhino horn trade at the 17th conference of the parties (COP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which takes place in 2016.

However, the department said, “no final proposal has been compiled, or decision made, regarding the future legal trade in rhino horn as an additional intervention to reduce the levels of poaching”.

The department said it had appointed a panel of experts, chaired by the department’s Fundisile Mketeni, to assist the inter-ministerial committee tasked by the Cabinet with weighing up a proposal on the trade in rhino horn.

The panel had started its work and would, in the coming months, listen to all sides of the trade debate before submitting a set of recommendations to the committee.

South Africa’s proposal would be tabled at CITES in 2016, and would be based on sound research, uninfluenced by any individuals or groups seeking to make a profit or by any group opposed to the country’s sustainable usage policies, the department said.

“South Africa believes that the decision to table a proposal at the next CITES COP is timeous, and may be a step towards addressing the scourge. South Africa is however not in any way insinuating that the possible trade in rhino horns would be a panacea to the problem of poaching.”

South Africa, which is home to more than 80% of the world’s rhino population, has been facing an onslaught from poaching syndicates since 2008. Since the start of this year alone, 442 rhinos have been poached and 123 suspected poachers arrested in the country.

The department has taken a number of steps in response, including increasing the numbers of rangers in its parks, as well as improving regional and international collaboration with both rhino “range” and rhino horn “consumer” countries. Source: SAnews.gov.za

Some 400 endangered amphibians and reptiles have died from dehydration and improper shipping in South Africa, animal inspectors say.

More than 1,600 animals were discovered crammed into two crates at the OR Tambo International Airport. The survivors are being treated at a local zoo.

The animals, from Madagascar, had been without water and food for at least five days, reports say. They are believed to have been destined for the exotic pet market in the US.

The surviving animals have been taken to the Johannesburg Zoo, where they are said to be “stable”.

“A substantial number have stabilised, eating and drinking, there are about over 1,200 that have survived – others with irreparable damage,” the zoo’s veterinarian Brett Gardener told the BBC.

Mr Gardener said while some losses can be expected when shipping animals over long distances, what possibly exacerbated this particular case was the delay to the connecting flight to the US.

“The boxes arrived on Tuesday morning and were scheduled to connect on a flight that evening. The flight was delayed indefinitely due to bad weather and attempts to put them in another flight failed,” he said.

The animals were found on Wednesday after an inspector from the National Society for the Prevent of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) noticed “a bad smell” during a routine cargo inspection and found that some of the animals in the boxes had begun decomposing and some were barely alive.

The animals, which included at least 30 different species of frogs, chameleons, lizards and toads and geckos, had been placed in two crates about half a metre in size – one on top of the other.

The chameleons were tied in small muslin bags, while the other reptiles and amphibians were crammed into small plastic tubs.

Some of the animals were so tightly packed together that they were unable to move or turn around, local media report.

Many of the recovered animals were classified as endangered, vulnerable, or threatened, according to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Those on Cites appendix II protocol, meaning that they can be traded, but only with a special permit.

The Star newspaper reports that they did have the authorisation but local animal rights groups have called for an investigating into how the consignment came to arrive in South Africa.

The NSPCA and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are further investigating the matter.

“The authorities suspect that there are South African agents involved [who work as middle men] and once investigations are finalised they would be charged with animal cruelty,” said Ainsley Hay, head of the NSPCA’s Wildlife Unit.

The department will be contacting authorities from Madagascar to discuss what should be done with the animals, until then they will be treated in some zoos locally.

Madagascar, the fourth largest island on the planet, is deemed one of the world’s biological hotspots. Source: BBC

Rhino poaching statistics (Department of Environmental Affairs)

Rhino poaching statistics (Department of Environmental Affairs)

The Department of Environmental Affairs today, 24 July 2013 released the Rhino Issue Management (RIM) Report which emanated from the national consultation process to facilitate a common understanding of the key issues related to the protection and conservation of South Africa’s rhino population. The release of the RIM report comes as the number of rhino poached in South Africa increased to 514. To access the report, Click Here!

The Kruger National Park continues to bear the brunt of poaching with 321 rhino poached since 1 January 2013, while 54 have been killed for their horns in Limpopo, 53 in North West and 43 in KwaZulu-Natal. A total of 143 alleged poachers have been arrested this year.

The final report submitted to the Minister and Department of Environmental Affairs in January 2013 has greatly assisted the department in reviewing and updating its rhino response strategy outlined in the National Strategy for the Safety and Security of the Rhinoceros Population of South Africa (NSSSRPSA).

The RIM report incorporates current thinking on sustainable rhino conservation by acknowledged rhino specialists, ecologists and a range of other experts. It encapsulates viewpoints from Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) both specialised and community based, civil society, and from traders, professional hunters, resource economists and ordinary citizens with a deep concern for the ethical and humane treatment of animals.

The consultation process resulted in clear agreement that the country’s rhinos should be conserved for the good of all humanity, and that every effort should be made to protect the threatened species from the sustained poaching onslaught by international syndicates earning huge profits from the sale of rhino horn.

The RIM report does, however, state that there is support to include commercial international trade in rhino horn as an integral part of South Africa’s comprehensive response strategy to address the continued illegal killing of rhinos. Source: Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa) 

Rhino horns seized from smugglers by the Czech Customs Authority

Rhino horns seized from smugglers by the Czech Customs Authority

Czech customs agents seized 24 rhinoceros horns Tuesday and charged 16 people with bringing the prized material illegally from South Africa to sell it in Asia.

“Our investigation showed that the transport is organized by an international ring of smugglers who have used fake export permissions seemingly complying with (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to import the rhinoceros horns from the Republic of South Africa to the European Union,” said Jiri Bartak, spokesman for the Czech customs department.

The arrests follow an investigation by Czech and EU customs authorities begun in 2011. The gang was alleged to have planned re-exporting the horns as trophies, according to their fake documentation. Rhino horns are popular in parts of Asia where many believe they can cure various illnesses or work as an aphrodisiac.

South Africa is home to the world’s largest rhino population, estimated at about 20 000, though the large upsurge in poaching is threatening their existence. Rhino poaching is expected to reach record levels this year, according to South African officials.

Czech authorities estimate the value of the seized rhino horns at up to 100 million koruna ($5 million), Mr. Bartak said. The authorities said the ring employed people impersonating hunters to gain permission to ship horns acquired from African poachers to Europe and elsewhere. Czech customs didn’t release details of where the charged individuals came from or give their names. If convicted they face up to eight years in prison. Source: leos.rousek@wsj.com

black-rhino-2Rampant poaching in Africa is a cause of major concern to wildlife organizations. Many rhinos are killed every year mainly for Asian markets. In Vietnam, rhino horn is believed to be miraculous, able to heal cancer.

A total of 158 rhino have been poached since the beginning of the year, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. Over 630 rhino were killed by poachers in South Africa during 2012.

If the killing of rhinos continues to increase, African wild rhinos could disappear within a few years. The best protected rhinos live in Kenya. Four of them, known as northern white rhinos, are the last of their kind. Each one of them has four bodyguards to guarantee its survival. But most of the other 25,000 rhinos in Africa do not enjoy such protection. The trade in rhino horn is illegal. However it is flourishing, most of the horn coming from South Africa, where most rhinos live. Hunters are willing to pay up to 20,000 euros ($26,000) to shoot a rhino and take the trophy home.

Rhino poaching on the rise

Rhino poaching has increased tenfold in the last five years, according to the nature and animal protection organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The conference singled out Vietnam as the main importing country and Mozambique as a major transit country for rhino trafficking. This is the first time that countries were named at CITES.

Vietnamese believe that rhino horn powder can cure cancer

The two countries now have a few months’ time to address the problem constructively. Mozambique is poor but CITES’ regulations are also valid there. To learn how to fight against poachers effectively, the country may seek advice from environmental and conservation organizations. In the case of Vietnam, lack of political will seems to be the major problem. Even Vietnamese embassy staff were involved in the illegal horn trade. Vietnam is now under pressure. By January 2014, Vietnam as well as Mozambique have to prove that they are able to fight against horn trafficking from southern Africa, or else sanctions will be imposed.

Superstition hikes the price

In addition to stricter controls, the WWF and other animal welfare organizations are implementing awareness campaigns. In Vietnam there is a belief that the powder from the horn of the rhinoceros can help against fever, prevent a hangover or even cure cancer. These claims however, are dismissed by scientists. The horn consists of the same material as fingernails and hair. Nevertheless, Vietnamese are willing to pay more than 40,000 euros per kilogram, more than the price of gold.

Thousands of wild rhinos have been killed and their horns trafficked to Asia

South African biologist Duan Biggs says awareness campaigns and banning illegal trade control will not help to solve the problem. Shortly before the CITES conference, Biggs, together with three other scientists, wrote in the journal “Science”, calling for the legalization of the horn trade. “We have a buffer of a very healthy population of rhinos to work with,” Biggs said. He is convinced legalization is the right course to take. If that doesn’t work, it can always be stopped again. “If we wait longer and the current situation continues, we will lose the opportunity to try an alternative strategy.”

Legal breeding instead of illegal slaughter

Since horn grows like fingernails, rhinos should be bred specifically for the horn trade. The horn could be cut off when the animal is under anaesthetic. That way the animal doesn’t suffer pain. This is done to a quarter of the animals living in South African private game reserves, where dead animals’ horns are not allowed to be sold. If these horns are legally harvested and put on the market, prices and poaching would decrease, argues Biggs.

The WWF and many other organizations vehemently opposed the legalization theory. A boom in demand and even worse poaching could result if horns are on the market in large quantities and at cheaper prices. “A change from the elite-trend to mass-trend will be like lighting a fire that will be difficult to extinguish”, said a WWF spokesperson.

The dynamics of illegal rhino poaching paint a vivid reality. Is this really any different of narcotics and money-laundering, human-trafficking and counterfeiting? I think not. In many instances its the same ‘operators’ at play preying on weak human instinct and a complete lack of morals!  On the other hand I suppose, based on the reasoning of scientist Biggs, one could say legalising narcotics and prostitution would be the ‘right thing to do’ since we have a “buffer of healthy unemployed woman and youth” ???

1,500 pieces of tusks seized at the Royal Malaysian Customs were hidden in wooden crates, purpose-built to look like stacks of sawn timber! The following pictures illustrate the Malaysian Customs ivory bust in progress. Pictures courtesy of WWF Singapore (their Facebook Page) – . Also see full report at  http://www.traffic.org/home/2012/12/11/massive-african-ivory-seizure-in-malaysia.html.

Related articles

Besides media reports and the many ramblings of law enforcement and environmental officials in the cause of protecting our fauna and flora, I received the following free e-book titled “Poached!” from a colleague. It details a story told by a veterinarian of a white rhino, callously mutilated by poachers and left alive with his horns and part of his face hacked off with pangas, and the good doctor’s quest to save the victim. Graphic pictures and an embedded video bring home to all the complete brutality of mankind. The book is published by Nikela – Helping People ~ Saving Wildlife and recommends widespread reading and distribution.

According to the latest data from South Africa’s department of environmental affairs (20 June 2012), the total number of rhinos poached  since the beginning of this year now stands at 251 with the number of arrests at 170.

The North-West, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces continue to be targeted by poachers, collectively accounting for 86 of the total rhinos poached this year. The Kruger National Park, alone, has lost a total of 149 rhinos since the beginning of this year.  At this rate the carnage will almost certainly exceed the 448 slain last year.

Thus far, a total of 170 arrests have been made of which 147 of the arrested were poachers, 10 receivers or couriers, six couriers or buyers and seven exporters.

Elephant and rhino poaching is surging, conservationists say, an illegal part of Asia’s scramble for African resources, driven by the growing purchasing power of newly affluent Asians.

A film made by UNTV and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) can be seen on YouTube on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3m7FOXOLbY. Rhino horn has long been used in traditional medicines in China and Vietnam and the film quotes a doctor at Hanoi’s biggest hospital who sings its praises. According to the film, rhino horns have also been stolen from museums and private collections in more than 15 countries. Source: DoEA

South Africa is considering whether to approach the international community with a proposal to trade in rhino horn, Environment Minister Edna Molewa told MPs on Wednesday. Opening debate in the National Assembly on her department’s budget, she said this included engaging “major role players, including international and regional partners [and] potential consumer states”.

Molewa’s remarks come 10 months ahead of the 16th congress of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), set to take place in Bangkok, Thailand, in March next year. According to reports, South Africa is sitting on an estimated 20-ton stockpile of rhino horn; some of it in private hands, some stored by conservation authorities. The price of the horn, should the Cites moratorium on trade be lifted, has been estimated at more than R500,000 a kilogram.

Molewa has declined to say how much rhino horn is held by government-managed parks and reserves.”Due to security risks, the department cannot publicly announce the amount of stocks being held by these agencies”. On Wednesday, she said her department was involved in an “extensive” preparatory process ahead of the Cites congress.

“This will include discussions on whether or not to approach the international community with a proposal to trade in rhino horn.” On the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa, Molewa said 199 rhino had been killed so far this year. “We are very, very deeply concerned,” she told the House. Earlier, briefing journalists at Parliament, Molewa said South Africa would not table a document at the next Cites meeting calling for the rhino horn trade moratorium to be lifted.

“No, not this time around. We are still considering all options, as well as probabilities towards that direction. We have not decided yet. Let it be clear. “We are still doing some very serious work in analysing whether we need to move in that direction or not.”

Among the things that needed to be done before trade could be resumed was “to ensure we get to know who the partners are on the other side”.Policies had to be in place “that do not allow any shenanigans to operate in the system,” Molewa said. “There are just too many things to do before we can place the discussion before the conference of parties. We are not yet there.”

Hmmmm! Would seem that the temptation for monetary profit is so compelling – R500,000/kg. Given the frequent outbursts at incidence of poaching and the horror pictures which normally accompany such reports how about burning the rhino horn reserves? That will send a clear message on government’s concern and intent.There exists a similar parallel where the importation of second-hand motor vehicles are banned in South Africa, but condoned because certain neighbouring countries want them. The old adage – ‘laws are meant to be broken’ comes to mind.  Source: SAPA