Rhinos on the edge… CITES Blog Day Two 4.3.13

Another busy day and some big subjects being discussed. In the evening I attended an IUCN African and Asian Rhino group meeting where a panel of experts presented the latest rhino data and recommendations. Key facts that really stood out were that 5 range states have less than 100 rhinos left, 745 rhinos were poached in 2012 (668 of which were in South Africa) – this equated to a massive 3% of entire populations, despite all the anti-poaching initiatives.

Of significant concern was Mozambique, which has a relatively tiny amount of rhinos left, but had the 4th highest poaching rate last year. The committee said that if a rhino wanders from South Africa to Mozambique it has practically no chance of survival. The punishment for killing a rhino in Mozambique – well, it’s not really a crime according to the government, it’s just a ‘misdemeanour’!

Overall, poaching was up 43% in 2012 versus the year before, and if this growth continues for just two years then rhinos reach their tipping point – more killed than born – i.e. the start of the official wipeout of the species.

The committee also spoke of the theft of rhino horns in Europe and the issue with the difference in statistics between the amount of rhino horn exported to Vietnam (via pseudo trophy hunting). Now just 20,405 white rhinos and 5055 black rhinos in the wild left. To compare – in 1960 there were around 100,000.

The reality of the low number of Javan and Sumatran rhino was also discussed – just 35-45 Javan, and 140-180 Sumatran left. India and Nepal’s wildlife protection was once again showing positive signs though, with a growing population of one horned rhinos.

Earlier, I had a meeting with the UK Government Delegation (DEFRA), where I discussed our concerns re a compromise position that the EU are trying to negotiate regarding the Polar Bear uplisting proposal, and the group talked rhino and elephant strategies. This left 9 minutes for lunch before the afternoon session opened!

In the afternoon the hall debated NDFs – Non Detriment Findings (sounds boring but stick with me!). The proposal pushed for more scientific and consistent guidelines for NDFs across all member states. This included correct use of science and consultations with experts. NDFs are the absolute crux to the success of CITES – without them CITES doesn’t work, so the stronger the better in our eyes. The issue at the moment is the quality and the variance of standards for these NDFs – a country bases its decisions for exports and need to show that the exports of specimens of a particular species will not impact negatively on the survival of that species in the wild. There was a lot of support but the devil was in the detail, so (like most things), this was referred to a working group and will be finalised later in the conference.

Finally a mention for a long line (over 100 people) of campaigners from Animal Activist Alliance Thailand (AAA) who greeted us all this morning. They were sporting placards with pictures of the numerous examples of wildlife abuse in Thailand, such as the trade in live elephants and ivory, tiger breeding and animals in tourism.

Coordinating it all was our project partner Edwin, from Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand. He and Elephant Nature Park funds AAA (now I see why he gets arrested so often), but this protest was all theirs. It was great to see this dissenting voice from within Thailand, and the protesters were made up of a small handful of westerners, but a majority of young Thais, including a host of famous Thais – the wife of the anti-corruption officer and some TV and film stars. The media was also present and massively interested in this brave show of force and the celebrity backing. The Director General of the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation also made comment: “We will take all of the group’s complaints and concerns and complaints into consideration.” On speaking to Edwin later, he’s heard this a few times before.

Also today I went  to a presentation hosted by our friends at Born Free and EIA (the Environmental Investment Agency) about the legal farmed tiger skin trade, and how undercover investigations, including video evidence, show widespread illegal sale of poached skins, tiger bone and tiger bone wine. They even had a business plan of a massive factory to be built just to produce ‘illegal’ tiger bone wine, and one person filmed told how they only cracked open the tiger bone wine when government officials came to visit. This in itself is bad, but the fact it was at a ‘zoo’ makes it somewhat worse. The ironies of attending an animal welfare conference in Thailand.