African Poaching Crisis: Elephants Slaughtered for Trinkets and Terrorism

Reblogged from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF).

“Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Co-Chair of the ICCF, weighs in on the African poaching crisis, the alarming links to terrorism, and how the the Conservation Reform Act might lend aid.” ~Andrew Wyatt

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Editor’s note: Rob Portman, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Ohio.

(CNN) — The African elephant, one of the world’s most majestic animals, is in danger. In the early 1900s, 5 million elephants roamed the African continent. Then the ivory trade drove them to the brink of extinction, with 90% of African elephants killed for the ivory in their tusks.

In 1989, the world reacted, imposing a ban on the international trade in ivory passed by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Elephant populations stabilized. But today, driven by growing demand for ivory ornaments and carvings in Asia, particularly in China, elephant poaching has returned with a vengeance.

The largest slaughter in one year since the 1989 ban was passed happened in 2012, with up to 35,000 elephants killed. This adds up to nearly 100 a day. Tens of thousands are killed every year. Without action, the day may come when this magnificent creature is known only in history books.

Estimates say if elephants continue to be slaughtered at today’s rates, the creatures could be extinct in a decade.Not only do elephants die. The wildlife rangers who try to protect them from poachers are being killed.

The illicit trade in ivory — “white gold” — is a billion dollar industry, and because it is illegal, it tends to attract some very bad actors. It is blood ivory: Al-Shabaab, a wing of al Qaeda based in Africa that is responsible for continued instability in Somalia, is known to finance its operations through the poaching of elephants. Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade. The Lord’s Resistance Army, another terrorist group infamous for forcing children to fight in its ranks, also engages in poaching and trafficking of elephant ivory.

 “Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade.” ~Rob Portman

Stopping the ivory trade has become not only a matter of conservation but one of national security and international stability.

Last year, the United Nations issued a report warning that elephant poaching is the worst it has been in a decade, while ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989. Last summer, President Barack Obama issued an executive order recognizing that the poaching of protected species and the illicit trade in ivory has become an international crisis that the United States must take a leading role in combating.

Saving elephants and other threatened species is a cause that cuts across partisan lines and international boundaries. We all have a part to play.

It starts in our personal lives.

The ivory trade prospers because there is a demand for luxury goods fashioned from it. As consumers, we should never buy products made with ivory and should encourage others to be mindful that their purchases are not illegally sourced through trafficking. And we should continue to shine a spotlight on the problem of illegal poaching and the threat it poses to African elephants and other species.

There are actions our government can take, as well. As co-chairman of the U.S. Senate International Conservation Caucus, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to educate members of Congress on these ongoing problems and introduce legislation that authorizes proven conservation programs and directs resources to the international effort to dismantle the machinery of illegal poaching.

The Conservation Reform Act is part of this effort. If passed, it would streamline and increase the effectiveness of our existing international conservation efforts. I am also working to reauthorize the Saving Vanishing Species Stamp, which raises funds for the protection of threatened animals and their habitat at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Over the years, we have watched as the actions of a few shortsighted, malicious and greedy people have nearly destroyed whole species. If we act now, we can make sure that the African elephant doesn’t become another sad entry on a long list of animals we can never bring back.

Prince Charles and Prince William Condemn Wildlife Trafficking

The anti-poaching rhetoric is really stepping up now that the cold hard reality is setting in that, Poaching Is Funding Terrorism! ~Andrew Wyatt

Science & Space

Every day, nearly 100 elephants in Africa meet a bloody end at the hands of poachers. The number of African elephants has fallen by 76% since 1980. They aren’t alone: poachers have thinned the once vast herds of black rhinos in Africa, leaving just 5,000 alive in the wild. These animals are being hunted to death.

But that’s only where poaching starts. Wildlife trafficking has become a global criminal enterprise, worth up to $10 billion a year and fed by the growing demand in Asia for ivory products. Money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to gangs of insurgents like al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-backed Somali terrorist group responsible for last year’s devastating attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. Wildlife trafficking is no longer just a niche problem for conservationists. It’s something that threatens us all.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see world leaders beginning to get serious about the issue.

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Africa’s Anti-Poaching Problem

Reblogged from Foreign Affairs published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is no doubt that commercial activity creates economic incentive to protect and conserve wildlife. What is not clear, is how this aggressive vision for an anti-poaching strategy actually works. Humanely ranching elephants and rhinos for ivory and rhino horn may not be possible at a rate that would satisfy current demand. However, this provocative article continues the conversation of how best to employ commercial conservation to it’s greatest advantage. I highly recommend reading this article if you are interested in real conservation in Africa.” ~Andrew Wyatt

How Wildlife Trade Bans Are Failing the Continent’s Animals
FEBRUARY 5, 2014
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A White Rhino awaits buyers in a pen at the annual auction in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi national park, September 18, 2010. (Mike Hutchings / Courtesy Reuters)

Decades after more than 100 countries agreed to ban the rhinoceros horn trade in 1979, poachers are killing record numbers of the endangered species. In just 2013 alone, they slaughtered some 1,000 rhinos in South Africa, up from 668 in 2012. If the hunting continues at current rates, one of the conservation movement’s most famous mascots could be extinct within the next two decades. And rhinos are not alone. Many other animals — including elephants and tigers — are also facing the prospect of extinction, all in spite of long-standing trade bans.

In South Africa, police and national defense forces have become increasingly engaged in efforts to protect threatened wildlife, and the government has earmarked roughly $7 million in extra funding to ramp up security in its national parks. Yet poaching there has continued, just as it has throughout the continent. Last year alone, poachers killed a total of 22,000 elephants, the majority for tusks that were sold to feed rising demand in Asia.

Through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement among 179 countries, governments can vote to ban the trade of products from species threatened with extinction. But such trade bans are failing in large part because they have run into the same basic problem as the war on drugs. Prohibitions on trading wildlife products such as tusks and timber have ultimately made them more valuable. And criminal organizations have moved in and taken over the market, imposing high costs — through violence and corruption — on weak societies.

In some ways, this is an old story. As the American economist Thomas Schelling has argued, the United States’ prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s advantaged criminals by giving them “the same kind of protection that a tariff gives to a domestic monopoly.” As the demand for alcohol increased, prohibition guaranteed “the absence of competition from people who are unwilling to be criminal, and an advantage to those whose skill is evading the law.” Today, the United States spends an estimated $30 billion annually to combat the drug trade, yet illegal narcotics remain readily available on American streets.

Both the illegal wildlife and drug trades are now worth huge sums, the bulk of which ends up lining the pockets of criminal organizations, corrupt officials, and even terrorist groups. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the global policing organization Interpol, the illegal drug trade was worth an estimated $435 billion in 2013. Estimates suggest that the illicit wildlife trade, including logging and fishing, is worth around $130 billion — more than three times the size of Kenya’s entire GDP. And the profits have been substantial. Last year, Vixay Keosavang, a wildlife trader from Laos, sold rhino horn at $65,000 per kilo. He bought the horn in southern Africa for one-tenth of that price.

As the money has rolled in, poachers and smugglers have grown more sophisticated, investing in miniature armies. All across Africa, it is increasingly common for park rangers to skirmish with poachers. According to the charity Thin Green Line, poachers in Africa kill some 1,000 park rangers each year. And the fight is far from fair: The U.S. Congressional Research Service has reported that many poachers now use “night vision goggles, military-grade weapons, and helicopters.” By comparison, the rangers are often poorly equipped. And that makes trading in wildlife all the more attractive.

THE PATH TO LEGALIZATION

Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund have long advocated for stiffer sentences and fines to deter poachers and traders. They are right that penalties could be tougher. Last year, an Irish court fined two traffickers just 500 euros ($676) for smuggling rhino horn worth 500,000 euros ($676,600). However, even high penalties do not necessarily deter all types of crime. Drug runners can face the death penalty in Southeast Asia, yet a seemingly endless stream of impoverished people sign up to act as drug mules anyway.

The appetite for illegal wildlife goods, meanwhile, shows no signs of abating. Ever since Asia’s economies took off in the 1990s, demand has soared. The prices of such items as rhino horns have followed, rising from roughly $1,000 per kilo in 1990 to around $65,000 per kilo today. Many Asian consumers believe that when used as a medicine, the horns can help cure cancer and detoxify the body. It does not matter how scientifically dubious such claims may be; they are simply a matter of faith. Just as drug addicts will go to any length for a fix, no matter the cost, those who believe that rhino horn can cure cancer will go to nearly any length to get their medicine. Never mind that such horns are made of the same material as human toenails.

Many buyers in Asia are motivated by prestige as well. In Vietnam and elsewhere, serving bush meat caught in the wild is a status symbol — as is owning elephant tusks, shahtoosh shawls made from endangered Tibetan antelope, and live orangutans as household pets. And such goods derive much of their appeal from being scarce and expensive — making demand for them insensitive to price hikes.

Outright bans, then, are not the answer. For this reason, the South African government plans to propose lifting the ban on trading rhino horn at the next CITES meeting in 2016. South African officials argue that a legal trade would take profits away from criminal syndicates. Just as taxes on cigarettes fund education and health programs in the United States, similar levies would also provide ample funds for campaigns to combat poaching and reduce demand. Meanwhile, regular de-horning of the animals would increase the global horn supply, lowering prices and the attraction of poaching. Rhinos produce nearly one kilogram of horn each year, which can easily be harvested through a simple veterinary procedure. Farming the animals ethically, moreover, would allow consumers to demand horn products from sustainably managed sources.

To legalize the rhino trade, South Africa will need a two-thirds majority among CITES members. It can expect to run into stiff opposition from a group that will likely include the United States, Kenya, and a number of European countries. Animal welfare groups will also push hard against legalization. That said, CITES already permits the trading of live rhinos and some limited hunting. In January, the Dallas Safari Club auctioned the right to hunt an old rhino in Namibia for $350,000. (One bidder withdrew his offer of $1 million — money that could have gone toward protecting rhinos — after receiving a death threat from an animal welfare extremist.) Such hunting fees can provide a critical source of revenue; in Namibia, they finance one-third of the government’s wildlife protection budget.

Peru embarked on a similar legalization process in 1979. To save the vicuña — a camelid that resembles a small llama — from extinction at the hands of hunters who prized its fine wool, the Peruvian government gave local communities the right to shear and market the animal’s wool. Now local herders protect the animals and also earn money from sale of their wool. Since then, the country’s vicuña population has grown from 5,000 animals — on the verge of extinction — to more than 200,000 today. CITES approved the policy in 1994.

Such a process of legalization, however, would not necessarily be a magic bullet. For a legal trade to work, governments would have to enforce a tight system of export permits and harvest quotas. Policing would still be needed to protect animals and forests. The success of a legal trade would also hinge on animal reproductive rates and the level of poverty in rural areas where the incentives to poach are high. But policymakers should heed the lessons of the drug wars. Bans fail because borders remain porous and officials corrupt. There is no wall high enough to counteract enormous financial rewards for breaking the rules to feed a voracious market.

Like the drug wars, restrictions on the animal trade reflect not only policy positions but also certain moral beliefs. Yet moralizing conservation organizations are typically based in wealthy countries and overlook the huge financial burdens that enforcement imposes on poor countries with already scarce resources. Such groups also minimize the potential benefits of taxing the wildlife trade, in the form of precious funds that would otherwise go to criminal outfits. Individual countries, then, will also have to make some informed decisions on their own. They would do well to consider what the United States has achieved in its war on drugs — now in its fourth decade.

Break the Link Between Terrorism Funding and Poaching

Reblogged from the Washington Post.

“The connection between terrorism and poaching… A must read for those interested in rhino and elephant conservation.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

By Johan Bergenas and Monica Medina, Published: January 31

Johan Bergenas is deputy director of the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank that studies peace and security challenges around the world. Monica Medina is a former special assistant to U.S. defense secretaries Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel.Elephant

There is a new threat in the terrorist hotbed of Africa, and the U.S. military can do much more to combat it. Poaching of endangered elephants and rhinos has become a conservation crisis, and profits from wildlife crimes are filling the coffers of terrorist organizations. The twin crises should be cause for alarm for military leaders, not just conservation groups. They need to start working together before it is too late.

In the past two years, about 60,000 elephants and more than 1,600 rhinos have been slaughtered by poachers, according to reports from the Wildlife Conservation Society, theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature and others. About a thousand park rangers have died in the past decade defending the animals.

In 2014 there have already been 86 rhinos poached.

In 2014 there have already been 86 rhinos poached.

Illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated $19 billion a year — more than the illicit trafficking of small arms, diamonds, gold or oil. A July Congressional Research Service report found that a rhino horn is worth more than $50,000 per kilogram on the black market — more than gold or platinum. Sadly, poaching elephants and rhinos in Africa is easy money for terrorists, and they are cashing in.

One Elephant Action League undercover investigation in Kenya concluded that illegal ivory funds as much as 40 percent of the operations of al-Shabab, the group behind the November attack at a Nairobi shopping mallwhere 60 people were killed. The former director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service and theU.N. secretary general have drawn similar links between crime against wildlife and al-Shabab, al-Qaeda and the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

Last May, President Obama called for a new strategy to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates. To be effective, these counterterrorism plans must engage not only African defense leaders but also conservation and development leaders. U.S. military plans for Africa should include ending elephant and rhino poaching to cut off a key source of funds for al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

A high-level summit on wildlife crimes, organized by the British government, Prince Charles and Prince William, is scheduled to take place this month in London. It is the perfect place to call for a new partnership between the defense and conservation communities.

As Obama’s national security team plans its next steps, it can follow Hillary Clinton’s lead. Before stepping down as secretary of state, Clinton commissioned an intelligence review of the impact of wildlife trafficking on national security. Completed last summer, the review prompted Obama to sign an executive order creating an interagency task force to develop an anti-poaching strategy. Due out this year, the strategy should include a greater military role in responding to this growing challenge.

Last year Congress gave the Pentagon permission to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army’s poaching and human-trafficking activities. That authority should be expanded to cover all terrorist groups, including al-Shabab.

Even without specific direction from Congress, the Defense Department and intelligence agencies should work with conservation groups to combat poaching, using new and inexpensive technologies to detect and deter terrorist activities and traffickers. Drones, satellite imagery, tracking devices and other high-tech tools could transform the fight to save elephants and rhinos, cheaply and effectively starving terrorists of the easy money they gain from wildlife crimes. Already, some African countries are asking for such tools.

Top U.S. defense officials should routinely discuss wildlife trafficking in meetings with African military leaders. The U.S. military’s post-Afghanistan plans must explicitly include poaching in Africa and illegal trafficking of wildlife as new “fronts” in the war on terror. Using technology to detect and deter poachers is a much less expensive way to fight terrorists than deploying Special Operations forces — and less dangerous to U.S. troops.

Finally, private-sector security and technology companies should be encouraged to work with African governments to deploy sensors, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and other sophisticated data-gathering and detection systems. These types of defense technologies are needed to bolster borders, ports, roads, energy facilities and other economic infrastructure in Africa. Over the next few decades, the market for this infrastructure and societal security capacity is estimated to be at least $60 trillion, according to reports by McKinsey and others. By working now to protect African economic infrastructure, which includes endangered elephants and rhinos, technology companies could reap huge financial and public relations rewards.

Security technology, military capacity and market incentives are all waiting to be deployed to defeat terrorists and save wildlife in Africa — a huge potential win-win. Here’s hoping that Prince Charles and Prince William use this month’s summit to publicly call on military and industry leaders to join the fight to conserve rhinos and elephants.