Stop Press: News South Africa – Rhino Poaching
Andrea Teagle of the Daily Maverick published an online article on January 28th critically analyzing the Press Statements of Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa which discusses tackling the scourge of rhino poaching. One hears lots of ‘good’ news – but sadly there is little of real substance on the key issues when one delves a little deeper, says Ms Teagle, commenting that one of the greatest criticisms against South Africa’s anti-poaching efforts has been of the low rate of arrests of middlemen and syndicate leaders, as well as lenient sentences often handed out to poachers. It is well worthwhile reading the full article online at “The fight to save SA’s rhinos: What the Minister didn’t say”.
The IUCN Antelope Specialist Group expressed concern over a consignment of 215 antelopes due to be shipped from South Africa to Angola’s Kissama (Quiçama) National Park. Most of the animals do not occur naturally in Angola and the translocation apparently contravenes policies adopted by most Southern African countries and existing IUCN guidelines. According to the exporter, Miguel Ferreira of Exotic Game Breeders, they will be kept in a fenced-off area at Kissama and used to stock Angola’s nine national parks and other nature reserves. The Kissama Foundation opposes any introduction of animals that is not in line with the principles of the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), as well as IUCN guidelines. The South African department of environmental affairs said it is investigating whether the parties involved have applied for permits to import Angolan animals in return. Biodiversity legislation in South Africa prohibits the translocation of threatened or protected species to an area if there is a possibility of hybridization (Source: Fiona Macleod, Oxpeckers Centre for Investigative Environmental Journalism).
There is suspicion that the traders behind the Kissama deal have their eye on acquiring the critically endangered giant sable (palanca negra or Hippotragus niger variani) from Angola. Giant sable are coveted by wildlife breeders and could fetch up to R20-million on the market, according to some experts. Exotic Game Breeders, co-owned by Ferreira and Lee Cannata, specializes in breeding “animals of exceptional quality”. “Our concern is that they are breeding across different subspecies, mainly to sell them for hunting purposes,” said an adviser to the IUCN antelope specialist group. A wildlife veterinarian who works in Angola said South African wildlife breeders could feasibly bring in Angolan giant sable without too much fanfare. “There is nothing more wanted in South Africa than giant sable,” he said. “If need be, they could bring them along established smuggling routes through Botswana and the Northern Cape.” Ferreira and his Angolan partner in the Kissama deal denied they had any intention to trade giant sable for the Kissama animals. They refused to name the officials from the Angolan national parks board with whom they are dealing, citing contractual confidentiality (Source: Fiona Macleod, Oxpeckers Centre for Investigative Environmental Journalism).
The Botswana Wildlife Management Association and San activists argue that the country has too many elephants – and that hunting is necessary to conserve wildlife. Today, visiting hunters are only allowed to hunt plains game on private game ranches. The San are now preparing to challenge President Khama’s hunting ban in court.
Central African Republic
On November 26th, the Chinko Project in CAR was officially approved by African Parks and is now part of the network. Training of new park rangers will take place from January to March 2015. The Chinko team is also working with national and regional authorities to design an updated land use plan for eastern CAR. Bongo, giant eland and a giant forest hog were seen within one kilometer of the new Chinko HQ site – and a camera trap delivered amazing footage such as of two leopards playing. Read more about the Chinko Project HERE.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Okapi, Okapia johnstoni, is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This intriguing-looking mammal isa relative of the giraffe and inhabits forests of central, northern and eastern DRC. It is regionally extinct in Uganda. Okapis are threatened by habitat loss due to logging and expansion of human settlement. Hunting and cable snaring for meat and skins is a problem. The most prominent current threat is the presence of illegal armed groups in and around key protected areas. These groups prevent effective conservation action and engage in numerous illegal activities. In a notorious incident in June 2012, armed rebels attacked the Réserve de Faune à Okapis (RFO) HQ and killed seven people and all 14 captive Okapi. The Okapi is fully protected species under Congolese law. Significant populations occur in the RFO and Maiko National Park, and strengthening protection of these two areas has been identified as the most important measure for the Okapi’s long-term survival. Read more at IUCN Red List.
In spite of the joint CIC/FACE letter to European Commission Vice-President Timmermans on the new EU trophy import regulations, the Commission just published the new regulations which include the following regulations (the provisions of the new regulations will enter into force on February 5, 2015):
- An import permit will be required for the import into the EU of hunting trophies from six CITES-listed species: African lion, polar bear, African elephant (for populations not included in Annex A of Regulation 338/97, for which the import permit requirement already applies), Southern white rhinoceros (for populations not included in Annex A of Regulation 338/97, for which the import permit requirement already applies), hippopotamus and argali sheep.
- EU Member States will have a clear legal basis to refuse the issuing of an import permit in case of serious doubts as to the legality of a shipment of CITES products, if no satisfactory information on this point is provided by the exporting country.
On December 26th, during a routine check at the checkpoint in the village Yen on the Makokou-Lalara axis, the gendarmerie platoon arrested three ivory traffickers in possession of 21 tusks and 90 pieces of ivory weighing over 110 kg. One of the accused had 2,324,000 CFA on him and attempted to bribe the police with the promise of adding another 2.5 million CFA. All three were brought before the prosecutor at the Court of Makokou on December 29 with all the seized ivory and the money of the attempted bribery.
Kenya – France
Kenyan businessman Feisal Mohammed Ali, alleged to be the leader of an ivory-smuggling ring in Kenya, is among 9 people named by Interpol in an operation dubbed Operation Infra Terra – International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest, its first-ever international appeal for the arrest of fugitives sought for committing environmental crimes. Ali was sought in connection with the seizure in June of 228 tusks and 74 ivory pieces weighing well over two tons. Other fugitives include Pakistani national Ahmed Kamran, accused of smuggling 100 live animals at Kilimanjaro Airport. He was arrested and charged before a Tanzanian court but jumped bail. Bhekumusa Mawilis Shiba, whose nationality is not confirmed but is believed to be either a Swazi or South African, is sought for flouting the Game Act. In a statement Interpol’s Ioannis Kokkinis urged the public to report any information that would lead to the arrest of the suspects. Read more HERE.
Security staff and other officials at the Maputo international airport in Mozambique are under investigation for alleged involvement in the smuggling of rhino horns following the seizure of 41 kilos of rhinoceros horns at Johannesburg airport on 1 November (see African Indaba Vol. 12-6) which became the largest ever seizure of rhino horns by the South African authorities. The two traffickers, both Vietnamese citizens, transported the horns on a Qatar Airways plane that had started its journey in Maputo. Maputo-Doha flights make a short stop in Johannesburg, and passengers from Maputo are normally asked to stay on board. This time the South Africans had received a tip-off and passengers were asked to disembark. The luggage of the two Vietnamese was taken out of the aircraft hold, and between them, the two men were found to be carrying 34 large pieces of rhino horn, weighing a total of 41 kilos. All luggage, whether carried by hand, or placed in the hold, is supposed to go through scanners at Maputo airport – somehow the luggage of the Vietnamese had evaded that control (source http://www.ecooper.ca/).
A fact-finding tour to Kunene South organized by the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) project revealed that in CBNRM 2010 benefits amounted to N$45.8m. WWF’s Greg Stuart-Hill said out of this figure conservancies generated an income exceeding N$39.5m. Trophy hunting concessions currently are the second highest benefit source with N$11.4m being earned as cash revenue, N$4.4m earned in kind (value of meat distributed) and further N$1.2m disbursed as salaries and wages from associated jobs. He said in 2010 the total income generated from direct wildlife utilization was N$17m or 43% of all income. Key activities being trophy hunting-premium hunting; own use hunting and shoot and sell. The cash income of Communal conservancies in Namibia rose from less than N$1m in 1998 to N$68m in 2014. “This year N$20m was derived from trophy hunting by registered conservancies while meat worth N$6m was distributed among community members,” Stuart-Hill told media (Source New Era, Namibia).
Namibia & South Africa
Aloe dichotoma, also known as quiver tree or kokerboom in Namibia and in the Northern Cape of South Africa, thrives in desert and semi-desert climatic conditions. Known as Choje to the indigenous San people, the quiver tree gets its name from their practice of hollowing out the tubular branches of Aloe dichotoma to form quivers for their arrows. The quiver tree has large succulent leaves and a water-storing system. The trees could contract in the north and central parts of its range as temperatures rise due to climate change.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Wildlife and Energy Program (WEP) in cooperation with ESKOM installed hundreds of kilometers of power lines with diurnal bird flight diverters during the past two decades. Now, since August 2014 the partners commenced installing the new “Owl” nocturnal bird diverters equipped with solar-charged LED that warns birds of the power line threat and makes the country’s electrical infrastructure safe for wildlife. Across 5 sites 250 devices were installed, partially by using helicopters (Source EWT).
Tourism Minister D. Hanekom, the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) chief director Dr M. Marumo, and the DEA’s deputy director of Threatened and Protected Species (TOPS) policy development M. Boshoff participated in the 37th annual PHASA AGM and Convention, held at the Mpekweni Beach Resort. Minister Hanekom said in his keynote address that the hunting industry was a valuable resource that played a big part in the success of wildlife tourism to South Africa, adding that it was quite clear that professional hunting is directly linked to the national economy, South Africa’s tourism success story and its overall conservation efforts. He also emphasized the importance for the industry to plough back into communities by offering jobs and skills training, procuring locally, empowering new entrants and involving local communities at every level (Source PHASA Newsletter 2014/12/12).
Latest hunting stats of the Department of Environmental Affairs revealed that hunting tourists inject R1 billion into the South Africa economy in the 2013 season. M. Boshoff said at the 37th PHASA AGM that hunting tourists spent an estimated R1.072b (+32% on R811m in 2012), driven largely by the dollar/rand exchange rate, an improvement across the board in daily rates received and an increase in the total number of trophies taken. The DEA statistics show that 7,638 overseas hunters came to South Africa last year (2012: 8,387), during which 44,028 trophies (2012: 40,866) were taken. Income from species fees amounted to R757.6m and income from daily rates came to R314.4m (2012: R237.0m) for a total of R1.072b. The calculations don’t include the impact of additional tourism spending such as food and drink, transport and additional sight-seeing activities or trophy handling and shipping costs. Impala (5,697), warthog (3,849), kudu (3,519), common blesbok (3,354), springbok (2,954), blue wildebeest (2,694), gemsbok (2,585), and Burchell’s zebra (2,492) make up the bulk of the trophies taken in 2013. The highest income generators in 2013 were lion (R122.3m = ca. 16.14% of total trophy fees), buffalo (R90.9m), kudu (R62.5m), white rhino (R54.8m), sable (R47.8m), gemsbok (R33.6m) nyala (R32.8m), Burchell’s zebra (R30.2m), waterbuck (R27.5m) and blue wildebeest (R26.1m). (Source PHASA Newsletter 2014/12/12).
After a shootout on Christmas Day between three Ezemvelo Wildlife Rangers from the Anti-Rhino Poaching Unit and suspected poachers, one suspect was shot and killed at the Umkhuze Game Reserve in the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park. Two rangers were subsequently arrested and charged with murder by the police. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has laid a complaint with the National Police Commissioner following the arrest.
South Africa – Czech Republic
16 people in the Czech Republic linked to a rhino poaching syndicate operating between South Africa and Vietnam have been arrested. It is reported the group collected and moved the horns under the guise of a trophy hunting operation linked to controversial South African game farmer Dawie Groenewald. Groenewald already faces charges of money laundering, fraud and trading in illegal rhino horn in South Africa and is wanted by US authorities who are trying to have him along with his brother extradited. Authorities say the shipping of the horns appears to have been approved by South African export officials, raising suspicions of corruption.
1,215 rhinos were killed for 2014 representing a 21% increase over the previous year’s 1,004, according to the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs. Kruger National Park, which holds the majority of the country’s rhinos, remains the epicenter of illegal activity, losing 827 rhinos during 2014, nearly two-thirds of all animals killed. The arrest of poachers has increased to 386 in 2014, up from 343 a year earlier. Among the high profile cases were 10 members of an alleged rhino poaching syndicate detained in September. Three months later, 16 members of a rhino horn smuggling syndicate based out of Prague, Czech Republic were arrested.
News24.com reported that security guards at game reserves were given food laced with poison by Hugo Ras who allegedly headed a rhino horn poaching syndicate. In a statement in opposition to bail being granted to Hugo Ras, Colonel Johan Jooste, national commander of the police’s endangered species unit, said that Ras and his co-accused apparently went on reconnaissance missions to reserves and farms. He sometimes sent someone to buy the poison Aldicarb which was put in food then given to security guards as a gift, to make them drowsy. Ras is one of 10 people charged with crimes relating to the killing and mutilation of rhino and the theft of rhino horn. They face 318 charges including theft, illegally hunting rhino and possession of 84 rhino horn.
The continuing conflict between President Salva Kiir and forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar has had a devastating humanitarian effect with over 10,000 people dead as a result of the fighting and the mass displacement of communities, but it is also having a serious environmental impact. Lt-Gen Alfred Akuch Omoli, of the South Sudan Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism said recently that, “Since the start of this conflict we have noticed that poaching has become terrible. Rebels are poaching and the government forces are also poaching because they are all fighting in rural areas and the only available food they can get is wild meat” (Source http://africajournalismtheworld.com).
Elephant poaching in Kilombero Nature Reserve (KNR) and Udzungwa Mountains National Park (UMNP) which fall in the same ecological system and they are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains has gone down for the past one year due to what game experts described as effective surveillance systems. A game officer in Kilolo District/Iringa, said that in January one elephant was being shot outside the reserve and died after getting into the protected area. He confirmed that for the past three years, Kilombero Nature Reserve remained free from poaching. The head of Udzungwa Mountains National Park, said “we have been working closely with local communities who now understood the importance of wildlife conservation and most of the time they have been calling us when they see elephants get out of the park”.
Conservation Force filed the final appeal of several test import permits for Tanzania elephant taken in 2014. The decision for those 2014 import permits and the determination for 2015 are both expected in January. Tanzania is doing everything right, so we expect the determination to turn on the preliminary results of the Great Elephant Census. That survey is completed but the results have not yet been released. No doubt it must show a stable or increasing population. We have reason to believe that poaching has been turned around and may have come under control as much as two years ago (Source World Conservation Force Bulletin, Dec. 2014).
Hunting trophies including ivory and rhino horn may be removed from public display at the Queen’s Sandringham estate following questions over whether they contravene EU rules on endangered species. All of the items were collected between 1870 and 1941, including seven animals that were killed by Edward VII and George V. Royal Household staff is also likely to take into account the wishes of the Duke of Cambridge, who has suggested in the past that all ivory in the Royal Collection should be destroyed. The trophy room is one of 15 rooms at Sandringham which are open to the public between April and November each year.
INTERPOL has announced on 10 December 2014 that a suspected illegal ivory trader sought as one of nine persons by Operation Infra Terra – International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest was arrested in Zambia. The arrest follows INTERPOL’s public appeal to help locate individuals wanted for environmental crimes. During the operation, with the support of INTERPOL’s Fugitive Investigative Support (FIS) unit, investigators from Botswana and Zambia exchanged information on Ben Simasiku, the suspect in custody, including his possible location in Zambia. In parallel, the Zambia Wildlife Authority received a tip from a member of the public regarding a person in possession of ivory in Livingstone. Through collaboration with the Zambia Police, Simasiku was arrested on 2 December 2014. Read more HERE.
In early December, the Zambian Wildlife Association (ZAWA) advertised the re-tendering of those 19 hunting blocks that have been closed since 2013. ZAWA expects to have the tenders issued and contracts signed by end January/early February 2015. A word of caution however: several operators who tendered a bid in 2012 (before the closure of the blocks) were preparing to get a court injunction issued to stop the process and the outcomes of the presidential elections on January 20th may also weigh in on any decisions.
Andrew Chomba of Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) confirmed to John J. Jackson III of Conservation Force that Zambia has included 36 elephant on the quota for 2015. Conservation Force also offered to cooperate with ZAWA to assist Zambia review the country’s elephant and lion management plans.
Depletion of wildlife in Zimbabwe is linked to the fact that many conservation areas have fallen into the hands of people [from political elites close to President Mugabe, the ZANU-PF party and the security forces] concerned more with wealth than preservation of keystone species like elephants. Politicians, army officers and politically-connected businessmen are able to use their influence and support for the government to escape investigation or prosecution for wildlife offences. The trail of involvement goes right to the top with one of the most powerful men in Zimbabwe and a contender to succeed Mugabe, Justice Minister E. Mnangagwa, has reportedly been accused of being a member of a rhino horn smuggling syndicate. Additionally rural poverty and hunger has increased poaching for bushmeat. There are reports of poachers directly selling elephant meat to army barracks to feed soldiers, as the government’s finances dwindle. Masvingo province Governor Titus Maluleke, who has gained land in the area of the environmentally important Save Valley Conservancy, is reported as saying, “We are not interested in wildlife, we do not want to learn about the business. We want cash” (Source http://africajournalismtheworld.com).
Zimbabwe is considering the sale of 62 live elephants to China, France and the United Arab Emirates to help meet the $2.3 million annual running costs of Hwange National Park, director for Conservation at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authorities, G. Matipano, said in a Dec. 18 interview at Hwange. At 14,651 km2 Hwange has over 40,000 elephants against a carrying capacity of 15,000, Matipano said. “Obviously, these huge numbers puts pressure on us on how to manage them and also how to conserve the environment,” he added. Prior to shipment the elephants would be kept in an enclosure for three weeks before being shipped by cargo plane to their destination. Buyers from the UAE are seeking 15 elephants, China 27 and France 15 to 20 according to Matipano. “South African buyers have applied to acquire buffaloes and sable antelopes”, he added (Source Bloomberg News).