- While the International Rhino Foundation does not condone the hunt of a Namibian rhino bull under the permit auctioned by the Dallas Safari Club, it is legal under Namibian and United States law, as well as under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- We respect Namibia’s efforts to maintain a healthy rhino population and raise money for the important work of conserving the species, even when its decisions are controversial.
- The fate of one hunted rhino pales in comparison to the nearly 500 rhinos lost to illegal poaching in South Africa alone this year and to escalating poaching losses in Namibia and other range countries where rhinos once thrived but now are barely hanging on.
- We stand to lose a century of rhino conservation success in Africa in the next few years if we can’t stop, or slow, rhino poaching now. This is the real issue.
- CITES issues both Namibia and South Africa an export quota of up to five hunter-taken black rhinos per year. This was, however, was the first time that a permit has been offered outside of Namibian borders — and the first time that such a hunt has received this level of international attention.
- Where trophy hunting takes place, inviolate rules must be in place to ensure that income from hunts is returned to rhino population sites to meet conservation needs, such as protection and biological management.
INTERNATIONAL RHINO FOUNDATION STATEMENT
Much media attention is being directed this week to Corey Knowlton’s hunt of a Namibian black rhino, using the permit he purchased at auction from the Dallas Safari Club in 2014.
The International Rhino Foundation does not condone the hunt, but recognizes that it is legal under Namibian and United States law, as well as under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We respect Namibia’s efforts to maintain a healthy rhino population and raise money for the important work of conserving the species. That said, we note that the fate of one hunted rhino pales in comparison to the nearly 500 rhinos lost to illegal poaching in South Africa alone this year and to escalating poaching losses in Namibia and other range countries where rhinos once thrived but now are barely hanging on.
The International Rhino Foundation is an apolitical, scientifically oriented conservation organization that funds and operates rhino conservation programs in Africa and Asia.
The sale of a critically endangered species for a trophy hunt has brought forth a range of emotions and arguments. It is a complex and multi-faceted issue with the following points to consider.
We believe that the facts pertaining to intra-species fighting as a justification for the original permit auction were overstated. The original argument was that an old, geriatric bull would be hunted. If this were so, then we would agree that young bulls naturally displace old bulls without human intervention (in normal, viable rhino populations) to maximize the ratio of effective male breeders in those populations. The issue would be more about what happens to the naturally displaced old bulls that no longer are breeding. In a strictly genetic sense, they can be considered non-essential to population survival and, in situations where the rhinos are stocked at or near an area’s ecological carrying capacity (which ideally they should not be), then these bulls may be eating browse that younger animals need to maintain reproduction and to minimize loss of genetic diversity in the population.
Any male that loses body condition can sometimes be gored in interactions with younger bulls when there is a high level of competition for food resources. The argument for hunting is that it is more humane to use a safari hunter’s bullet on such geriatric rhinos to avoid a lingering death and to generate funds for rhino conservation (assuming that a mechanism to return such income to conservation is in place).
A rationale for safari hunting of such animals must be clearly and accurately presented with clear criteria to identify which rhino bulls are geriatric and/or truly not essential for the population’s survival. The International Rhino Foundation recognizes that, if they are not poached or killed due to other reasons, black rhino bulls eventually reach an age at which they are marginalized in their population and do not contribute reproductively. If such bulls can be objectively identified, then an argument could be made that the safari hunting of these animals will have no negative biological impact on the rhino population and in specific circumstances may alleviate problems such as overstocking and fighting within species, although these should not be common problems in well-managed rhino populations. What is essential is that inviolate rules be in place to ensure that income from hunts is returned to rhino population sites to meet conservation needs, such as protection and biological management.
Recently, there has been an increasing willingness within CITES to allow for trade in products from well-managed populations of endangered species. Trophy hunting of black rhinos in Namibia is not new; CITES issues both Namibia and South Africa an export quota of up to five hunter-taken black rhinos per year. This Dallas Safari Club hunt, however, was the first time that a permit has been offered outside of Namibian borders, and the first time that such a hunt has received this level of international attention.
But let’s talk about the issue that is being sidelined by the uproar over the hunt of this one animal: rhinos are under siege. To-date this year, nearly 500 rhinos have been poached in South Africa, including many reproductive or pre-reproductive females. We stand to lose a century of rhino conservation success in Africa in the next few years if we can’t stop, or slow, rhino poaching now. This is the real issue.
Poachers typically operate as small, but well-armed gangs, sometimes backed by international organized crime syndicates. Their automatic weapons can take down a rhino as readily as a ranger, and they are not averse to murdering anyone who stands between them and their payday. Some professional poachers prefer heavy caliber sporting rifles, which have a greater knockdown effect on rhinos than AK-47s.
The high-stakes black market trade in rhino horn has been linked to international terrorism, including events such as the mall attack in Nairobi. In July 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking, recognizing illegal wildlife trafficking as an escalating international crisis and establishing a task force to deal with the issue.
Sadly, all wild populations of rhino are at serious risk from poaching. Namibia lost one rhino to poaching 2012, nine in 2013 and 23 in 2014. To-date this year, Namibia has lost at least 12 more rhinos to poaching, and possibly many more. This relatively “low” poaching rate (compared to South Africa) is most likely due to a combination of proactive protection and management, a law-abiding society, inaccessibility of rhino sites, and luck. But experience has shown that situations in Africa can change on a dime. It is a valid question to ask if it is worth sacrificing one rhino to contribute financially to the conservation and protection of a larger population.
The International Rhino Foundation has funded and operated rhino protection and conservation programs in Africa and Asia for more than 20 years. Rhino conservation is expensive. Every year, we scramble to raise enough funds to support our work. The political and economic realities in the range countries (national commitment vs. corruption, wildlife-based land-use vs. subsistence farming, etc.) are the factors that really determine the fate of rhinos. National contributions to conservation budgets, in countries such as Namibia, considerably exceed contributions from the international donor community. It is inevitable that hunts such as this one would generate confusion and concern among many members of the public who are aware of the plight of the world’s rhino species. But it is also a reality that financial constraints and land-use challenges within the rhino range countries compel authorities in those countries to consider various income-generating opportunities even if they involve limited, sustainable hunting of endangered species such as rhinos. It will not be possible for international conservation agencies to engage with and positively influence such countries in their rhino conservation endeavors unless objective consideration and respect is shown for their rhino management decisions, even those that are internationally controversial.
Finding middle ground between the different perspectives on rhino hunting is very difficult. Our position is therefore based purely on the optimization of conservation advantage for rhino species within their wild populations. The International Rhino Foundation will work with its international partners to regularly review the front-line conservation outcomes of safari hunts of rhinos in South Africa and Namibia and will draw attention to any negative outcomes or irregularities.
State of the Rhino
Five living rhino species — white, black, greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran — can still be found in Africa and Asia, and it’s conceivable that they once numbered in the millions. Unfortunately, the global population has plummeted to less than 30,000 animals due to poaching, trophy hunting and habitat loss. Two species, the Javan and the Sumatran, now number less than 150 individuals combined, and could easily disappear within our lifetime.
During the last century, the black rhino suffered the most drastic decline in total numbers of all rhino species. Between 1970 and 1992, the population of this species decreased by 96%. In 1970, it was estimated that there were approximately 65,000 black rhinos in Africa. But, by 1993, there were only 2,300 surviving in the wild. Intensive anti-poaching efforts have had encouraging results since 1996. Numbers have been recovering and still are increasing very slowly through targeted conservation management, including strategic translocations to consolidate isolated populations, active management and, in some countries, de-horning. The wild population of black rhinos is now approximately 5,055. Namibia’s black rhino population of approximately 1,800 animals is the second largest next to South Africa’s, followed by Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The black rhino was listed in Appendix I of CITES in 1977 and under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1980. The species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The International Rhino Foundation’s Black Rhino Program
The International Rhino Foundation was founded in response to the black rhino poaching crisis in Zimbabwe in the 1990s, when black rhinos were nearly wiped out by large-scale, organized poaching, leaving only 370 animals by 1993. By 2000, the population recovered to approximately 450 individuals, and as of today, Zimbabwe’s black rhinos still number around 450 animals, representing the fourth largest black rhino population in Africa. These rhinos are spread over private and state-owned lands, with almost 400 black rhinos and 227 white rhinos in the South–East Lowveld private conservancies, where we work through our partner, the Lowveld Rhino Trust.
Conservation efforts in the Lowveld have helped increase the region’s black rhino population from 4% of the national total in 1990 to 88% at present, which represents about 7% of the continental total. This incredibly significant increase has been achieved through biological management; strategic translocations of rhinos; support for anti-poaching activities; informant systems; community benefits schemes; working with authorities to track, apprehend and prosecute poachers; and other non-consumptive means. Our team in Zimbabwe operates under difficult and often unpredictable economic and political conditions.
In South Africa, numerous factors have combined to create the poaching crisis we face today. It has developed over a period of time, with an increased presence of Chinese and other Asian business interests. The International Rhino Foundation recognizes that dealing with the complexities of the poaching crisis in South Africa is well beyond the manageable interests of a small organization like ours. We have focused on a small niche: providing training and equipment to rangers in under-represented areas and exploring the use of trackers dogs to combat poaching.
Rhino Horn Trade
Rhino horn has been used in China for traditional medicine for centuries, and later spread to Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. The newest market for rhino horn is Vietnam, where it is used as a high-value gift item, as a purported hangover preventative, and tragically, sold as a “cure” for cancer.
Vietnam has been the world’s leading rhino horn consumer since 2005. Vietnam joined CITES in 1994, and while the country prohibits domestic trade, there is no meaningful enforcement. China joined CITES in 1981 and prohibited all domestic trade in rhino horn and registered and sealed all stockpiles in 1993. However, China is still the second-largest destination for illegal horn. Approximately 100 white rhinos have been imported by China from South Africa; TRAFFIC helped to expose a plan to farm rhino in 2010.
Rhino horn markets have been shut down in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. All three countries joined CITES and then subsequently banned rhino horn from their pharmacopoeia. Korea and Taiwan were threatened with Pelly Amendment sanctions by the U.S. prior to banning rhino horn use. Petitions for Pelly Amendment Sanctions have been filed in the last 18 months for Vietnam (Environmental Investigation Agency and International Fund for Animal Welfare) and for Mozambique (International Rhino Foundation and Environmental Investigation Agency) — the trafficking hub of the current African rhino and elephant poaching crises. Both petitions are under review by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
According to TRAFFIC, rhino horn has been classified as a “heat-clearing” drug with detoxifying and fever-reducing properties, and typically was combined with other medicinal ingredients for treatment of a wide range of conditions. Studies in China, where rhino horn is permitted to be used in research only to identify viable substitutes for it, found statistically significant pharmacological effects for rhino horn: anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, pro-coagulant and others. In contrast, studies done in the United Kingdom and South Africa found no pharmacological effects at all.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. Species are proposed for inclusion in or deletion from the CITES Appendices at meetings of the Conference of the Parties (CoP), which are held every three years. The most recent CoP was held in Bangkok in March. Namibia joined CITES in 1990.
There has been a recent, increased willingness within the CoP to allow for trade in products from well-managed populations. CITES issues Namibia and South Africa export quotas of up to five hunter-taken black rhinos per year.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Division of Management Authority has issued a permit to the Dallas Safari Club to return a rhino trophy to the U.S. In its March 2015 statement, FWS said “the import of two sport-hunted black rhinoceros trophies from Namibia will benefit conservation of the species.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, FWS authorizes imports for sport-hunted trophies of rhinos only when hunting in the country of origin is well-regulated and sustainable and benefits conservation of the species in question.
“United States citizens make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said. “That gives us a powerful tool to support countries that are managing wildlife populations in a sustainable manner and incentivize others to strengthen their conservation and management programs.”
According to the statement, “the black rhino hunts associated with the imports of sport-hunted trophies are consistent with the conservation strategy of Namibia, a country whose rhino population is steadily increasing, and will generate a combined total of $550,000 for wildlife conservation, anti-poaching efforts and community development programs in Namibia.”
In March 2013, FWS issued a permit for the importation of a sport-hunted black rhinoceros trophy taken in Namibia in 2009. According to its statement, FWS “granted this permit after an extensive review of Namibia’s black rhino conservation program, in recognition of the role that well-managed, limited sport hunting plays in contributing to the long-term survival and recovery of the black rhino in Namibia.”