Southern African Fight for Rhino – South Africa needs to heed security warning signs

South Africa needs to heed security warning signs

Written by Rick Gooch

Both South Africa and CITES need to be decisive at the upcoming CITES convention.In September 2016, South Africa will be hosting the forthcoming CITES Cop17 convention to be held in Johannesburg. It is considered a highly prestigious event, since CITES is loosely termed, the United Nations of Wildlife, an intergovernmental organization to promote international cooperation within its 182 member countries representing five continents.Together, the CITES membership, with Secretary-General, John Scanlon and the host chairperson, Edna Molewa, the South African Minister of Wildlife and the Environment, will be overseeing an agenda that will include implementing new policies and improving existing regulations to safeguard flora and fauna all over the world for the next three years.

This is a highly critical period for wildlife conservation globally, as poaching and trafficking is out of control, not only in Africa, South America, and Asia but in all range countries throughout the world.The main focus will be on the host country, considering the wildlife events that have occurred over the last two years, with many endangered species being decimated by wildlife traffickers, trophy hunters and ineffective government policies with no transparency and substance.

In addition, there is the question of widespread corruption throughout the Administration undermining its stability, and the current political discontent involving the President that is reverberating throughout the country.The following shows the ineffective actions of the South Africa Government during this timeframe; their wildlife ‘report card’ doesn’t make for impressive reading!In 2014, Minister Edna Molewa made a public speech giving thanks regarding the donation of R250 Million to SanParks by the Howard G Buffet Foundation. In addition, nearly US$30 million dollars (440 million Rand) was given to the South African Government by International donors to improve wildlife protection and conservation throughout their national wildlife parks, primarily to Kruger National Park.

According to Government statistics in 2015, 1,125 Rhinos were killed in the country, 821 of them in Kruger. In addition, there were a variety of other wildlife fatalities by poachers including Elephants and other endangered species.More importantly it raises the question, how was this money utilized by the Government, and how many animals were saved thanks to these donations?

As of this time, I am not aware of any audit reports made public from any Government departments explaining how this money was spent on protecting wildlife and increasing anti-poaching operations in any of their parks.Why is it that many private wildlife reserves and sanctuaries are better organized, dedicated and motivated in protecting their animals than Government units, yet don’t have the same resources to call on. After all, the Government have additional enforcement resources at their disposal, such as the SADF, the South African Defense Force, Police forces, ex-military personnel and others such as Intelligence and Logistical services to name a few. They could be utilized to assist in anti-poaching operations wherever needed.It is difficult to understand that why, no one from the head of SANPARKS, or the former head of Special Projects, retired Major General Johan Jooste, has made a public statement on the poaching situation in the country, or what measures have been taken to improve wildlife protection, especially the Rhino situation in Kruger whose numbers are being dramatically reduced on a daily basis.

After all, if my understanding is correct, Jooste was the architect of the security enforcement program implemented two years ago, in Kruger Park to reduce the level of poaching and apprehend the poachers!It is thanks only to the dedicated Park Rangers who are working throughout the National Parks, especially in Kruger that the casualty list is not larger, though they have had their own internal issues. They have the thankless task of protecting the wildlife, yet are faced with well-armed poachers who are well organized and are prepared to kill anything in front of them. Although the Rangers are assisted in their efforts with contingents of police and ex-military, their standards and commitment sadly fall below those of the rangers, and need better training.Many of the poachers come from countries bordering South Africa, namely Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia, primarily to kill Rhinos and Elephants, and other endangered species. Some work independently while others belong to large criminal gangs.

It is a well-known fact that poverty is prevalent throughout the neighboring South African border regions, and many of them commit these acts to support their families for food and survival, and others just for the money.

Yet why is it that these cross border attacks on South African sovereign soil is not met with retaliatory action by the military? Isn’t this considered an act of wildlife terrorism? So, why are there no lasting security agreements between these Governments mentioned, to reduce the poaching epidemic and improve the living and working conditions in these areas, providing a deterrent and bringing social relief to would be poachers from entering other countries territory?Moving forward to the CITES convention, the South African government and Minister Molewa, having this global platform, will have a great opportunity to show their citizens and the international forum that they are serious about getting their own house in order, and repair many of these wildlife deceptions by using all resources at hand to protect their wildlife for the long term.Internally, the biggest priority for her and her government involves the critical Rhino situation. First and foremost, as the host chairperson, she has to negotiate within the CITES establishment to elevate the specie to Appendix 1. If the Rhino is to survive into the future then all parties have to stand together, putting petty turf war politics aside, and coping with the current set of realities in order to find a viable solution to this crisis! They cannot let bureaucracy and corruption stifle conservation in South Africa. Without follow-through, nothing will work and ultimately not only will Rhino become extinct, but other species will follow the same path.Also, as host Chairperson, it is her responsibility, together with John Scanlon to ensure that this convention is the most productive in terms of making successful policy with transparency and substance for all species that are threatened globally.

The biggest priority is to stop the continued global illicit trade of Wildlife and Bushmeat that is fueling corruption and conflict, destroying lives, and deepening poverty and inequality. This multi-billion dollar worldwide trade is not only a security issue, but an environmental issue, and a development issue to all countries. It is pushing vulnerable and endangered species toward extinction, in all of the continents!

If not addressed decisively by CITES and its partners in Law Enforcement, then this trade will continue to have significant national economic impacts.CITES should also address the overall lack of real success to reduce poaching and wildlife traffic globally, considering the millions of dollars invested in these projects over the past few years.

Various Governments, NGO’s, Law Enforcement, numerous ‘think tanks’, and conservation groups have long been working to close down trafficking syndicates, and bring their ‘kingpins’ to justice. Additionally, specialist groups are working to implement better protection for all endangered species, and to improve wildlife conservation in general.Yet with all these resources and ‘brain power’ available, why is it that year after year, no real success has been made to curtail the poaching and close down the syndicates, and save wildlife?

I appreciate there is a lot of good work done, but It is all well and good to give public speeches, and produce extensive reports highlighting the devastation of wildlife to the masses. But if the information cannot be acted upon by Law Enforcement and magistrates to exert pressure on the poachers/traffickers, to directly influence the level of poaching; and improve protection for the animals, then what really has been accomplished?Based on previous conventions, the CITES ‘hierarchy’ and its standing committees need to be more authoritative and to eliminate needless rhetoric and ‘tip toeing’ around important and sensitive issues, like China and Vietnam for example. Furthermore, it is vital that CITES operates in a way that promotes transparency and inclusive decision making.

It also needs to stop lobbyists and special interest groups who have connections with prominent members, manipulating important votes. It also needs to monitor closely the voting process within its membership, to stop the ‘you vote for me and I will vote for you’ concept. Without the right mechanisms to facilitate an open, clear and fair decision making process, it will undermine its ability to operate effectively.All concerned wildlife professionals, enthusiasts and conservationists; I believe are sick and tired of hollow speeches, bureaucracy, meaningless reports and now want affirmative action and solutions.If this does not happen, then what is the point of this convention!CITES leadership, its committees and its members, has the ultimate responsibility of safeguarding not only wildlife, but sea life, birds, plants, trees, on the planet for the foreseeable future!

Chapter two: South Africa Needs to Heed Security Warning Signs

The lack of border security throughout the Southern African region, should raise serious concerns as poachers can cross borders into the countries of either South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to kill Rhino’s, Elephants, and other wildlife with impunity and without detection!

The overriding concern should be if poaching syndicates can navigate their way across borders, what is stopping transnational terrorists doing the same, and inflicting devastating loss of life to innocent civilians in major cities within the region.In June of this year, the United States Government and the United Kingdom issued a travel advisory to travelers, warning of possible Islamic militant terrorist attacks on Johannesburg during Ramadan. Happily the threat did not materialize, but other countries were not as fortunate, as terrorist attacks were carried out around the globe with devastating results!

Two prominent African terrorist groups, ‘Boko Haram’ and ‘Al Shabaab’ and their affiliates who share similar goals as Isis and Al-Qaida, have carried out atrocities of their own on the continent over the last three years. Only last week, Islamic terrorists killed 17 people on the Mali/Mauretania border.Another security concern is the internal threat posed by the role of nationals from China, Vietnam, who work, live and operate businesses in the capital cities within the region. Asian criminal networks, often in collaboration with local political and economic elites, dominate the supply of raw ivory and Rhino horn out of Africa, and other criminal trades, such as arms and diamond smuggling, drugs and human trafficking.

According to recent reports by Julian Rademeyer, and by Traffic, the wildlife trade investigating agency for the CITES convention; both emphasized the growing number of Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean nationals being arrested during illegal ivory seizures. There is also increasing evidence of direct Chinese involvement in ivory processing operations throughout Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.There is also a need to address external threats that undermine the ‘fabric’ of each country in the region. For example, China is systematically ‘plundering’ all regions of Africa not only of its valuable wildlife but of its minerals, diamonds and other prized resources.

As with every Mining and Engineering building project funded and built, primarily by China, Vietnam and North Korea; comes their Government Security and Intelligence agents to ‘supervise’ their work force and to make contacts with local influential people. Their activities are closely coordinated within their Embassies and Consulates, and for their covert operatives to recruit and gather data that would benefit their economic and political interests in the region.

They use many fronts, as high powered businessmen, bankers, scholars, and journalists to subvert and recruit agents inside that country. Considering Chinese and Vietnamese diplomats’ track record with ivory and diplomatic pouches, there has to be a distinct connection between them and the syndicates operating in each Southern African country.It makes the subversive’s job much easier, when the Governments of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa are not only unstable, but are some of the most corrupt countries in Africa. Their people’s standard of living especially in the border regions verges on the impoverished, as it is home to some of the world’s poorest people, where health issues, food shortages and high unemployment have become the norm.

According to the latest Transparency international, CPI Corruption Perception Index for 2015, it shows the following countries world index ratings by the country least corrupt, 1 being the best and 180 being the worst. Namibia is 45th, followed by South Africa at 61st, Zambia at 76th, with Mozambique at 112th and Zimbabwe at 150th not surprisingly!A summary of current wildlife poaching events throughout the region shows that Mozambique is now in crisis mode with powerful criminal syndicates with connections to the ruling Frelimo party elite is making life difficult for the current President Filipe Nyusi. After more than a year since he took office, he has yet to strengthen his control over National affairs and is undermined with a feeble judiciary, and ineffective military and police forces.

A catalog of wildlife incidents continues to plague the Government. Over 65 rhino horns and 340 tusks (170 elephants) were seized from the house of a Chinese citizen living in Maputo, the Mozambican capital. Soon after, ‘Thieves’ raided a police storeroom holding Mozambique’s largest ever haul of confiscated rhino horn and ivory, making off with 12 horns valued at about £700 000. Four state officials guarding the store were arrested on suspicion of aiding the theft.

Later, Kenyan airport authorities arrested a Vietnamese man carrying $82,000 worth of rhino horn between Mozambique and Hanoi when he was arrested on a stopover in Nairobi.The Zambian government acknowledges that Chinese ivory trafficking syndicates are embedded in the business community in the capital, Lusaka and other small towns in the Southern Province. They have evidence of the syndicates sending Zambian poachers into Zimbabwe, which is responsible for the spike in elephant deaths in the Zambezi region of Zimbabwe.

According to Zambian authorities, newly enforced stringent laws including anti-corruption and counter-poaching strategies have made it difficult for poachers to operate in Zambia, so they now cross into Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana and Namibia to kill elephants for ivory to feed the Chinese market in Zambia. The government has adopted paramilitary policing operations, which are being jointly implemented with aerial surveillance to protect its elephant populations in the Luangwa North and South game reserves.So far in 2016, at least 66 elephant tusks have been recovered from Zambian poachers during fourteen separate anti-poaching operations in Zimbabwe’s national parks in the Zambezi Valley, while numerous Zambian poachers have been shot dead in Zimbabwe since the beginning of the year. The Zimbabwe government of Richard Mugabe is selling their heritage of Elephants, Lions and other wildlife away to the Chinese Government allegedly to finance anti-poaching operations in Hwange National Park. Since we are talking about the one of the most corrupt Governments in Africa, how do we know what is true, since there is no audit trail to follow?According to figures released by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia has so far this year lost at least 79 rhinos to poaching, most of them being discovered in the Etosha National Park, and the river areas of the Kunene Region. The sad truth is that the black rhinos, of which 40% of the world’s surviving population is in Namibia, have in all likelihood been poached by the Omusati Clique and the Opuwyo syndicate which have links to Chinese smuggling rings in South Africa. The Kunene black rhinos are under grave threat from a deadly combination of corruption, a prolonged drought, multi-billion Chinese mining and construction ventures, and land-hungry communal cattle farmers, leading to the sharpest upsurge in rhino mortalities in 30 years. Poaching cases appear in court, but never include the real syndicate bosses and high-ranking Namibian political figures who are implicated in the black market sale of rhino horns and elephant tusks.In South Africa, so far this year, 520 Rhinos have been killed according to independent sources, many of them killed in the Kruger National Park. There are also an undetermined number of elephants that have been poached in the country, though the Government has no official figures or comments.It is blatantly obvious that there are two common denominators when reading each country’s wildlife brief and they are the names Chinese and Vietnamese!

Everyone involved in wildlife conservation understands that these countries and its nationals are at the top of the Trafficking pyramid. These ‘Kingpins’ are the brains involved in every facet of the major syndicate poaching operations, and the wildlife slaughter of all endangered species in the region.

So, why it is that these African Governments and Law Enforcement globally, does not take a more aggressive approach to address the root cause of the problem, when it is staring them in the face for the entire world to see!

Pressure needs to be exerted on the Chinese and the Vietnamese Governments by all International parties. If they are so sincere in cooperating with African Governments, CITES and wildlife agencies to reduce poaching and curtailing the wildlife trade, then let us see some definitive policies like transparency and substance in ordering all their embassy staff and government officials to take no further part in wildlife trafficking and the ivory and rhino trade?Southern African nations need to address the problem of unsecure borders first and foremost, then to address the criminal syndicates involved with poaching and trafficking throughout each country. There is an urgent need to go after all levels of the criminal networks; and to demonstrate they are serious in targeting and prosecuting these ‘Kingpins’ and closing down their trafficking operations.

It is accepted that no range country can resolve this problem unaided without major assistance from International Law Enforcement and possibly the United Nations, but the likes of Interpol, CITES, Customs and ASEAN-WEN can only be as effective as the country or countries they are working with!

I don’t presume to know the ideal solution to these problems, but for starters, I cannot understand why there is no real effort made between these African neighbors to start implementing combined police/military operations along their borders with liaison officers based in each country providing sound intelligence to the others on all poaching activities on a consistent basis?

How difficult would it be for all the regional countries to implement temporary emergency legislation to keep these high-level individuals in prison and refuse bail until their trial? Why couldn’t the United Nations propose international legislation to cover wildlife trafficking crimes, and get all the important ‘players’ to sign off on that?These Governments need to start showing strong leadership and credible solutions to their problems at both national and international levels. (Where is the Mandela’s of this generation?)

Their leaders have to stop accepting corruption as the norm, to make their countries more secure, eliminate corrupt political elites, and break down the ‘invisible walls’ of these crime syndicates that are destroying the infrastructure of each country.

The bottom line to all African leaders, how important is wildlife to your country and your heritage?

At the CITES convention, Government representatives have the ideal opportunity to show that it’s not what they can get out of the convention for their own interests, but are working collectively in the interests of wildlife to make positive changes!

Only time will tell, unfortunately at this stage, the picture does not look bright for all wildlife species, as drastic action is needed immediately to safeguard them, and time is not on their side!

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© 2018 Southern African Fight for Rhino

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