What’s going on with legal rhino horn trade? 犀牛角贸易解禁了吗?

Recently, the homeland of thousands of hundreds of rhinos – South Africa has lifted its ban on domestic rhino horn trade.  Although the written judgement from Pretoria High Court seems not to be publicly available yet, some sources indicated that the judges questioned the effectiveness of the moratorium.

So far, the CITES ban on international trade in rhino horns seems to be unaffected, but it’s hard to tell whether the decision will be affected at the next CITES meeting, which will be taken place in September 2016. It will be a very interesting game of interest by then with some African nations and NGOs try hard to lobby against it.

All species of rhinos are at considerable risk of extinction with 4 out of 5 rhino species rate vulnerable or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. – I’m sure many readers have seen the horrific story of the world’s last northern White rhino in Sudan.  Even White Rhinoceros in South Africa is not listed as being in imminent risk of extinction, they are facing the greatest poaching crisis since the late 80s. According to the SA government figure, nearly 1200 rhinos were poached in 2014 alone.

Scenario Analysis: What Impact will the legal domestic trade bring?

Legal trade means more poaching?

It is very difficult to say, even for the elephant, which is probably species received the most attention at the moment due to its instinct link with terrorism and increasing political will. However, the current data may shed some light on to this issue.  According to the SA government figure, nearly 1,200 rhinos were poached in 2014 alone. In Namibia, rhino poaching has been increased over 300% with 79 rhinos slaughtered this year, – a sharp increase from the total of 25 rhinos poached in 2014, 4 poached in 2013, two illegally killed in 2012, and only one poached in 2011.

It will offer a legal cover for the illicit trade. Now there is a legal market available domestically, but not internationally. The market for rhino horns are outside of South Africa, far in Vietnam or China, and their appetite will only increase within time. Poachers and gangs will figure out ways to sell these “legal” horns inside this clandestine market.  Captive-bred tigers in China may share the similar situation. As Chinese government has opened a parallel legal market for captive-bred tiger skins, parts and other derivatives for “scientific or educational purposes”.   Tiger skin rug has been sold as luxury home décor for the symbol of social status and identity. It might also urge some speculative purchasing as the owners try to stock up for the potential price rise.

On the other side in China, an ex-firearm company Hawk Group recently announced on its website that its subsidy Longhui Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd has acquired the SFDA permission numbers for 35 type of drugs by purchasing another Pharmaceutical company. Interestingly, some of these 35 types of drugs are known for historically containing rhino horn ingredient. This is a perfect legal act and there is no evidence that Longhui is or has been using rhino horn ingredient in its drugs, nor the drugs have been in production.

A quick review of Longhiu’s history of importing rhinos for captive breeding in China. Since 2006, Longhui has been breeding white rhinos at its Hainan base, which were imported from South Africa. Later, a shocking business plan of “harvesting rhino horn” has been published on its local government’s website. Most recently, the director Zhang Juyan announced his ambition to have over 200 rhinos by 2016.

Again, everything they did seems to be perfectly legal and the plans are currently stays on paper. No evidence suggests any further move of the company, but it did ring a bell of demand in rhino horn as an ingredient for TCM market.

Stay wild xxx

Is Wechat’s action on illegal wildlife trade just a hide-and-seek trick?

Hello, this is my very first blog. I want to talk about the China’s rampant online wildlife products and the influence of the Wechat recent action on banning the illegal wildlife trade.

This week, the mobile chat app Wechat, also known as the leading social media platform for online wildlife trade has finally taken action. It exposed 168 accounts that were allegedly associated with illegal wildlife sales, including the sales of ivory, mammoth ivory, rhino horns and helmeted hornbills. These accounts will be closed for 30 days. Wechat claimed they would work closely with scientific institutions and relevant NGOs and send out a clear message that Wechat has zero tolerance for illegal wildlife online sales. It also encourages users to report abuse once found wildlife products for sale.

Rhino horn carved ornament for sale on Wechat (picture from Wechat official weibo)

Ivory carved Buddha amulet for sale on Wechat (picture from Wechat official weibo)

This is an encouraging small step, given the contexts that Wechat as China’s largest mobile social media sent out a clear message to the public and set up a positive example.  I can see on Weibo many NGOs and activists forwarded this news and celebrated on that. However, the penalty of a 30-day suspension is far away from  adequate in my opinion. The 30-day suspension is more like a hide-and-seek game and these accounts are likely to be active again after 30 days. Once closed, the cost of setting up new accounts and keeping posting is very minimal. A conservationist I knew, had told me one of the sellers he has been tracking requested his current subscribers to switch to another account and the streams of offers continues as per normal.

For Wechat, a mobile app company, what else can it do? It is not the forestry police, it does not have the enforcement authority or even the capacity to verify authenticity of sale or products on offer. The current voluntary report abuse system is totally relying on users. It is fragmented and has little power to deter crime.  I am expecting the actual enforcement to take place that the forestry police work with the relevant interest parties together to effectively shut down these online hubs.

To give you guys a sense of the rampant online sales of wildlife products, let’s have a look at a recent report, TRAFFIC claimed social media had became the new heavens for the wildlife sales, with around 2000 monthly new added advertisements, in which most lead to social media for the final transaction.

Number of total illegal wildlife product advertisements in monitored Chinese-language websites (January 2012-September 2014) © TRAFFIC

We can see the online advertisements dropped a lot from 2013 thanks to a series of collaborative operations with traditional e-commerce giants: Alibaba, Tecent, Jingdong etc. Well, it’s hard to imagine what was it like before  2013.  Recently, the logistics industries also joint force in this war. With all of these efforts from different sectors, the key comes back to the China’s enforcement. It is the only force can take the lead in combating the illegal wildlife trade and engage all of these sectors.

I will keep a close eye on the follow-up enforcement if there is any. Stay wild xxx