R-rated reality show – when will the killing stop?
On Monday this week, on a farm near Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, another rhino was poached, bringing the tally to 30 animals killed thus far this year in South Africa alone. And, it’s not even the end of January! Friday today, so who knows what the latest is? It seems as if every day brings news of another rhino killed to supply the superfluous demand for horn in the East. Last year 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa, 25% more than the number of animals killed in 2010. When will the killing stop?
And then, there’s the ongoing killing of elephants for their ivory. Last year was a record year for the number of large-scale ivory seizes recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database, representing a sharp rise in the illegal ivory trade since 2007.
If only it was a case of nervously watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Alas, no, this is a real life horror unfolding right in front of you at a theater called commercial exploitation. The visuals of rhinos with their horns hacked out or of elephants with tusks removed are horrific and speak not only to the state of conservation and how things have gone horribly wrong, but also to the warped psychology associated with wildlife consumption--greed, ruthless brutality, disrespect for life, and ethical egoism. Until we change our attitudes and values where wildlife conservation is concerned, we will continue to watch reruns of this horrific show.
Right now, there is a strong lobby in South Africa to reinstate a legal, regulated trade in rhino horn, with even the national parks authority (South African National Parks) reportedly jumping on the bandwagon. The claim: that a regulated trade will help satisfy market demand thereby leading to a reduction in poaching. This sounds great on the surface but (1) doesn’t take the lessons from history into account and (2) is formulated around the principles of economic sustainability, paying lip service to questions of biological sustainability, animal welfare and ethics. Even where economics is concerned, no one understands the extent of the markets for rhino horn and ivory in the East and with the advent of China as a major consumer of such it is highly unlikely that regulated trade could ever fulfill market expectations.
So, what to do? In the short-term, greater cooperation amongst enforcement agencies to combat illicit trade is necessary and will have an impact. The current poaching crisis involves organized crime and it is only through a focused cooperative approach that syndicates will be exposed and perpetrators brought to book. In the long-term, however, there needs to be a global shift in attitudes and values--the world must know that there is absolutely no need for the use of rhino horn and ivory in this day and age. The bottom line is that the killing will only stop when the markets for the products cease to exist. And where there is no real case to be made for their use, it seems like a no-brainer to me.