Earlier this month South Africa announced plans to relocate 200 rhinoceroses after anti-poaching efforts in Kruger National Park proved ineffective. In an email interview, Natasha White, a research assistant at the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding in Geneva, discussed poaching trends in Africa.
WPR: What new tactics are governments adopting to curb poaching, and what is driving their adoption?
Natasha White: Over the past few years, there has been a shift in the scale and nature of poaching. Governments are increasingly acknowledging the severity of its impacts, which stretch far beyond the devastating drop in elephant and rhino populations. Wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries.
In this context, and undoubtedly thanks to the efforts of national and international campaigners, governments have adopted new tactics to curb poaching. In February 2014, 46 governments signed the London Declaration indicating unprecedented high-level political commitment. Five African states launched the Elephant Protection Initiative, committing to a 10-year moratorium on ivory sales, a ban on domestic ivory trade and a freeze on all ivory stocks.
Over the course of the year, enforcement efforts have been enhanced across Africa—both in legislative structures and on the ground. The use of modern technologies, including forensics, has been expanded. Alternative approaches have also been adopted, including the deployment of sniffer dogs to assist rangers and customs officers in South Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the launch of “Wildleaks” to encourage and protect whistle-blowers.
WPR: What efforts are being undertaken to target consumers, and how effective have they been at reducing demand for ivory?
White: Organizations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and WildAid are running campaigns to target Chinese consumers. These have been about increasing education and awareness on the source of ivory and the ramifications of poaching.
There have been large-scale billboard and social media campaigns, films and online petitions, as well as more targeted efforts, such as WildAid’s focus on airports and inflight entertainment. 2014 also saw unprecedented celebrity endorsement, from the likes of Jackie Chan, Yao Ming and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Such campaigns are a huge step in the right direction toward a more holistic approach, but they take time. Results have been mixed. Naomi Doak from TRAFFIC Vietnam has commented that the emotional reaction of Asian consumers to shock imagery of mega fauna is not necessarily the same as for those in the West, in some cases inspiring not empathy but want.
WPR: How effective are these new measures in curbing poaching more generally, and what more needs to be done?
White: The past year brought some positive steps, and we finally saw a shift toward demand reduction strategies. But impunity reigns large. In 2014, nearly 100 elephants were poached every day across Africa, and 1,020 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone.
Rangers need protection, too. But trends of heavy militarization—such as shoot-to-kill policies, the deployment of private armies and heavy weaponry—in states that barely maintain their control over the use of force are worrying. Human rights and international norms should not be left to slip off the radar.
Overall, we need a more integrated approach to tackle the root causes. This means employment, fair and regular ranger salaries, community buy-in, education and collaboration in supply states; increased demand reduction efforts, not just in China, but across Asia, the U.S. and European Union; and a crackdown on impunity along the length of the supply chain.
Illegal wildlife trade should be established worldwide as a serious crime and treated as such. This is not just about increasing the severity of penalties, but ensuring that law enforcement capacities and the political will exist to see them through.
Finally, increased data transparency is required on ivory seizures and stockpile disposals. Governments globally should publish beneficial ownership registries to wipe out the use of anonymous shell companies as safe havens for wildlife trade profits.