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Kenya puts squeeze on SA over rhino trophies

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By Tony Carnie

Durban - South Africa is to come under further international pressure from Kenya next month to clean up the rhino-hunting industry and to ban any rhino horn trophies from leaving its shores for at least five years.

The proposal from the Kenyan government is to be debated in Bangkok, Thailand, at the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which begins on March 3.

Although the Kenyan proposal does not call for an outright ban on legal rhino hunts in South Africa, it has called for a zero export quota on any rhino hunting trophies until at least 2018.

But the ban seems unlikely to succeed, as the Cites secretariat has recommended that Kenya’s proposal should not be adopted.

In its proposal posted on the Cites website, Kenya said it did not intend to jeopardise the hunting industry in South Africa, but seemed to acknowledge that the five-year export ban would reduce the incentive for private owners to keep rhinos on their land.

“Kenya is of the firm opinion that the export of white rhino hunting trophies should not be allowed. Evidence suggests that hunting trophies offers a legal pathway for criminal networks to obtain rhino horn which is then illegally sold for ‘medicinal’ and ornamental purposes, and the continued legal trophy hunting of rhino may be stimulating demand.”

Kenya also acknowledged that South Africa had made several efforts to shut down “pseudo-hunts” of rhinos by Vietnamese citizens and nationals of other countries not traditionally associated with trophy hunting.

However, when Vietnamese nationals were banned from hunting rhinos in South Africa last year, criminal networks appeared to have shifted tactics by employing pseudo hunters from the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia to take the place of the Vietnamese.

According to Kenyan officials, the number of rhino hunting applications from Americans soared by about 300 percent last year from that in 2010, “possibly indicating the flexibility and opportunistic nature of pseudo-hunting criminal operatives”.

Despite South Africa’s recent actions, not all the trophy-hunting loopholes had been plugged.

“Kenya is convinced that by preventing legal trophy exports, pseudo-hunting will be eliminated and infiltration of legal horn into the illegal markets will be brought to an end.”

However, the Cites secretariat has recommended that member states should reject the Kenyan proposal when it is put to the vote by 177 Cites members in Bangkok next month.

The secretariat said that the Kenyan proposal would discourage the private sector from conserving rhinos on their land, and recognised that South Africa had taken “significant steps” to manage rhino hunting.

The Private Rhino Owners’ Association has also voiced strong opposition to the Kenyan proposal. In an open letter to the EU and other Cites member states late last year, association chairman Pelham Jones said Kenya’s plan would “devastate” the private rhino industry in South Africa.

“There are more rhinos on private land in South Africa than across the entire remainder of the African continent, and this fact bears testimony to the conservation success achieved in South Africa since the 1960s when there were only a few hundred rhino left in the country.”

Jones noted that until recently, private land owners had been investing in rhinos as an appreciating financial asset, and this had contributed to the proliferation of the species.

“The road to hell is unfortunately paved with good intentions and at present we are watching the rhino populations in our country being condemned to extinction because of such misguided and naive good intentions… We appeal to Cites member states to resist the urge to regress to a clampdown knee-jerk reaction and to carefully consider the hard-fought successes of South African conservation history.” - The Mercury

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