Never Mind Saving the Elephant ... What about the White Rhino, the Brown Bear and African Mahogany Tree?

By Schoon, Nicholas | The Independent (London, England), June 1, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Never Mind Saving the Elephant ... What about the White Rhino, the Brown Bear and African Mahogany Tree?


Schoon, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)


South Africa has done a better job than any other country at enabling its rhinos to survive. Now it wants to start a trade in dead ones. A controversial proposal will be considered by the CITES treaty meeting, the UN convention which regulates the trade in endangered species, which opened in Harare, Zimbabwe, yesterday.

Other species under discussion at the meeting include the big leaf mahogany from the Amazon rainforest, grey and minke whales and brown bears from Europe and Russia.

In the 1920s there were only about 50 white rhinoceroses, one of two African species left in South Africa, as a result of persecution by big game hunters and poachers. Today there are some 7,000. But the Natal national parks now have a stockpile which, like elephant tusks, cannot be legally traded because this is banned by the CITES treaty. There is, however, still a market for smuggled rhino horn which prices it at roughly $1,000 a kilogram. The South Africans say spending that kind of money on wildlife conservation could bring huge gains at a time when government budgets are under strain. The debate over the horn is similar to that over the move by Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to be allowed to trade their elephant ivory stockpiles with Japan. Both proposals seem unlikely to get the two-thirds majority vote needed among the 140 CITES nations to get the go-ahead. But they, or similar requests, are bound to feature at future treaty meetings. There is now widespread agreement between conservation groups and governments that wildlife has to be managed to be conserved. And that management must involve exploiting it in a way that benefits local communities, giving them an incentive to look after it. But there is passionate argument about whether that exploitation should consist only of encouraging overseas visitors to look at the wildlife, or include big game hunting and selling animal products abroad.

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