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 Friday, 21st February, 2014

It has been a humbling experience. That is, doing what I do. It began last year, and has continued in earnest with 9 of my 15 articles published in 2014 dedicated solely to elephants and rhinos. It's not just because these giants are iconic, gracious and majestic, but because of the gargantuan horror that faces both. This horror has steadily mushroomed like a miasmic cloud over the actions of humans with the slaughter of rhinos reaching a staggering 1004 for the year 2013, out of a total population of just 20,000 (black and white), while the plight of elephants is far worse with an average 1 elephant every 15 minutes gunned down for their tusks. That's 100 every day of the year. Wildlife crime has reached such pandemic proportions that it is estimated to value 19 billion US dollars, rivalling drug trafficking and money laundering as the biggest global crimes. What makes matters worse is the general apathy from governments and various authorities of the various range, transit, destination and even donor countries who could and should do better in preserving the last of a kind.

But, in following the grim paths of these animals, one of the biggest worries for their continued survival is not just the blood-lust of poachers, the nefarious traffickers or the heartless govenment officals but a group that vociferously but misguidedly believe they have a solution to the problem. These people tend to be conservationists and the good citizens who live right among us and decry that the only way to ensure the survival of these species is to reduce them to commodities like poor cattle, and to trade in their products. Their underpinning argument is: if it means the survival of the species, reducing wild animals to sustainable commodities is a just cause.

The simple logic has won over many converts including many leading conservationists as well as the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. Except, as I have written recently, its not all that simple (you can read the full article HERE) but what really irks me, and many of my fellow commentators who have closely followed this saga, is that the pro-trade cornerstone assumes that legalising the trade in ivory and rhino horn is sustainable when they have absolutely no idea that it is. Again as I have written many times elsewhere, the question remains: Is it safe to test the insatiability of the global desire for ivory and rhino horn, especially now that there are so few left? I don't think so.

The pro-trade voice needs to be countered. Luckily there is a light glowing dimly at the end of the tunnel. Since I began reporting on these issues just under a year ago a few, too few, countries have turned against the notion of trade and have crushed or vowed to crush their stockpiles of illicit ivory thus sending a clear message that any trade in ivory is wrong. These countries include: Ghana, Philippines, USA, China, France, the United Kingdom and yesterday Chad just joined their ranks, while Hong Kong and Tanzania have pledged to destroy theirs. Last week at a summit initiated by Princes Charles and William and attended by high profile politicians from forty six nations, including China, a declaration was signed issuing a 10-year moratorium in the trade of ivory and rhino horn (article HERE)

Good news indeed but guess whose absense was glaringly obvious? Embarassingly my country of origin, South Africa, excused themselves from last week's summit citing the opening of Parliament as a clashing schedule but at the same time striking a loud dissonance when they all but rejected the London Declaration in a press statement. In a not-to-be-published article because the newspaper editor thought my comparison of the opening of Parliament with Alice in Wonderland too scathing, I wondered if South Africa were again intent to become pariahs in the eyes of the international world because right now, when it comes to trying to save the elephant and the rhino from extinction, the world is frowning heavily on the South African (non)effort.