Sudan, one of the six remaining northern white rhinos


: Sudan, one of the six remaining northern white rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nairobi - Tony Karumba, AFP-Getty Images

12 thoughts on “Rhinos

  1. Janos

    I’m afraid we are seeing the last pages written in front of us of the said story of the Northern white rhinoceros. Another flagship species driven extinct from the wild by human poachers to satisfy those buyers, mainly in China, who stupidly hope for more sexual power by consuming powder made of Rhino’s horn.

    According to wikipedia:

    Northern white rhino is found to be an altogether different species than the White Rhino, not just a subspecies of it, have been separated at least 8 million years ago.

    In the beginning of 1970’s there were around 500 Northern white rhinos estimated living wild. This population had been reduced by 15 till the early 1990’s, than they start to recover slowly to 32 by 2000. Than another wave of poaching had been driven this species extinct in the wild by middle 2008.

    On October 14 2014, Suni, one of the two known captive Northern white rhinos died, living only one breeding male, one none-breeding male and 5 female, all in captivity, alive.

    On December 15 2014 Angalifu, a male Northern white rhino died in San Diego safari park leaving only 5 Northern white rhino alive.

  2. Michael White Post author

    Thank you for the updates Janos, I’d been following the story too.

    I have one comment to add, which is we cannot assume Chinese consumers are ‘stupid’. Traditional Chinese Medicine along with other Asian medical practices (such as Ayurveda which extends back 5000 years), have very long and successful track records. Not least because they treat the causes of imbalance rather than the symptoms of disease, which is the western paradigm. We might not like or agree with the TCM approach or its pharmacopeia, but it is deemed efficacious and thus used by over a quarter of Earth’s population. I agree with you that use of such remedies as rhino horn have contributed to the decline and imminent loss of species, and they still do. But I feel we need better arguments to address the root causes of global biodiversity loss. Traditional medicine is one of them, but no doubt so is western allopathic medicine (including bio-prospecting and bio-piracy).

    A similar issue arose with the ‘bekko’ industry: those artists and craftspeople working with hawksbill carapaces (the so-called ‘tortoiseshell’). That industry was millennia old. Because hawksbills were the most impacted sea turtle species ~ critically-endangered in modern parlance ~ researchers and conservationists began working with the bekko artisans, acknowledging their skills and craftsmanship; their wish to train apprentices so that a cultural treasure was not lost, and an economic product still remained. We invited their spokespeople to international sea turtle conferences and discussed possible ways of using novel materials, such as plastics, to fulfil their needs. This is having some success, likewise with the plastic ‘ivory’ carvings. However these things work out, it seems essential that we get people on our side, that our arguments are robust, and most importantly culturally acceptable. We knew it was not going to be easy. Thanks, Mike ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Janos

    Do not misread my comment. What I wrote was “ satisfy those buyers, mainly in China, who stupidly hope for more sexual power by consuming powder made of Rhinoโ€™s horn.” Interpreting it as “assume Chinese consumers are โ€˜stupidโ€™” I think is not appropriate at all. I did not addressed traditional medication as such at all. This is about grammatical and semantic aspects.

    As far as Rhino horn powder is concerned, are you going to say Mike, that it has any positive biological effect on masculine sexual performance other than potential placebo effect? So that a bunch of people, mainly in China, in order to please themselves with this placebo effect have driven a species extinct (in the wild).

    From this aspect the topic is close related to poaching of Pangolins, since apart from consuming super-expensive “pangolin dish” in restaurants to display richness, it is also believed that their various body parts have healing capabilities.

    Bekko industry is a different topic, we can investigate it separately addressing also such questions, why South Pacific island states have not signed and ratified CITES.

    1. Michael White Post author

      Neither you nor I, Janos, know what people believe. I have no knowledge of how many people have had their virility restored using Traditional Chinese Medicine. I doubt that someone says ‘hey doc, I can’t perform sexually any more and I need some rhino horn’. I imagine it’s far more likely that they discuss this failing, or impotence, with their doctor and are prescribed a range of remedies, some of which may include rhino horn. I cannot say whether people were cured as I have no evidence. I also doubt that you have evidence to prove the placebo effect. If you do: what was the sample size, and how were the data derived? I presume this was mainly older folk.

      Of far greater concern is the illegal trade in wildlife. Here, we know and agree that this is a major cause of biodiversity loss. I imagine that the poor people who do much of the killing have few options for survival. A buyer comes along offering cash, this money buys seeds, tools and feeds the family. The bushmeat trade runs alongside this. Who are we to say that gorilla, giraffe, bear or panda are tasteless? We know that organised crime is heavily involved in such trade. They often traffick wildlife and products; drugs; arms; and humans in the same ship-borne cargo. The four most lucrative sources of revenue on the planet. Removing the demand (i.e. the market) is obviously part of our biodiversity strategy. Education and changing demographic perception assist us here.

      The following four points on black rhinos come from United for Wildlife (I’m just beta-testing their new online course. They want to go live in 4 weeks time. If anyone else is interested then email me privately and I’ll give you the link).

      1. Due to poaching, the black rhino declined by 96% from 65,000 individuals in 1970 to only 2,300 in 1993
      2. Conservation efforts have resulted in an increase in numbers from 1993 to the present day estimate of 5,000
      3. Thereโ€™s been a 5,000% increase in rhino poaching in South Africa between 2007 and 2011
      4. Over 4000 rhino horns were exported from Africa in the last 4 years

      Obviously requires a holistic approach for us to achieve success.

      CITES: South Pacific nations are more likely to be CITES-compliant. My country certainly is: which I can attest to as I’ve just shipped the first sea turtle dna samples to a laboratory in San Diego. Our CITES-compliant export form is a simple 1-page document. I sent the sampling data (xls) to Rarotonga. The Convention Focal Point, and the CITES Authority (actually the same person, as the Environment Service is only 28 people) stamped the permit and took it to the cargo ship (we would have no mail service for months). When the ship arrived here I got the export form from the Captain, signed it as the exporter, countersigned by our Customs Officer, and returned it and the samples to the ship.

      In contrast the US side of things involved several agencies (Fish & Wildlife, CITES, Customs, Port Authorities, FEDEX, Health & Quarantine, NOAA etc.) and many documents, including an entire electronic package sent by the laboratory to the Senior Wildlife Inspector at Hawai’i. I guided the entire process from start to finish, making sure that contact details for each new player were shared, and updating the ship’s ETA at Honolulu as the voyage progressed. It was a complex operation, involving over 100 people and hundred’s of emails. Keep in mind that I’m shipping these genetic samples legally ~ and I’ve always liked CITES. So our compliance with the CITES organisation is far simpler and meets our needs, rather than the top-heavy process found in a so-called ‘developed country’. Mike ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Janos

        I am not talking about beliefs, I am talking about what someone knows and does. From your reply one can infer that everybody on this planet has the right to kill other creatures in order to protect self-interest except of Rhinos and other non-human species. Every player in this poaching game knows very well that Rhinos are at the brink of extinction. That’s why the ‘poor rhino killers’ have to spend more and more time to find one alive, why the consumers of rhino powder have to pay more and more, and so on. But, if I read your line, I can see that each of them have a pretty good excuse for what they do. So this whole subject appears to me to by a grayish topic, where borders separating good and bad can’t be found. While I think this is a very black and white question. Just like pregnancy. Someone can’t be half-pregnant. Either pregnant or not. To me those, who consumes rhino horn powder, knowing that with their consumption they drive a species extinct, are just appear to be the same rootless killers who hunt down the rhinos. Nevertheless, I would like to know how much does a gun costs with which a rhino could be safely killed from a safe distance. And how much food, seeds and tools could be purchased for the very same price. Unfortunately, especially for the rhinos, using those tools to grow crops is much more cumbersome and tiring than pulling the trigger of the gun.

        1. Michael White Post author

          Yes indeed Janos they are grey areas. If they were black and white they would have been resolved long ago. Everyone would agree a law and no one would infringe it. Poaching and illegal take would not occur. But people don’t agree, so the black market trade continues, governments ignore or condone it too.

          I’m not so sure that people buying illicit remedies or products do consider in that moment whether species are becoming extinct . If they did then they wouldn’t buy it. So I assume that they don’t think in those terms when shopping or arranging their deals.

          Guns are very very cheap. AK 47 often sells for $5, but probably wouldn’t kill a rhino. ๐Ÿ™

          1. Janos

            Well, I don’t think that if they were black and white, they would have been resolved long ago. For example, hard drug traffic is, at least on official level, a very black and white topic, still it is far from being resolved, actually it’s getting worse. Back to the rhino powder, the reason why I think that every consumer knows that it is illegal, is because I assume it is not sold ‘officially’ in normal Chinese supermarkets and pharmacies. I assume it can be purchased from under the counter only. And the person facing with this situation has to recognize it’s illegal nature. And unless such person suffers from serious mental disabilities, he must realize the reason for selling rhino horn powder being illegal. Unfortunately I don’t speak and read Chinese, otherwise I could check it easily.
            Regarding grey areas, I agree that there are a huge number of them can be found all around in the world, and I think many of them are made grey by purpose. Our purpose I think should be to shed light on these areas when we recognize them, instead of letting them to remain in the grey zone.

            1. Michael White Post author

              Thanks Janos, we are starting to get to the root of things here. I agree with your final sentence. What happens in many countries is that officialdom has its own ideas and legislates accordingly. Running parallel to this is the non-official economy. I don’t know which places you’ve lived in or visited, but every country I’ve visited, and more especially lived in, has had its own grey or black market. Often these are demi-official: the authorities know they exist, use these themselves (e.g. police have a good information network to what is going on ‘in the street’), and largely leave them alone. Very occasionally there will be a ‘turf-war’ (gang rivalry) and some operation may go to court. Otherwise they just exist. And have many customers.

              Money-changing: we have the cambio, and the much better rate of exchange from the street-corner dealer; no fees. Drugs: most countries do not sell hard drugs from pharmacies, although in my opinion they should (quality control, safety of users, taxable products, and a reduction in organised crime). In North Wales for instance, a supermarket ‘Safeway’ started a needle-exchange programme for heroin users back in 1980 (hard drug use was widespread because of poverty): this continues. The young drug dealers sell their bags of heroin nearby, even emulating the supermarket strategy “buy one, get one free” to attract new users. The police recognise all this of course, but they want the major suppliers and importers, not the small user-dealer making a euro or two.

              You’ll notice too that the several EU countries are now including the underground economy (e.g. prostitution) in their GDP figures (Italy, and Britain is discussing it; in some countries prostitution is legal & regulated).

              Another important consideration is that of the ‘fixer’ ~ the person you go to to arrange all your business dealings. In Egypt for instance this is the only way to achieve much at all. You tell the fixer what you want, you pay him, and he organises and pays everyone else. That is how the society works. You want a camel ride, an overnight private visit to the pyramids, good quality papyrus … whatever … the fixer fixes it.

              So I see very little as black & white: mostly it’s interpreted by our, currently, 7.5 billion inhabitatants on Earth in whatever shade of grey or rainbow hue they prefer. A couple of races (Germans for instance) have a ‘hive-mind’: they think and operate collectively, believe rules must be obeyed and so on. That’s why the Germans and Greeks cannot find a point of resolution in the debt crisis: they think oppositely, neither understands nor agrees with the other.

              So back to our wildlife trade discussion. A good role for the BA is to allow all of these realities to inform our direction, not exclude or ignore them as being unofficial, but rather holistically: this is the story of our world whether we agree or not. What do you think? I see we agree on more points than we disagree with, Mike ๐Ÿ™‚

              We can, as already discussed, promote dna-testing at ports of entry; become involved in alternative and sustainable means of livelihood in poor and remote villages to reduce or eliminate poaching and bushmeat trade; urge a great reduction in consumerism; and most important of all ~ education. ๐Ÿ™‚

              1. Janos

                “this is the story of our world whether we agree or not”: The story of our world develops as the aggregation of 7.4 billion individual stories. So I think, we individually, and also together, as long as we consider ourselves belonging to The BA, have to develop and take our firm stand, and express openly our view on sensitive topics. Otherwise we find ourselves among those who live their lives according to “live and let to live principle” which leads us directly into the grey zone.

  4. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

    And I think that population growth has disturbed a natural balance that existed a long time ago. The Chinese were supplying demands of their people without having recourse to intensive poaching. And Ayurvedic medicine was faring well without having recourse to biopiracy. Commercialization, and the availability of money (purchasing power) has no doubt been responsible for the way our natural environments are being emptied.

    1. Michael White Post author

      Yes Ven, it seems that money has shifted everything. Nations pay lip service to conventions, treaties and laws, but then are bought or manipulated by powerful vested interests. We are rapidly approaching a moment in history when the entire way we run our planet has to change. The vested interests, probably 1%, are destroying or degrading much of our world. The 99% are caught up in it, perhaps unwittingly. Looking across most countries on Earth we see a similar rising-up of people taking their own power and holding politicians and legislators to account. The increase in mass-surveillance globally means that national boundaries now mean little; we lack a coherent set of laws that apply equally to everyone on Earth; and the huge growth in population only worsens these impacts. Quite what, or how soon this shift occurs I don’t know, but it is surely coming. Mike ๐Ÿ™‚

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