Written by Sharon van Wyk
The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER) is taking place in more than 120 cities across the world on October 4 this year. It will see the delivery of memoranda of demand and proposed changes to South Africa’s legislation delivered to key government representatives across the globe.
Foreign offices of the infamous “Gang of 19” countries will be receiving these documents from march organisers on six continents, from as far afield as Toronto in Canada and the New Zealand capital of Auckland. The “Gang of 19” are: Angola, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Lao People’s Republic, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. These are the countries considered to be the most complicit in driving the illegal wildlife trade, specifically where ivory and rhino horn are concerned.
The memoranda of demand highlight the fact that there are fewer than 400 000 African elephants remaining in range states across the continent and a mere 18 000 rhinos in the wild in Africa. Asian elephant numbers have plummeted to 25 000, and there are approximately only 40 Javan rhinos, 300 Sumatran rhinos and 2 400 Indian rhinos left.
The memoranda also draw attention to the forgotten victims of the illegal wildlife trade – species like lion, tiger and pangolin – all of which are targeted for their highly lucrative body parts and which face extinction if the tide of slaughter is not turned back.
The list of demands calls on governments to:
1. Apply political will and leadership to put an end to wildlife trafficking.
2. Implement a complete ban on commercial international and domestic trade of all endangered wildlife body parts, including but not limited to ivory, rhino horn, pangolin, lion and tiger bone.
3. Shut down all retail outlets for ivory and rhino horn products and terminate all industries associated with these.
4. Adopt more stringent legislation to combat and deter criminal activities relating to wildlife crime as a matter of urgency.
5. Tackle corruption and money-laundering linked to illegal wildlife trafficking by investigating and halting corruption among government officials, police and park officials who protect the kingpins; arrest and prosecute the ivory and rhino horn kingpins to the fullest extent of the law without exception; and adopt or amend legislation to criminalise corruption that facilitates poaching and wildlife trafficking.
6. Adopt more punitive sentencing laws for wildlife traffickers and strengthen enforcement of laws associated with wildlife crime.
7. Lobby the United Nations, including the Security Council and General Assembly, to adopt sanctions against those countries in violation of intergovernmental agreements as adopted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
8. Engage other governments in relevant bilateral, regional and international mechanisms.
9. Publicly destroy all confiscated wildlife products and renounce the use of products from endangered and threatened species.
10. Adopt or amend legislation to criminalise poaching and wildlife trafficking and ensure such criminal offences are identified as serious crimes within the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), as called for in Resolution 2013/40 of the UN Economic Council.
11. Engage in international co-operation programs, including extradition and mutual legal assistance where criminal offences are transnational in nature.
12. Strengthen legal frameworks and facilitate strict law enforcement to assist in prosecution of wildlife traffickers and imposition of penalties that will act as proper deterrents to wildlife crime.
13. Strengthen law enforcement, cross-border and regional co-operation to protect populations of threatened or endangered species from poachers and illegal wildlife trafficking.
14. Apply pressure on the government of China to bring the trade in ivory and horn to an end; specifically, to close its ivory carving factories and stop issuing licenses for these establishments; to destroy its stockpiles of ivory and confiscate all ivory imports; and to impose the strictest penalties on Chinese citizens found in possession of or involved in the illegal trade of ivory and rhino horn.
The proposed amendments to legislation in South Africa (PALSA) document will be delivered to South African embassies across the world by all 120 cities to highlight the need for the South African Government to take a tougher stance on illegal wildlife crime and better address the burning issue of rhino poaching in particular.
This document sets out the legal precedents which support urgently needed changes to the granting of bail for poaching suspects and minimum sentencing, which it is proposed be changed to a period of not less than 10 years. Bail is a critical issue because currently suspects out on bail generally flee the jurisdiction and continue to engage in wildlife crime while awaiting trial, which can take more than three years.
According to the PALSA document, the time has come to enact a prescribed minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for a restricted activity involving a rhinoceros, elephant or any threatened or protected species with a value of R100 000 or more and to categorise the offence under Schedule 5 for the purposes of bail applications in order to reflect the seriousness of the offence and to strengthen the hand of the prosecution and the court when dealing with such offences. The document also calls for convicted poachers to refund the full market value of the animal or animals they killed to the owner, a strategy which has proved successful in Swaziland.
The delivery of such strong messages to world governments and their leaders is part of the ongoing build-up to the October 4 marches. Indeed, the documents were delivered on World Elephant Day on August 12, and will be delivered again on October 4, which is World Animal Day.
Across the world the GMFER is gathering tremendous traction, with huge turnouts expected in support of the plight of our iconic, keystone species. Support for the GMFER is being driven by social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter – which has seen a huge surge in the numbers of those pledging both support and their feet on the day of the marches itself. It has the backing of England’s Princes William and Harry, through their United for Wildlife organisation, and has been endorsed by celebrities like Ricky Gervais.
“I think we are at a tipping point, as a species, in our tolerance for illegal widlife crime,” says South African businessman and conservation educator Dex Kotze, one of the global organisers and organiser of the Johannesburg march. “We have had enough. And thanks to the marvel of modern technology, we can share our dissatisfaction with like-minded people across the world at the press of a button. This is not a South African issue, nor even an African one, it is a global issue. These animals are important to each and every one of us and social media is helping us to realise this, and hopefully to convince governments that they need to act now, before it’s too late.”
For more information on the GMFER and to locate a march taking place near you, please visit: www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org or take advantage of the following links and hashtags: