The images above, likely to be some of the very first ever taken, show rhino being kept under harsh conditions at the Sanya rhino facility in China. And most, if not all of these animals are thought to have come from South African stocks, sold to China through the SANParks auctions or by private ranch owners. First touted by the Chinese authorities as a themed safari park called Africa View, Sanya is more likely to be the Chinese government’s first official project farming rhino for commercial purposes.
Sanya is a town on the bottom end of Hainan province, an island a short distance from mainland China. But interestingly, it is almost as close to mainland Vietnam, which certainly suggests why this country has become so embroiled in South Africa’s current rhino poaching crisis.
While on the subject of breeding rhino, for those that believe farming them will reduce the pressures on wild populations, there is food for thought from a very recent report released by a team of researchers from Oxford University. ‘A Stated Preference Investigation into the Chinese Demand for Farmed vs. Wild Bear Bile’ by AJ Dutton, C Hepburn and D W Macdonald (released July 2011) is an in-depth analysis of whether farming bears for their bile, which is used in TCM, is a successful way of protecting wild populations of the same species. (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0021243)
The report concludes that “the ability of farmed bear bile to reduce demand for wild bear bile is at best limited and, at prevailing prices, may be close to zero or have the opposite effect.” They go on to say that “for the wildlife farming debate this indicates that at some prices the introduction of farmed competition might increase the demand for the wild product.”
Readers are well aware that I have been a strong proponent of widespread education at the user level as an integral part of any solution to the poaching crisis. And it still astounds me that some within the pro-trade lobby believe this to be a waste of time – they argue that introducing regulated trade and commercial farms is the way to go because you will not change customary practices. Well, maybe they should take a look at the incredible work being done by WildAid (www.wildaid.org). This US based organization has set about combating the illegal wildlife trade with highly visual demand reduction campaigns across the globe. They refer to it as ‘Conservation through Communication’, and have enlisted the support of numerous Chinese athletes and performing arts stars. In China their public awareness campaigns are “reaching up to 1 billion people per week with celebrity-driven consumer messaging.”
I encourage all those involved in rhino conservation to visit their website and for the decision-makers in South Africa to consider enlisting the assistance of WildAid in drawing up an awareness campaign to debunk the myth that rhino horn has medicinal value.
Lastly, the Democratic Alliance must be congratulated for their call in parliament earlier this month for an immediate moratorium on rhino hunting. Introduced by Gareth Morgan, the Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, the motion makes note of the exploitation taking place by the hunting fraternity as well as the need to strengthen governance at both national and provincial level. To date, I am unaware of any response from government or the professional hunting bodies.