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SA Stop sending mixed messages to Asia


We have just got back in to Cape Town after a fascinating two weeks in Asia. My eyes were certainly opened up by what is happening over there. There is clearly no recession and the appetite for buying and consuming more and more branded goods is an average person’s “sport” and hobby. Many Asians seem to work so that can eat, shop and shop! And do they live well!

I delivered 6 lectures in three countries during my two weeks. During these lectures I discussed and debated the rhino horn and ivory dilemmas that we face amongst many other topics. In my Philippines lecture, I focused more on the ivory issue due to their love of religious ivory icons.

I challenged the Manila audience, made up of the wealthiest of the wealthy, to question their need to use ivory. Afterwards, one of the audience who has been to Africa a few times took me aside and after numerous triple whiskies (he alone must have finished off a bottle of the best) he loosened up enough for the Asian politeness to be overtaken with a directness and clarity that I have seldom experienced anywhere. His message was very clear and very simple… So long as South Africa sends out messages to the world that it is okay to consume ivory and rhino horn products, they will keep consuming the products in greater and greater quantities.

It is that simple in his view.

According to him. Africa sends out very mixed and confusing messages. On the one hand, we say our rhino are in peril and on the other we allow people to shoot rhinos! Ditto with elephants! He says that Asians will keep on consuming ivory and rhino products in greater and greater quantities so long as its legal to buy ivory and rhino products (even if some of the products arrive in Asia via the illegal routes)

He was even clearer with his suggested solutions….. Either (a) we have ample stocks and that we can then continue to trade with increasing numbers of Asian buyers or (b) we make all trade in ivory and rhino illegal and if that happens the consumption of ivory and rhino products will be largely eliminated. There is no middle ground in his view. SA in particular needs to stop sending out mixed messages

Having listened to all these viewpoints over the past two weeks entrenches my view that the pro-trade lobby argument is fundamentally flawed as it does not take into account that the number of Asian consumers of ivory and rhino products will continue to escalate as will the volume that they consume if we allow the legal trade to flourish….

On another front, there is a passionate bunch of folk in Hong Kong that are pressurising their Govt to burn their confiscated ivory stocks. They have something like 26 tons of ivory in large warehouses that in their view should be burnt as a clear demonstration to all about the value of ivory. They have a petition that they would like us to sign and circulate at




  1. Really interesting report, Colin. Thanks for posting. Your contact was quite right. It seems to me that one of the difficulties of the poaching and illegal trade issues is that people have a tendency to divide the world up into victims and villains, when in fact it’s rarely that clear cut.

    On a recent trip to Vietnam, people kept referring to the legal hunting of rhinos in SA, as well as to the plan to propose the legalisation of rhino horn trading.

    Below is a composite of two separate conversations that I had with such people, for illustrative purposes only!

    VN person: So…is SA really serious about this rhino poaching?

    Me: Yes of course they are…..look at all the money and effort they’ve expended…..soldiers deployed to the KNP, drones, new legislation, MoUs, bans on Vietnamese hunters, hundreds of poachers caught and so on.

    VN person: But…then why do they allow people to kill them legally?

    Me; Ah…well…you’s like…um…a shop where someone goes in and buys something. That’s legal. But if they pick something up and walk out without paying…that’s illegal.

    VN person: So paying to kill them is fine. But not paying is bad?

    Me: Er…..I guess that’s the thinking, yes.

    VN person: OK, .but why do they keep talking about extinction and the numbers going down…and then let hunters keep killing them?

    Me: Well, that’s because they think that killing the ones they want to kill legally pays for protecting the ones they don’t want to kill.

    VN person: So hunting a few rhinos has protected the rest?

    Me: Um…doesn’t look like it, no.

    VN person: And what about this proposal to trade rhino horn legally? Surely they want people to stop buying it, not buy more?

    Me: Well, what they want is for you guys to buy just the legal stuff and to stop buying the illegal stuff

    VN person: But how will we know which……


  2. This is a fantastic post Colin because it reiterates from the horse’s mouth what we have suspected all along with the ivory and rhino horn trade: ANY trade, legal or not, sends the wrong message. It highlights too that the battle needs to be fought and won here at home. We need to ensure policy changes in the range states, not the buyer states. If we are closed for business, the Asian buyers won’t come.

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