Bangkok, Thailand—Following hard on the heels of Swaziland's much-criticized export of one-third of its elephants to US zoos last year, the Kingdom has now received permission from the Parties to CITES to exploit its tiny white rhino population. Despite a national total of just 61 animals, the Conference approved live sales of 7% of the rhino population and a further 1% for trophy hunting, each year.
"What signal does this send to poachers and profiteers attracted by the high value of rhino horn?" asked Nicholas Duncan, President of Save Foundation (Australia). "There is already widespread rhino poaching in Africa and Asia. Since 2002 a total of at least 230 rhino have been killed illegally. Swaziland's proposal sends out exactly the wrong message and could lead to yet further poaching pressure on fragile rhino numbers."
The decision to approve Swaziland's proposal follows recent, highly-controversial CITES votes to permit rhino trophy hunting exports from Namibia and South Africa. It has sparked further controversy since the manager of Swaziland's Big Game Parks not only owns the animals but signs the permits for export from the country.
"Swaziland's rhino population was wiped out in the early part of the 20th century and did not exist until animals were re-introduced in the 1960's," said Will Travers, President of the Species Survival Network. "During one four-year period (1988-1992) Swaziland lost 80% of its rhinos according to its own proposal. It must be hoped that today's worrying decision will not increase pressure on rhino in Swaziland and elsewhere."
Some delegates appeared understandably confused by the need for the proposal in the first place, since activities such as non-commercial trade in live animals and even trophy hunting are permissible under CITES Appendix I. Swaziland's downlisting proposal was entirely unnecessary.
"It is eminently possible and highly preferable for African countries to reap financial benefits from their wildlife without killing their animals or trading them away," recognized Winnie Kiiru, Africa Representative of the Born Free Foundation. "Economic benefits derived in situ from endangered wildlife should only be from uses that are primarily non-commercial."