8. Saving the rhinoceros, elephants and other wildlife

There are some major problems in wildlife conservation not directly related to climate change. Foremost around these is the poaching of rhinoceros for their horns and the poaching of elephants for their tusks and many other wildlife destructions. We believe that the best way to stop the pouching is not to add more armed guards but to change attitudes about reasons rhino horns and elephant tusks are desired.

We would like to think that it would be possible the follow the experience of the use of egret feathers on women's hats in the late 1800s.The main drivers of this plume trade were millinery centers in New York and London. They were described as “the Mecca of feather killers of the world.” It was calculated that in a single nine-month period he London market had consumed feathers from nearly 130,000 egrets. And egrets were not the only species under threat. In 1886, it was estimated that 50 North American bird species were being slaughtered for their feathers. Two women, Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Minna Hall, set off a revolt. Their boycott of the trade would culminate in formation of the National Audubon Society and passage of the Migratory Bird Act by Congress on March 4, 1913. The law, was a landmark in American conservation history, outlawed market hunting and forbade interstate transport of birds.

Pound for pound Rhino horns are worth more gold and elephant tusks are almost worth that much. As long as this is the case, poor Africans will be ready to risk their life to slaughter them.

Rhino horn consumers are wealthy and powerful and as such are seen as influential people within Vietnamese society,” says Dr Jo Shaw, WWF-SA’s Rhino Co-ordinator. She adds, “While their reasons for purchasing and consuming rhino horn are linked to an underlying belief in its medicinal properties there is a current trend of use to enhance social standing.”

Shaw further explains,
“Research reveals that typical users of rhino horn are successful, well-educated men, over the age of 40 who live in Viet Nam’s main urban centers. They value their luxury lifestyle, which is often based around meeting peer group pressures and tend to view animals as commodities to serve functional and income-generating purposes rather than feeling an emotional  connection”. 

Perhaps the most significant finding is the fact that beyond current consumer groups lies a large “intender” group: people who are not currently buying or using rhino horn, but who expressed their  intent to do so in future. Dr Naomi Doak of TRAFFIC’s Greater Mekong Program says, “Intenders want to become buyers and users of rhino horn as it is favored and valued by those they want to  impress. They have already made a conscious decision to purchase rhino horn even though they know it is illegal.”

Doak adds, “We need a combination of enhanced law enforcement and
demand reduction campaigns to shift attitudes and behavior against the trend in rhino horn use within the growing middle-class in Viet Nam – without changing the situation in the end user market the pressure on rhinos will continue to inflate. Our new insights on what is driving demand will allow the most targeted and influential response to dissuade consumption”.

Dr Morné du Plessis, WWF-SA’s CEO concludes, “Understanding and influencing the drivers of rhino horn demand in end-user markets - such as Viet Nam – forms a fundamental part of WWF-SA’s five point strategic framework to address the dramatic increase in rhino poaching and combat the threat to rhinos. This pioneering consumer research will help us achieve these goals, as the fight against rhino poaching will ultimately be won in Asia, not Africa.”

Similar programs to
change demand have been initiated by the following organizations.

The illegal killing of African rhinos was a relatively minor occurrence until the early 2000s, at which point increasing consumer demand from Asia began to drive rapidly increasing poaching levels.

Although rhino horn is made up of keratin–the same substance that human hair and nails consist of–there is a widespread belief in Asia that rhino horn possesses various curative and spiritual properties. Many of these are embedded in cultural and social norms, which makes developing impactful behavioral change responses an ongoing conservation challenge.

A TRAFFIC project running in Viet Nam partnered with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and business leaders, opinion makers and government figures to give them the tools necessary to deliver meaningful behavioral change messages.

The project, also part of the Chi Initiative, helped amplify targeted messages through well known public organizations, cementing successful partnerships with influential groups and sharing culturally specific messages through locally-recognizable channels.

WildAid's mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. WildAid works to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products, and to promote energy conservation, via global public awareness campaigns. WildAid also strives to create model field conservation programs and to strengthen marine protected areas around the world.

“We believe that when the buying [and demand] stops, the killing can too.”

The illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion dollar global industry largely driven by consumer demand in expanding economies.

While most wildlife conservation groups focus on scientific studies and anti-poaching efforts, WildAid works to reduce global [demand and] consumption of wildlife products and to increase local support for conservation efforts.

We also work with governments and partners to protect fragile marine reserves from illegal fishing and shark finning, to enhance public and political will for anti-poaching efforts, and to reduce climate change impacts.

WildAid scored 100% in overall score and rating, financial, and accountability and transparency by Charity Navigator.

Charities like the World Wildlife Fund have budgets in the $150 million range. Although the goals of the WildAid most closely match those of the ComingsFoundation - that decreasing demand is key to combating pouching - the WildAid budgets are in a modest $11 million range. Thus, we believe that our support of WildAid will provide one of the most efficient means of supporting our goals.

In the past 40 years, the world has lost 95% of its rhinos. Although poaching has declined slightly in recent years, far too many rhinos are still killed for their horns. To address demand for rhino horn, WildAid campaigns to debunk the myths about rhino horn’s curative properties. In partnership with the Ho Chi Minh City Health Department, we have produced messages with traditional medicine doctors speaking out against the use of rhino horn. We brought campaign ambassadors on trips to Kenya to learn about the threats facing rhinos and to meet the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos as part of TV programs to raise broader awareness. Additionally, 100 top Vietnamese CEOs have signed our pledge never to buy, use or sell rhino horn.

Working with influential public figures in Vietnam and China, and in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation, we are raising public awareness about the realities of rhino horn. Our 2016 survey in Vietnam found a 67% decline from 2014 in the number of people who believe that rhino horn has medicinal effects.

Knowledge that rhino horn is composed of substances found in hair and fingernails increased drastically by 258% from 19% in 2014 to 68% in 2016. Over half of the respondents said they’d heard rhino protection messages in the past year and 99% agree that the messages are useful and discourage people from purchasing rhino horn.

Up to 33,000 elephants a year have been killed for their tusks Every day across Africa, poachers kill elephants to meet demand for ivory products in Asia, the U.S. and other markets. WildAid’s efforts to reduce consumer demand and end the ivory trade will help stop the massacre for good. Our campaigns raise awareness of the elephant poaching crisis, support lawmakers in banning ivory sales, and measurably reduce demand for ivory in Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and the U.S.
  • China has closed all 172 ivory carving factories and retail shops.
  • Ivory seized coming into China fell by 80% in 2016.
  • Wholesale ivory prices in Hong Kong and China dropped as much as 78% between 2014 and 2016.

On December 31, 2017, China, once the world’s largest ivory market, banned all domestic ivory sales. WildAid was instrumental in supporting the government in this historic action, the greatest single step in safeguarding the future of the African elephant. We continue our efforts to support a ban on ivory sales in Japan and Vietnam.

In 2012, WildAid launched a massive campaign to reduce ivory demand in China in partnership with Save the Elephants and the African Wildlife Foundation. Since then, public awareness of the crisis has grown rapidly. Our surveys showed a 50% increase from 2012 to 2014 in the number of Chinese who believe that elephant poaching is a major problem. The surveys also revealed that 95% of the public supports government action to end the ivory trade. According to traders, wholesale ivory prices in China and Hong Kong dropped 57-78% in 2016 from the 2014 high of $2,100 per kilo.

The United States is a large market for wildlife trafficking in the world.

Wildlife trafficking is a $10-$20 billion-a-year industry that is pushing many endangered species to the brink of extinction. Illegal wildlife products may include jewelry, traditional medicine, clothing, furniture, and souvenirs, as well as some exotic pets. An overwhelming majority of Americans say they care about the conservation of wildlife (more than care about climate change), but most are unaware they their purchases may be contributing to the problem.

WildAid and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are partnering together to help stop wildlife trafficking. American consumers have a huge role to play in conserving wildlife around the world, because when the buying stops, the killing can too.

China made it illegal to buy and sell elephant ivory at the end of last year, and the law is already producing positive results. Among 2,000 people surveyed across 15 Chinese cities with ivory markets, those who previously said that they’d either bought ivory products in the past and planned to do so again, or wanted to buy ivory products for the first time, dropped substantially now that the law is in full force, according to two new studies by WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Additionally, all pre-ban legal ivory shops visited by wildlife trafficking experts in 2018 had stopped selling ivory, and the magnitude of illegal ivory trade in most of the cities and online platforms surveyed had dropped.

Despite these promising results, there’s still more work to do. Ivory trafficking hotspots remain in China, including along its border with Vietnam. Awareness of the ban is also low.

WWF spoke with Ming Yao, a member of WWF’s wildlife conservation team who has worked closely on ivory demand reduction projects, to learn more about her point of view on China’s ivory ban and how it has influenced consumer behavior in her country.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), is a global agreement between governments to follow rules to monitor, regulate, or ban international trade in species under threat. 

In the mid-20th century, governments were beginning to recognize that trade in some wild animals and plants had a devastating impact on those species. These species were being driven toward extinction through unsustainable use for food, fuel, medicine and other purposes.

And while individual governments could control what happened within their borders, they had no authority over the impacts of international trade in these species. In 1973, 21 countries addressed this issue by signing the CITES agreement.

Conservation impacts
After four decades, CITES remains one of the cornerstones of international conservation. There are 182 member Parties and trade is regulated in more than 35,000 species. Representatives of CITES nations meet every two to three years at a Conference of the Parties to review progress and make adjustments to the list of protected species, which is grouped into three categories with different levels of protection:
  • Appendix I: Includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. Trade in these species, or even parts of them, is completely banned, except in rare cases such as scientific research.
  • Appendix II: Contains species like hippopotamus and many corals that are not yet threatened with extinction but which could become threatened if unlimited trade were allowed. Also included are “look-alike” species that closely resemble those already on the list for conservation reasons. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally, but there are strict rules.
  • Appendix III: Species whose trade is only regulated within a specific country can be placed on Appendix III if that country requires cooperation from other nations to help prevent illegal exploitation.
CITES also brings together law enforcement officers from wildlife authorities, national parks, customs and police agencies to collaborate on efforts to combat wildlife crime targeted at animals such as elephants and rhinos.

WWF urges governments to recognize the serious nature of wildlife crime and take strong action at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) hosted in the South African capital city of Johannesburg from Sept. 24 – Oct. 5, 2016.

Since CoP16, international momentum has been building against wildlife crime, with a number of actions and commitments from governments to combat wildlife trafficking. The world is clearly uniting against wildlife crime and CoP17 represents an opportunity to put these commitments into action through strong measures on illegal wildlife trade, corruption, demand reduction and compliance. WWF will be pushing for the adoption of these proposals—and calling for countries that fail to meet their commitments to be held to account under CITES, facing trade suspensions if necessary.

The agenda for this CoP is the largest ever with a record 182 Parties and a record number of species listing proposal and agenda items up for debate. It is a critical conservation conference.

WWF will be focusing advocacy and lobbying efforts on 20 key listing proposals and a similar number of agenda items, including critical wildlife trade issues related to rhinos, elephants, tigers, pangolins, sharks, and rays.