The northern white rhino is heading the way of the dinosaurs. With only five left on Earth – three in Kenya, one in America, and one in the Czech Republic – extinction is now inevitable. It survived for millions of years, but could not survive mankind.
Arguably the biggest setback since the London conference has been the failure to arrest, prosecute and convict all but a handful of players in the transnational wildlife mafia. Bergin said he had attended one recent meeting where there was talk of progress, but “the glaring silence in the room was the lack of successful prosecutions”.
He continued: “We don’t see people going to jail. It’s easy to say we’re putting more dogs at airports or doing more training, but the international community is only going to get serious about this when we see people going to jail. We need to see a preponderance of prosecutions and sentences handed down that sends a message to the traffickers that it’s not worth the risk.”
The concern is shared by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Tom Milliken, its rhino programme coordinator, said: “In all of this, the judiciary in many countries is lagging behind the times. A white South African who was reportedly a major player in the trade and his cohorts were arrested, but got out on bail. Organised crime can have the best legal guns in the country and those involved in rhino crime are heavily lawyered up.”
The scale of impunity was vividly illustrated when Bartholomäus Grill, a German journalist with Der Spiegel, went to Mozambique to investigate the supply chain from South Africa through middlemen to the horns’ ultimate buyers in Vietnam, where they fetch up to $65,000 a kilo – more valuable than gold. When he visited the home of a notorious poaching kingpin, Grill was taken hostage by an angry mob and threatened with death. Far from offering help, the local police appeared to be under the kingpin’s thumb.
“We tend to think people will be moved by the same messages as us, but those messages could have the opposite effect,” he said. “People want to demonstrate their wealth and status. If we say rhinos have rarity value, they could say, ‘Look at me, I can get it’.
If this isn’t pathetic I don’t know what is. With 1 male left worldwide, northern white rhinos under guard 24 hours
What kind of person does this? To my mind there are two kinds. The ‘ground troops’ – desperately poor locals who will do anything to survive – and the cruel and greedy kingpins behind them, like these characters. Then there are extreme hunter’s groups like the notorious Safari Club International (SCI) that are composed of the very rich, and who delight in the killing of endangered species (see also here).
Short story. Many years ago, I briefly worked for a furniture delivery business here in California. One day we were assigned to deliver some expensive leather couches to a home in Atascadero. When we arrived, we were taken aback by the size of the place. Obviously the occupant was a person of means. So we made our delivery.
As we were about to leave the man, a short, round figure as I remember, suddenly pipes up asking if we’d like to see his “game room”. I figured he probably had a velvet pool table, maybe a private bowling alley or something like that. He smiled, opened the large wooden double doors and my mouth dropped. In that huge room he had representatives of probably every major, large, threatened and endangered species of Africa. Lions, Cheetahs, a variety of large ungulates etc, etc. Likely, he was a member of the above mentioned hunter’s group.
As we were leaving, I turned to him and said, “Wow! It looks like you have just about everything in that room!” He beamed. He said that he was planning another trip to Africa, this time to bag himself an elephant. I said “Well then, the only thing that will be missing is the head of a poacher!” His causal smile dropped and he told us to get out.