"What passes for economics in wildlife trade literature avoids several serious conceptual and empirical questions, " says Dr. Alejandro Nadal.

“What passes for economics in wildlife trade literature avoids several serious conceptual and empirical questions, ” says Dr. Alejandro Nadal.

Supporters of South Africa’s push to legalize rhino horn trade are fond of saying that the position is one of economics — but expert scrutiny reveals that the “rhino-nomics” theory is simplistic, flawed, and based on naïve textbook concepts.

Speaking at the International Wildlife Trafficking Symposium in London, Dr. Alejandro Nadal — Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies of El Colegio de Mexico and Co-Chair of TEMTI-CEESP-IUCN — opened his presentation by stating that any debate on wildlife trade policy “needs to take into account the fact that markets do not behave in accordance to the simplified narrative of textbook economics”.

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41 Governments pledged to end wildlife trafficking at the historical London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.

41 Governments pledged to end wildlife trafficking at the historical London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.

Political leaders from 41 countries pledged their support in the fight against wildlife trafficking at last week’s historic London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.

The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in global wildlife trafficking, now considered the fourth most lucrative form of transnational organized crime and totaling $19 billion annually. This grisly crisis reached the highest political levels in January 2014, prompting the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution sanctioning “individuals and entities” which use wildlife trafficking to support armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A separate sanctions regime targeting the link between illegal wildlife trade and regional instability was also adopted for the Central African Republic.

At the London Conference, a comprehensive Declaration “calling upon the international community to act together to bring [wildlife trafficking] to an end” was adopted by 41 countries (download it here).

The Declaration calls for a series of actions (underscored by a series of tangible action steps) to be taken in order to achieve that goal — for example, “eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products”.

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South Africa's trophy hunt industry. Photo by Profberger via Wikimedia Commons

More woes for South Africa’s trophy hunt industry. Photo by Profberger via Wikimedia Commons

The July 2013 seizure of 24 rhino horns and arrest of 16 suspects in the Czech Republic points yet again to South Africa’s failure to properly monitor its own trophy hunt industry.

The “hunters” were said to have been hired by an “international criminal gang” to legally kill rhinos in South Africa. This is in order to use the CITES permit loophole which allows for the import of “legally” sourced rhino horns into the Czech Republic. Customs officials at Prague’s Václav Havel International Airport became suspicious and contacted the police, according to Radio Prague. Although no names were released due to the ongoing investigation, among those arrested were Czech as well as foreign nationals. The operation was conducted in conjunction with INTERPOL.

South Africa’s trophy hunt industry has been at the center of rhino horn trafficking for quite some time. The first Vietnamese “pseudo-hunt” apparently took place in 2003, and in November 2009, the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC warned in its report ahead of CITES CoP15 that these bogus hunts had already been taking place on “the same game ranches repeatedly”.

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