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Rainforests to Rhinos

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Rainforests & rhinos, have one thing in common. Both are being destroyed at an unsustainable rate. Having just recently written a post about how nature is benefiting from us being in lockdown. It dawned on me, while this might be true in the UK and much of continental Europe. In other parts of the world however, it’s business as usual. In fact for some, the Corvid 19 pandemic has been something of a bonus.

While the cat’s away

Corvid 19 has meant there has been a huge drop in the numbers of people able to go to work. Everyday life as we knew it is on hold. Countries like South Africa are subject to very strict lockdown measures. Whereas Brazil has confirmed more than 330,890 cases making it the third worst affected country behind Russia and the USA. While these countries battle to contain the spread of the virus, it means they have fewer resources available to carry out other duties. For example monitoring illegal logging and mining activities or patrolling reserves for poachers. For the people engaged in these activities this is an ideal opportunity to profit. While there are less eyes watching them and the risks of being caught have greatly reduced.

Indeed, in the Amazon the figures of this profiteering are alarming. Data collected by the National Institute for Space Research have shown since lockdown measures were introduced in April this year, deforestation has actually increased 64% when compared to the same month in 2019. The situation is further compounded as we head towards July which is peak fire season. I am sure we can all remember the images of fires raging across the rainforest last year.

Illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest
Deforestation is up 64% this April compared to the same period in 2019


A few months ago I was recommended to watch a documentary called Stroop. In this fascinating, but harrowing documentary two filmmakers highlight the work of South African Rangers. They then take us on a journey (often at great risk to their own safety) on how rhino horn is smuggled and processed before being sold either as “medicine” or ornaments for the wealthy.

As I say, at times it is hard to watch. But one cannot help but admire the work of those trying to put an end to this barbaric trade. The effects of Corvid 19 is now making this vital work even harder. Many conservation organisations rely heavily on tourism and donations to fund their programmes. Without this vital income source they are now having to refocus their objectives. Ensuring monthly bills can be paid, staff retention and wages. Even once the pandemic is over, the economic long-term effects are likely to have serious consequences on how these organisations operate.

STROOP - the story of rhinos and their prized horn

Those rangers that are still operating are having to endure additional hardship. Save the Rhino say, many have had to take pay cuts due to loss of revenue, they are unable to visit their families, and any morale boosting training for them has had to be cut.

To make matters worse, an article in National Geographic reported rhino horn is now being offered as a cure to the virus. There is of course no scientific evidence to show that this is indeed true. However, it is likely to increase the demand for rhino horn.

The answer?

The Corvid 19 pandemic has highlighted the dire situation faced not only by rainforests and rhinos, but all endangered flora, fauna and the environments they inhabit worldwide.

So why is this happening? Well, leaving aside agriculture for now, though it is a major driver for deforestation and habitat loss. But, really requires a section to itself, demand and greed are, in my opinion, two of the biggest reasons we fell rainforests and slaughter animals. The supply and demand economy, goes hand in hand with greed, the need to amass more and more wealth. It is a beast whose hunger can never be satiated and it will not stop until it has finally destroyed everything, including itself.

The other problem is, it is a very select few who truly profit from this and they tend to be at the top of the pyramid. Those at the bottom, who take the risks, do it for very different reasons. Yes, money is the main reason, but not money to buy a new sports car or yacht. No, they do it to enable them to feed their families and put a roof over their heads. Many of these people live in abject poverty and in their eyes are just trying to improve their lot, even if it means often risking imprisonment or their lives to do it.

So what is the answer? Well that’s the million dollar question. I know many advocate education and I completely agree education is important. It enables people to get better jobs and in doing so gives them the chance of a better future for them and their families. On the flip side of course, it does not matter how well educated you are, if there are no jobs available, then no amount of education is going to help. People need meaningful, properly paid employment if they are going to be lured away from mining, logging and poaching. You need to give them an alternative, brighter future.

A New Deal for the world

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945) was confronted with a similar problem as a result of the Great Depression (from 1929 until the late 1930’s). People from all walks of life found themselves jobless and with no prospects of finding employment, many lost everything. His solution was to implement what he called the New Deal. This was an ambitious scheme of state funded public projects and financial reforms. It involved building projects such as airports, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges and dams.

Roosevelt also recognised those in rural areas were in need of help. His response was to implement rural welfare projects sponsored by the Works Progress Administration, National Youth Administration, Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps, these initiatives included school lunches, the building of new schools, opening roads in remote areas, reforestation and purchase of marginal lands to enlarge national forests.

Of course, I appreciate this requires money and will power, two things often in short supply. But, something needs to be done to implement lasting change.

Legalise the sale of rhino horn!

One interesting observation from STROOP, was made by a rhino “farmer”. He was one of a group of people who legally buy and protect rhino’s in South Africa. Often it has to be said at considerable personal cost, financially and otherwise. All the rhinos these people care for have their horns humanely removed, this makes them less appealing to poachers. The horns are then sent and stored in government owned warehouses.

rhino poaching
Something must be done to put an end to scenes like this.

His solution, which I thought seemed perfectly rational, was to sell the horn they removed on the open market. In doing so this would have two effects. One, if rhino horn was freely and legally available via regulated markets, the need for poaching would be virtually eradicated. Two, if the market was flooded with rhino horn, then as in accordance with the laws of supply and demand, the price would fall. Why then would people pay considerably higher prices for poached horn? It is in some ways a similar model the Dutch government used in its approach to cannabis. By legalising it, controlling its production and distribution, they have virtually eliminated the shady, greedy middlemen. They also benefit from taxes raised on its sale.

So why cannot they do this with rhino horn? The trouble is there is a world-wide ban on its sale. To overturn this would require having to deal with a vast bureaucratic governing body – and we all know how that often turns out! Sadly there just does not seem to be the will to implement, what on paper seems such an obvious solution.

The future is still in out hands – just

There is still time for the Amazon rainforest, the rhino and all the world’s endangered life. But, it is counting down fast. Meaningful action needs to be taken now, the luxury of saying “I’ll sort it tomorrow” has long gone.

Below is an interactive map and statistics from the Global Forest Watch (GFW) organisation. This is an open-source web application to monitor global forests in near real-time. GFW is an initiative of the World Resources Institute, with partners including Google, United States Agency for International Development, the University of Maryland  and many other academic, non-profit, public, and private organizations. I have it set to show data from Brazil. You can scroll to any part of the world and view data on forest destruction. In addition you can set other parameters such as the amount carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of deforestation.

It provides sobering food for thought, while you sip your cup of tea (Fairtrade tea obviously!)

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