Trading Rhino Horn for Guns!!
14 Feb 10
Trading Rhino Horn for Guns: Is Zimbabwe Rhino Poaching Linked to Chinese Weapons Acquisition?
Now that Zimbabwe security forces stand accused by CITES of involvement in the country’s wildlife poaching crisis, there is speculation that this corruption extends to a “rhino horn for weapons” deal with China.
If the Zimbabwean government’s deal to acquire Chinese weapons includes access to rhino horn, it would certainly help explain the country’s loss of a quarter of its rhino population and abysmal conviction rate for rhino poaching.
According to a recent TRAFFIC report prepared for CITES, illegal killing of rhinos in Zimbabwe has resulted in a loss of just over a quarter of its rhino population over the last three years.
The seriousness of the current situation in Zimbabwe is again evident in the fact that losses since 2006 represent 26% of the living rhino population, and 89% of all black rhinos illegally killed in Africa since 2006.
Compounding the situation is the fact that, in case after case, the charges are dismissed, resulting in a conviction rate of just 3% – much lower than South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, however, rhino crimes rarely result in successful prosecution. An April 2009 assessment of 123 separate poaching incidents in Zimbabwe, involving the recorded killing or wounding of 156 rhinos since 2007, indicated that only 18 cases had resulted in arrests. Of the 41 people who were arrested, only six people from three separate cases were actually convicted, three of whom were foreign nationals from Zambia and Angola who received 18-year prison terms. One Zimbabwean was sentenced to five years in prison, and two Zimbabweans were each given 12 months in jail. Overall, this represents a conviction rate of less than 3%.
All other individuals were either acquitted, released on bail, subsequently absconded or otherwise evaded prosecution, including cases involving signed confessions, repeat offenders and individuals in possession of illegal firearms and rhino horns.
Although last month, a member of the notorious Mazhongwe rhino poaching gang was sentenced to 17 years by the Masvingo regional court, it remains to be seen if the punishment will actually be carried out – or if it is just a PR stunt intended to deflect attention away from allegations of corrupt government officials.
‘Natural resources’ in exchange for weapons
In October 2009, ZimEye reported in Zimbabwe is Gateway for China’s colonization of Africa that the government eagerly traded natural resources, such as platinum, lithium, aluminum, zinc, diamonds – and land – for Chinese weapons.
In exchange for F-1 jet-fighters, vehicles and an assortment of weapons, Mugabe would give the Chinese platinum, lithium, aluminum, zinc and diamonds …
So the weapons came, amid much controversy and Zimbabwe is now at the mercy of the Chinese, who now control most facets of business in the country.
Platinum and diamond mines have been seized from their owners and given to the Chinese. Farms and even buildings have been mortgaged for weapons.
And nearly a year earlier, Wildlife Direct noted that the Zimbabwean government bartered elephant ivory for Chinese weapons.
… part of the $480,000 Zimbabwe raised when they auctioned 3.5 tons of ivory last week is earmarked as payment for a cache of military hardware set to be flown into the capital Harare soon. The reports also indicate that in the run up to the ivory auction, “substantial quantities of high caliber weapons” had disappeared from the armory of Zimbabwe’s department of parks and wildlife near State House, Harare.
During the same period, 200 elephants are reported to have been killed in the Zambezi Valley bordering Zambia. The Zimbabwe government blames this carnage on foreign animal rights groups which “want to thwart Mugabe’s bid to have CITES relax its trade rules”.
Such a disturbing arrangement makes the idea of rhino horn being traded for weapons worth closer scrutiny.
Chinese ask: ‘Got rhino?’
If any doubt remains regarding the connection between a Chinese “invasion” of Zimbabwe and the increase in illegal rhino killings, consider the following: Back in 2008, Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force warned via The Guardian that Zimbabwe’s flourishing trade links with China are behind the carnage.
We’re now down to about 400 rhinos, black and white, since the opening of the Chinese market. Normally the first thing the Chinese ask when they come here is, ‘Have you got rhino? Have you got rhino?’”
He added: “It’s all linked to the top. All those corrupt ministers are trying to cream off as much as possible before the next election. But if the carnage continues over the next two years we’ll have nothing left. The devastation taking place is not sustainable.”
Chinese pharmaceutical companies and poaching syndicates
The 2006 – 2009 spike in rhino poaching coincides with China’s designation of TCM as a “strategic industry” in late 2005.
Chinese pharmaceutical companies use stockpiled rhino horn to manufacture so-called “medicines” derived from rhino horn. However, as a hedge against inevitable stockpile depletion, fresh rhino horn is actively sought – tying Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical companies directly to organized poaching syndicates operating in Zimbabwe.
In November 2005, the Chinese government declared “traditional Chinese medicine” (TCM) production to be a “strategic industry” – and in 2006, illegal rhino horn trade and rhino poaching began to escalate.
Thus, the sheer number of illegal killed rhinos – combined with the suspiciously low conviction rate – indicates cooperation between the Zimbabwean government and China, in a bid to increase rhino horn stockpiles.
CITES meeting reveals Zimbabwe officials ’spearheading’ wildlife poaching
The findings of a CITES meeting to determine what action to be taken against Zimbabwe’s unacceptable rhino losses and wildlife poaching levels, revealed that Zimbabwe officials were found to be leading the country’s rampant poaching activity.
At a news conference Thursday in Harare, Willem Wijnstekers, secretary-general of the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said security forces had killed about 200 rhinos over the past two years, putting that population on the verge of extinction in Zimbabwe. He did not give a figure on elephants.
And Zimbabwe is even taking PR lessons from China.
Amidst the announcement of the CITES findings, a Zimbabwe government spokesperson attempted to deny the allegations, claiming via All Africa that the allegations of government involvement are rumors being peddled by the “hostile foreign media”.
We have the real Zimbabwe and the other that is the creation of the media. These people are not telling the world what is happening and we will not lose sleep over that. We see reports on the Internet, but we know the peddlers of these rumors are doing it for selfish reasons or are selling the information for money.
China is also known for its penchant for trying to thwart international scrutiny of the truth. During the Uighur riots, the Chinese government blocked social media applications, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an attempt to control access to information that would play unfavorable on the international stage.
And now China and Google are at odds over similar censorship issues.
Deeper international scrutiny is needed
Is the Zimbabwe government using rhinos as currency to conduct weapons business with the Chinese? If so, then Zimbabwe will join the growing list of countries where rhinos are declared “regionally extinct.”
Deeper scrutiny of the links between Chinese weapons acquisition and Zimbabwe security forces’ involvement in rhino poaching is desperately needed: We must examine the true nature of such a suspicious relationship on the international stage, and not allow the culprits to continue conducting this nefarious business behind closed doors.