South Africa’s gold and platinum might be doing well, but it is the rhino index that is going stratospheric. With 11 rhinos a week biting the dust and the horn going at $55 000 a kilogram, a lot of pockets are being lined.
Last week local activists publicly ruffled some feathers with an advert that asks how the Chinese would feel if Africans — mistakenly believing it to have medicinal value — started hacking off that cute little button nose of their national symbol, the endangered Giant Panda.
This week it was Big Bertha, posthumously, that briefly made it into the media limelight. Once the favourite rhinoceros of visitors to Dabchick nature reserve in Limpopo, Bertha was on Tuesday found shot and her horn axed off, while at her side her one-month calf wailed and tried to nurse from the carcass.
What a lucky, blessed, calf! It at least survived. For now. In most cases, the calf, too, is killed and the nub removed.
Foreign superstitions combined with local need make for an unhappy equation. And then there is plain old greed. Many of the recent SA arrests for rhino poaching have involved white game farmers and veterinarians. Not groups that can claim as mitigation the exigencies of poverty.
But it is not only the lumbering rhinoceros that is being targeted by the Chinese. Next door, President Robert Mugabe’s Look East policy and the consequent influx of thousands of Chinese nationals to visit and work in Zimbabwe have had a disastrous effect on that country’s wildlife.
At the top end of the scale it is the elephant and rhino that are being chopped for tusks and horn. At the bottom end of the scale it is pangolins and baby tortoises that are being snacked on.
William Nduku, the director of Wildlife Environment Zimbabwe, last week told a press briefing that Chinese nationals were a ‘major cause of concern’ in the Mukuvisi Woodlands outside Harare. On the pretext of visiting the baby tortoises, they were stuffing these protected animals into their pockets for later consumption.
Conservation staff made several arrests but it appears that once handed over to the police, the would-be tortoise munchers were released without charge. In response, Nduku has come up with a low-tech but innovative solution: ‘What we now do is that we provide the Chinese with an escort team whenever they come here.’
It’s not only Zimbabwe’s wildlife that is disappearing down the visitors’ gullets. It’s domestic animals, too.
According to the Financial Gazette, two upmarket Harare restaurants are being investigated on allegations of animal abuse involving the consumption of cats and dogs. In recent years there have been several incidents where villagers were up in arms over Chinese miners stealing their dogs and eating them.
Ed Lanca, national chairman of Zimbabwe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says that problem is two-fold: ‘Although there are no specific laws to prohibit the consumption of certain types of non-protected species, it is the manner in which the animals are killed that is disturbing.’
Lanca explained that the dogs are hung from trees and beaten to death. The Chinese believe hanging and beating the dogs induces adrenalin, which helps to tenderise the meat.
‘Globally, the Chinese do not respect animal rights. Animal rights organisations worldwide are working with them in addressing this problem,’ says Lanca.
Some five million Chinese citizens work abroad, increasingly in Africa, and that is forecast to rise to 100m by 2020. Since the consumption of exotic foods is a Chinese status symbol, African wildlife is going to be under increasing pressure.
The Vietnamese killed their last Javan rhinoceros in 2010. Now they and their Chinese neighbours are coming to a conservation area near you. Its take-away time.