Airlines send SA trophy hunting industry into tailspin with cargo ban

2015-05-14 10:14 - Simon Bloch
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Cape Town - Global aviation giant, Emirates Airlines, has sent shock-waves through the South African hunting industry after it became the second major airline to place an embargo on the transport of elephant, rhino, lion and tiger hunting trophies in less than a month.

The embargo becomes effective on Friday 15 May, a spokesperson for Emirates has confirmed.

Emirates Sky Cargo’s decision was publicly revealed on Tuesday, in response to an inquiry whether the airline would follow South African Airway’s recent example announced in April.

Addressed to Sarah Dyer, a UK representative of CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting), Emirates wrote in their emailed reply, “Our policy on hunting trophies is that in addition to the existing embargo on CITES-1 specimens (most critically endangered) effective 15th May 2015, we will not accept any kind of Hunting Trophies of elephant, rhinoceros, lion and tiger for carriage on Emirates services, irrespective of CITES appendix”.

Click here to read the full break down of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Faun and Flora.

Ban irrespective of Cites appendix status

Chris Mercer, executive director of CACH said he was “impressed beyond all expectations at Emirates’ strong moral stance.

“Firstly, placing the embargo takes courage, but emphasising it is 'irrespective of Cites appendix status', that shows conviction,” Mercer said.

According to Emirates, “this decision is to support international governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that are managing wildlife population towards sustaining the task to eliminate illegal trade and transportation of hunting trophies worldwide and saving wildlife heritage”.

Earlier in April, conservationists commended South African Airways for its bold decision to stop transporting hunting cargo after SAA Cargo executive, Leratho Mphete, issued a Policy and Procedures Advisory on 21 April, notifying internal stakeholders the airline had imposed the embargo with immediate effect.

International Fund for Animal Welfare(IFAW) spokesperson, Neil Greenwood has added his voice to the praise being directed at SAA for the embargo saying, “The proverbial gauntlet has been thrown down - now it will be interesting to see which other international airlines will clamp down on illegal wildlife trade. Or will pressure from the hunting industry be too much to bear?” 

Throwing down the hunting trophy gauntlet

“This audacious move by SAA and its decision makers needs to be commended. SAA is a major stakeholder in Africa’s tourism industry and has taken a positive, proactive and strategic decision to help conserve our rich and diverse natural heritage” Greenwood said.

The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), whose outfitters and members make arrangements and apply for hunting permits on behalf of foreigners, said it would be attending to the matter urgently after receiving a letter notifying it of the SAA Cargo embargo.

Unlike South Africa Airways, Delta Airways which is said to be the main transporter of hunting trophies out of SA, has zero restrictions in place according to Safari Cargo Services.

Delta has not responded to an inquiry as to whether it was feeling the heat from a petition launched on Change.org by Chris Green, Chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee.

Change.org has since received over 57 000 signature-strong petitions for the CEO of US- Atlanta-based Delta Airlines, Richard Anderson, to join the list of airlines refusing to carry hunters’ exotic trophies.

"The export of lion "trophies" hunters bringing home animals' heads and bodies to stuff and mount has increased ten-fold,"said Green.

Delta accepts hunting trophies 

In a carefully-worded statement to traveller24, while avoiding answering a list of questions, Delta media officer Lindsay McDuff gave traveller24 a standard-form statement which read, “Delta accepts hunting trophies in accordance with all US domestic and international regulations, which prohibits the possession of trophies or other items associated with protected species.

“Customers are required to produce detailed documentation of trophies to US Customs and Border Patrol officials as their trophies undergo inspection”.

CACH's Mercer said Delta’s statement "hides behind dysfunctional conservation regulation in order to avoid their responsibility, and to avoid making themselves an accomplice to the degradation of African wildlife by an out-of-control hunting industry".

With strict new ivory laws in certain states like New York and New Jersey, McDuff did not answer whether Delta had received any new or recent directives over the transport and import restrictions of hunting trophies to the USA?

According to documentation received by Safari Cargo Services, the world’s airlines that are against hunting trophies are detailed as follows, with a number of major international carriers surprisingly quite relaxed when it comes to the CITESI and CITESII bans. These include Qantas Airways, Etihad and Qatar.

Refuse to play a role in wildlife tracking supply chain

“As one of the world’s largest airlines, and the only US carrier with direct service to South Africa, Delta Air Lines is in a key position to help protect these and other vulnerable wild animal populations from further hunting and poaching pressures” Green said.

“By refusing to play a role in the wildlife trafficking supply chain, Delta Air Lines can demonstrate the strong and ethical leadership that has made it such a successful and respected company. More importantly, Delta will be helping preserve a valuable natural resource that provides one of the primary reasons customers choose to fly Delta to visit Africa and other wilderness destinations. 

"As a loyal, "Diamond Medallion" Delta customer who has logged over 650 000 miles with the company, I can attest that Eco-tourism now accounts for a full 12 percent of GDP in some African countries.

"As the Chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee, I also am acutely aware how over-hunting has devastated threatened and endangered species. It is a tragic circumstance driven almost exclusively by the $20-billion illicit trade in imperilled animal body parts,” said Green.

Vulnerable wild animal populations vs US hunting lobby 

However, with a strong American hunting lobby, it does not appear Delta will cave in to threats of a boycott.

Targeted by thousands of hunters from abroad who flock to Africa for the thrill of the kill and the opportunity to export the trophies to hang on their walls, populations of these four species are now universally recognised as threatened and endangered, due to unsustainable hunting and rampant poaching.

Recent seizures of ivory, rhino horns, lion and tiger body parts, illustrate how unscrupulous organised-crime syndicates using fake permits, false declarations, mis-labelled consignments and other nefarious methods including passenger couriers, have successfully by-passed security procedures through corrupt activities.

Airlines indirectly ensnared in endangered wildlife trafficking

On April 5, Australian Customs and Border Protection Services seized 110kgs of ivory from the cargo of a SAA flight at Perth airport in transit to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia, a major hub and trans-shipment point in the illegal ivory trade.

“In this particular instance, the shipment contained elephant tusks and was seized. We were issued with a Notice of Seizure” South African Airways spokesperson Tlali Tlali said.

“We had to act swiftly to curb the problem of illegal transportation of animals”.

Tlali said the airline would enforce the embargo until all other options have been considered and stricter control measures have been put in place to prevent a recurrence.

“We recognize that this decision could impact several stakeholders. SAA Cargo remains committed to playing a significant role in curbing the illegal transportation of all animal species while positively contributing to national and international conservation efforts.”

SAA Cargo, had in the past experienced a problem where some of the shipments containing hunting trophies were subject to mis-declaration and the company was fined in a foreign country, he said.

Trophy Hunting ban is a social responsibility decision

SAA’s Australasia country manager Tim Clyde-Smith went on record to say the ban was a social responsibility decision. 

“The vast majority of tourists visit Africa in particular to witness the wonderful wildlife that remains. We consider it our duty to work to ensure this is preserved for future generations”.

Forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan, former group executive for security at Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), applauded SAA for imposing the embargo on the CITES listed trophies.

“This is one of SAA's greatest steps forwards in recent years. It’s an absolute fallacy that without hunts called legal hunts, the eco-tourism industry would collapse. This fake rumour has been propagated by so called pro hunters to pro-long the life of the “canned hunting industry” said O’Sullivan.

It was largely through O’Sullivan’s efforts that prosecutors were able to assemble sufficient evidence to convict notorious smuggler Chumlong Lemtongthai.

Underground Rhino Horn trading rooms

O’Sulliuvan discovered whilst investigating this massive Thai / Laotian smuggling syndicate, that the station manager for Thai Airways at OR Tambo Airport was allegedly the same person who facilitated the smuggling of Rhino Horns out of South Africa, feeding into the underground Rhino Horn trading rooms in South East Asia.

According to O'Sullivan the station manager known as KK was then moved by Thai Airways to a European position and has never been prosecuted.

It was Lemtongthai who organised the killing of more than 20 rhinos at North West hunting farms by using Thai escorts and prostitutes as pseudo hunters on behalf of Laotian Vixay Keosavang, possibly the most wanted person in the illegal wildlife trafficking in the world.

Does corruption lie at the heart of the hunts?

“Without those falsified records, hundreds, if not thousands of rhinos would still be alive today. These people have created a market in Asia for these products. If you want to know where the corruption is taking place, just look at where the rhino and lion hunts are going on, and that’s a fact. The hunting industry is rotten to the core” O’Sulliuvan said.

'SA’s trophy hunting industry and export of trophies well-regulated'

When asked if she was aware of any PHASA members involved in pseudo hunting, Adri Kitshoff, Chief Executive Officer for PHASA, Kitshoff said she had not received any allegations or heard of any complaints against any of PHASA’s membership.

Kitshoff states she believes SAA’s  embargo may have been “a knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of getting fined.     

PHASA and SAA Cargo have since met in order to understand the reasons for the embargo and try to get the ban uplifted.

Kitshoff invited an official from the Department of Environmental Affairs to explain to SAA that South Africa’s trophy hunting industry and export of trophies was well regulated.

However, O’Sullivan, who personally laid charges in the Marnus Steyl, Chumlong Lemtonghthai case, disagrees.

'Falsified records means rhinos are paying the price'

“I want to go on record and say that most of the rhinos allegedly shot by foreign hunters in the North West Province, and Limpopo, were victims of the professional hunters association, whose members have falsified their records to enable the most heinous smuggling scheme this country has ever seen. This country and its rhinos are now paying the price.

“Members of the professional hunters association have engineered and facilitated the illegal hunting of CITES registered species such as elephants, rhinos, lions, the whole damn lot,” O’Sullivan said.

On Tuesday, Namibian Professional Hunting  Association (Napha)'s president, Kai-Uwe Denker, appeared to have broken rank with the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, PHASA,  by commending SAA’s action.

The captive-raised, lion hunting industry, more commonly known as canned lion hunting, is largely supported by PHASA hunters and outfitters. These captive-fenced and wilderness-deprived predators are bred specifically for the bullet, sometimes by the same owner/outfitter who sells them to the foreign hunters.

Is sustainable trophy hunting possible?

Denker stated that the illegal trafficking of wildlife products, especially elephant tusks and rhino horns, and unacceptable hunting methods such as canned lion and tiger shooting, are a worldwide concern by the conservation-orientated public.

"As such, the decision, based on actual abuse, has to be accepted. The onus now is on all stakeholders, inclusive of SAA, to see to it that actions, controls and regulations are put in place to prevent future abuse of the system, as transpired here, so that the ban can be lifted again. After all, it is of great concern that the confiscated ivory, which led to the drastic action taken by SAA, was on board one of their flights unbeknownst to the airline," he stated.

He suggested that the hunting-fraternity unanimously condemn the unacceptable practice of canned-shooting, or as it is nowadays called "captive bred shooting", and that conservation authorities all over the world implement regulations forbidding the artificial breeding of wild animals for the hunting industry.

"Only then can sustainable trophy hunting regain its rightful place as an important conservation tool to the benefit of wildlife and natural habitats," Denker added.

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*An earlier version of this report incorrectly state that British Airways transported species as per the CITES I and CITES II 


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