Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ron weighs in on the US ivory crush

The US recently destroyed its stockpile of confiscated ivory.  There has been a lot of debate on whether this was worth doing.  To see my take on this issue, read the comments I have made to an article by Professor Douglas MacMillan of the University of Kent, an economist who has derided the burning as foolish and useless.  I disagree (and I don't think the good professor, however fine an economist he may be, knows much about elephants or the ivory trade,

Feel free to join the debate yourself!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An Evening For Elephants: Speaking Engagements in Toronto and Sudbury

On December 5, I will be speaking in Toronto at an event organized by Zoocheck Canada. Here are the details, from

Join renowned conservationist, lawyer and award winning science author Ronald Orenstein as he explores the world of ivory and rhino horn trade. A story of international crime thousands of miles away in countries few of us visit. Compelling, riveting, fascinating!

Q & A and book signing will follow the talk.

Palmerston Library
 Palmerston Ave. (2 min walk from Bathurst subway station)
 Thursday December 5th 2013 7pm
Tickets: $10.00 (at the door)
Tickets: (416) 285-1744

On December 7, I will be appearing in Sudbury, Ontario on a programme organized by Sajidha Bagha and Canadian supporters of African Elephants. The time and place:

Science North
 100 Ramsey Lake Road
Sudbury, ON Canada
Greater Sudbury, ON P3E 5S9 Canada
Saturday, 7 December 2013 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM (EST)

Here is the official blurb:

A fascinating and exciting evening dedicated to African Elephants. Join us for an enthralling presentation by Dr. Ronald Orenstein, one of the world's leading experts on the elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn trade. Dr. Orenstein,an author, zoologist, lawyer and tireless campaigner for wildlife,has been at the vanguard of the worldwide movement to save Africa's largest animals for more than twenty-five years. His talk will look at how the wildlife trade works, the crime syndicates that are involved and what can be done. Don't miss this passionate, illustrated presentation!

Launching of Dr. Orenstein's book"Ivory, Horn and Blood" in Northern Ontario and book signing, will follow the talk.

Journey through the elephant orphanage run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, through the experiences of Science North Staff Scientist Bruce Doran. Follow a baby orphaned elephants life at the Sheldrick Orphanage in the acclaimed documentary, "For the Love of Elephants", narrated by David Suzuki.

Doors open at 6.30 p.m Refreshments will be served.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hear Ron's Interview on "Behind the Schemes"

Rhishja Cota-Larson of Annamiticus recently recorded a lengthy interview with me for her series of podcasts on illegal wildlife trade, Behind the Schemes.  You can listen to it here, or here on iTunes.

Behind the Schemes is also available for subscription.  Rhishja's past interviews feature guests such as Naftali Honig from Project for the Application of Law for Fauna, who has been actively engaged in fighting poachers in Central Africa,  Dr. Bibhab Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN Asian Rhino Specialist Group, and South African journalist Julian Rademeyer, author of Killing for Proft: Exposing the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade.  These are interviews worth hearing!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ron's Argument Against Rhino Trade Appears in the Times of Swaziland

On October 10 the Times of Swaziland ran a feature article arguing in favour of South Africa's proposal to legalise trade in rhinoceros horn.  My reply, slightly edited for length, has now appeared in the same newspaper.  Here it is:

14/10/2013 04:14:00
By Dr Ronald Orenstein

Mr Reilly’s article “Let’s make rhino farming legal” (October 10), in support of legalised rhino farming, is based on a number of misapprehensions.

He states that a legalised trade in rhino horn would reduce the takings received by illegal traders, by whatever percentage of the market illegal trade was able to capture.  This simplistic assumption overlooks the very real possibility that the existence of a legal trade would further stimulate the market and might actually result in greater profits for illegal traders as a result.

One of the major problems in discussing trade in rhinoceros horn is that there are a number of different markets, with consumers seeking it not only as a traditional medicine but (mistakenly) as a cancer cure, as a status symbol, or as an additive to alcoholic drinks; and any marketing scheme that does not cover all of these would leave a substantial buying public that continues to purchase from illegal sources.

The author also repeats the old but mistaken statement that ‘nothing has worked’ to protect rhinoceroses up until now.

As a zoologist and lawyer who has worked in this area for over 25 years, and who has recently published a book on the subject (“Ivory, Horn, and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis”, Firefly Books), I can assure Mr Reilly that a combination of strong and effective enforcement on the ground and effective regulation of the market, including demand-reduction programmes, has indeed worked in the past, and worked very well.

During the 1990s, it was believed by many conservationists that rhinoceros conservation was on an upward trend as a result of such efforts in both Africa and Asia.

it is true that the rise in affluence in China and Vietnam has led to a new poaching surge that has cancelled out most of the gains that had been made, to suggest that these methods have never worked, and therefore cannot work again, is inaccurate.
Mr Reilly rightly points out that there is very little time left for us to put conservation methods in place if we are to save rhinoceros populations. Unfortunately, one of the chief problems with resorting to a legal trade regime is that it will unquestionably take a number of years before such a scheme can gain international acceptance.

The next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will not take place for three years, and the chances that the parties to that Convention would agree to a legal trade before then are vanishingly small.
Even if trade were to be approved at that meeting, it would undoubtedly, if ivory is any example, be dependent on certain conditions being met, including approval of buyers, followed by further discussion at meetings of the CITES Standing Committee.

This means that it is highly unlikely that even a broadly-supported legal trade would be able to start before 2017 at the earliest.  We cannot afford to put off conservation for that long.

Further, as the article suggests, China may already be taking steps to establish its own farms and, if it is successful in doing so, experience with similar situations suggests that it would not be interested in purchasing horns from southern Africa if it can guarantee its own supply. Therefore, any suggestion that legal trade would generate much in the way of revenue for conservation may be ill-based.

The entire argument for legal trade, in addition, ignores the chief threat to rhinoceros populations in southern Africa – namely, continued poaching in the Kruger National Park. Despite private ownership schemes, that is where most of the animals are and it is where most of them are being killed.

Any solution that does not immediately address problems in the Kruger will fail to address the biggest problems facing rhinoceros conservation today.

Rather than supporting legal sale, it would be far better if all rhinoceros range countries, including South Africa and Swaziland, were to get behind rigorous enforcement combined with support for demand reduction campaigns in the market, and I believe that such campaigns can best be supported if it is made clear once and for all that rhinoceros horns will never appear in legal commercial trade.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Ivory, Horn and Blood" released in North America

My new book has been officially released in North America!

Ivory, Horn & Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis, my eighth book, is probably the one closest to my heart.  I have worked on this issue for over twenty-five years, and I was one of the behind-the-scenes crafters of the deal that led to the original ivory ban in 1989.  It is heartwrenching, after years of success, to see us mired once again in a poaching crisis.  In this book, I have tried to explain how we got onto this mess, and to suggest some ways to get us out of it.  

We don't have much time.

If you want to buy my book (and I hope you do!), you can order a hard copy from one of the sources listed here.   If you own a Kindle, this link will allow you to buy an e-book copy from the Amazon distributor in your region.

Here is the official press release from Firefly Books:

Meticulous research, chilling facts.... an important and much needed book. 
-- Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute

If it is understanding you seek, turn these pages. 
-- Virginia McKenna, OBE, Founder, The Born Free Foundation

If you care about elephants and rhinos, and the poaching onslaught that threatens their extinction in the wild, this is the book for you. 
-- Ian Redmond, OBE, Ambassador, UN Great Apes Survival Program

Firefly Books Releases Ivory, Horn & Blood
Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis
TORONTO, ON, Oct 09, 2013 (Menafn - Marketwired via COMTEX) --In 1989, after a decade of slaughter that saw one-half of all African elephants killed by poachers, the international community issued a worldwide ban on ivory trading. In 1997, just as elephant recoveries were gaining momentum, the ban was relaxed. Then in 2008, China won the right to import ivory legally from four designated countries insouthern Africa. China soon became the world's leading destinationfor smuggled ivory. At the same time, an upsurge of interest in rhino horn from a newly affluent Vietnam threatened the last of the world's rhinos.
"Today we face a new and even more urgent crisis. The global ivory trade is back with a vengeance," says Ronald Orenstein, a veteran of the fight to stop poaching and to save the world's elephants and rhinoceroses. It is headline news. Ruthless militias from the Lord's Resistance Army to Al-Shabaab buy their weapons with the proceeds of "blood ivory". Organized crime syndicates control the movement of ivory and rhino horn from Africa to Asia. World leaders including Ban Ki-Moon and Barack Obama have condemned the trade as a threat not just to wildlife, but to global security.
In Ivory, Horn & Blood (October 2013, 29.95 hardcover) Ronald Orenstein exposes the poaching crisis for what it is: a brutal slaughter of animals and people that will end only when there are no more elephants and rhinoceroses, or when the world makes serious efforts to rein in an-out-of-control demand for ivory and horn.
Elephants are in "free-fall", as well-documented statistics reveal:
--Ten years ago, 4 out of every 10 African elephants that died were killed by poachers. Today, that figure is 8 out of every 10.
--Sixty percent of Africa's Forest Elephants, amounting to tens of thousands of animals, have been slaughtered in the last decade.

Rhinoceroses are also being slaughtered throughout their ranges, in the mistaken belief, among others, that the horns cure cancer. In South Africa, home to 80% of the world's surviving rhinos, rhino poaching has soared to feed demand by the newly affluent markets in Vietnam and elsewhere. Driven by this growing market in the Far East,horn prices now rival those for cocaine.

In South Africa, "proxy hunters" with legal permits have acted as fronts for poaching syndicates. Kruger National Park has been invaded by poachers from neighboring Mozambique. South Africa's poaching toll has soared from no more than 36 per year between 1990 to 2007 to a"horrifying" 668 in 2012. Over 500 more were killed in the first halfof 2013.
The situation is dire:
--The Vietnamese one-horned rhinoceros is extinct

--The Western black rhino is now believed to be extinct

--The Northern white rhinoceros, the largest of them all, only survives -- just barely -- in captivity.

Internal wars in Africa and increasing worldwide demand fuel the poaching crisis. Lawlessness, political instability, lack of resources, easy access to weapons and dire poverty all play a part. Poachers have moved from hunting with snares and spears to automatic weapons, and sophisticated "quiet killing" techniques using immobilizing drugs, poison, crossbows and silencers. Roving gangs move about with impunity. Anti-poaching squads, though prepared and sometimes permitted to shoot to kill, are at constant risk. Victories are rare and increasingly massive ivory shipment seizures probably represent only a fraction of what is getting through. Tonnes of contraband ivory have been found in shipping containers, as cleverly hidden as any illegal drug.
It is "a full-scale war," says Orenstein. "For the worst possible reasons, elephants and rhinoceroses are front-page news today. They have become poster children for the worst excesses of organised wildlife crime."
In Ivory, Horn & Blood, Orenstein traces the past 40 years of the compelling history of the trade bans, as much a series ofinternational political debates as a battle to save living creatures,and explains why new calls for legal trade in both ivory and horn maymake matters worse.
He explains how the trade in elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns,though happening thousands of miles away in countries that few will visit, has far-reaching implications not only for the animals but also for us.
"We are fighting, too, for people," Orenstein warns, "Over the past ten years more than 700 rangers have been killed by poachers in Africa and Asia... As long as organized criminal gangs, and vicious, power-hungry militias are able to feed off the profits of the trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn, people, as well as animals, will suffer and die, caught in the cross-fire of an undeclared war."
The future is not without hope. Range countries continue to bolster their antipoaching efforts. Buyer attitudes may be changing, albeit slowly. Celebrities, who may have more impact than any government edict, have taken up the cause, including acclaimed Chinese basketball player Yao Ming.
The stakes could not be higher. "The title of this book is Ivory,Horn & Blood," Orenstein reminds readers. "Let us never forget, as we think of the magnificent animals that are the victims of this evil trade, that much of that blood is human."
About the author:
Ronald Orenstein is a zoologist, lawyer and wildlife conservation who has written extensively on a wide range of natural history issues. His most recent book is Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A NaturalHistory (Firefly Books, 2012). He is a member of the board of the Species Survival Network (SSN) and the Elephant Research Foundation.
With a Foreword by Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the world's foremost authorities on the African elephant. He pioneered the first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior, in Tanzania,at age 23. He founded Save the Elephants in 1993, and was awarded the illustrious Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Title: Ivory, Horn & Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis
Author: Ronald Orenstein
Foreword: Iain Douglas-Hamilton
Pub date: October 2013
Format: plastic-laminated hardcover
Price: 29.95 / 216 pages / 6 x 9 / 32 pages in color / sources /index
Available at bookstores, online booksellers or
Firefly Books Ltd., established in 1977, is a North American publisher of non-fiction and distributor of non-fiction and children's books. Firefly's goal is to bring readers beautifully produced books written by experts at reasonable prices.
Valerie Hatton
416 499-8412