Saturday, 10 November 2012

Is this a breakthrough for rhinoceroses?

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa has found a kingpin smuggler of rhino horn in Thai Chumlong Lemtongthai, and wants to sentence him to forty years jail for illegally obtaining hunting permits. Forty years jail is a very severe penalty - from what I have recently read about murder and manslaughter it is more severe than any legal penalty for manslaughter and even for some forms of murder. On the other hand, like Australia, South Africa has unique duties in terms of environmental protection since South Africa is:
  1. overall the seventh most biologically diverse country in the world
  2. easily the most biologically diverse country without tropical rainforests or coral reefs, having twice the number of species of any other
  3. an exceptionally fragile land with extremely old soils and an average runoff ratio of less than 10 percent, making its water systems exceedingly sensitive
  4. features frequent occurrences of many presently rare and little studied ecological phenomena such as cooperative breeding, unusually low metabolic rates and daily heterothermy
For this reason, punishments for wildlife killing in South Africa have a right to be much more severe than in either the humid tropics or the northern and western hemispheres (the latter of which for ecological purposes includes New Zealand). In fact, given the important ecological role of megafauna like rhinoceroses in reducing the leaching of the very old soils of southern Africa, it is fair to punish people who obtain illegal licences to hunt them with something as severe as forty years - or perhaps even life - imprisonment.

Such killing is ecocide in a way killing in the northern or western hemispheres never can be, so a due punishment stands very different from what people used only to dealing with illegal killing in those sections of the globe would expect. If such punishments were consistent in southern Africa, then rhinoceros poaching would be something few would dare to engage in and rhinoceroses would have a chance of survival.

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