The Big Earthwatch Debate 2013: Bone of Contention

Prior Events

    The Big Earthwatch Debate 2013: Bone of Contention
    / Categories: Prior Events

    The Big Earthwatch Debate 2013: Bone of Contention

    The rhinoceros is a formidable creature, characterized by its large size, thick skin, and one or two prominent keratin horns.  Yet its populations are under threat worldwide: in fact, three of the five remaining species of rhino are critically endangered.

    So would you feel comfortable if governments approved the international trade in rhino horn - or even tiger bone and skin or elephant ivory - for use in traditional medicines and other products?

    What if it could actually give these species a fighting chance at survival?

    This is just part of the complex and timely subject that this year’s Earthwatch Big Debate will explore, as two teams of speakers with opposing views will attempt to convince you - the public - to see their side of the argument. BBC broadcaster and journalist Martha Kearney will chair what promises to be an informative and thought-provoking evening.

    Too close to the bone?

    Current listing by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ensures that trade in products such as rhino horn, elephant ivory, and tiger bone and skin is banned. There are few exceptions, such as two CITES-approved one-off sales of stockpiled elephant ivory from “legal” sources to Japan and China which took place in 1999 and 2008.

    But in the recent months since the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in March this year, a flurry of publications and media interest have centered on the issue of legalizing these products to better conserve these threatened species.

    However, scientists, conservationists, and governments disagree over the best way to conserve species. Many argue that countries bound to CITES have failed to prevent illegal trade and stem the demand for ivory, horn, and bone and skin, which are largely sold to markets in China, Vietnam, and Thailand for use in traditional medicine and as ornaments.

    Join Earthwatch at the Royal Geographical Society, London, for this important and timely debate on a subject of international conservation concern. Hear experts set out arguments on whether international trade bans are effective in stabilizing populations, or whether we need to create a legal or regulated market for rhino, elephant, and tiger products to ensure their conservation.

    Understanding the arguments both for and against a legal international trade has never been more urgent, as international pressure for trade in ivory, horn, and bone and skin gains pace. As recently as July, the South African government announced that it wants a regulated trade in rhino horn.

    We need to develop the most effective solutions today for the long-term conservation of these globally threatened and iconic species. What do you think?


    Dr. Duan Biggs is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at the University of Queensland. He is lead author of a recent publication in the journal Science on the legalization of trade in the horn of the African white rhino, which has received much international attention. Duan grew up in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the epicenter of the current rhino poaching crisis. Duan’s research and applied interests focus on finding innovative solutions to the biodiversity crisis that will lead to beneficial conservation and socioeconomic outcomes. Duan has authored 15 scientific papers and book chapters and is an avid birdwatcher and naturalist.

    Kirsten Conrad is a Singapore-based conservation policy analyst who has been working on the conservation of wild cats in Asia since 1999. She is a member of the IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) and has published on the subject of trade bans in the journal Tropical Conservation Science and the Routledge Handbook on East Asia and the Environment. She has conducted numerous research projects and policy analyses on tigers, including captive breeding, and on the ivory trade in China and has attended numerous international conservation events. Kirsten has lived in Asia since 1995.

    Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes is an independent conservation economist with a particular interest in the role of markets for biodiversity conservation. With practical conservation experience in Africa and an academic training in business and environmental resource economics, Michael has researched and advised on wildlife policy issues for more than two decades. He has a specific focus on illegal trade in rhino, big cat, elephant, and bear products destined for Asian markets and has written extensively on these topics for both academic and popular publications.


    Dr. Glyn Davies spent the early part of his career during the 1970s and 1980s as a scientist in Malaysia, India, and Sierra Leone researching forest ecology and developing national conservation strategies. After this he joined the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and worked in Kenya and Cameroon and was seconded to work in the European Commission. He influenced national forest, wildlife, and conservation policies and produced the EU policy on biodiversity in international development. From 2001, Glyn was director of conservation programs at the Zoological Society of London. In 2007 he joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-U.K. as executive director of global programs. He currently manages a department of more than 100 staff with an annual budget in excess of £35m. WWF seeks to bring the best available science to inform discussions on conservation and development and works with stakeholders to update policy frameworks and legislation.

    Dr. Katarzyna Nowak is a postdoctoral research fellow at Durham University, U.K., and the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa. Her research focuses on the behavior of threatened species and their capacity for persistence in human-dominated landscapes. Kate has lived and worked in East Africa since 2000 and has recently published articles in Science and The Ecologist on the subject of elephant ivory trade.

    Mary Rice is the executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes and abuses, including the illegal trade in wildlife. whaling, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate- and ozone-altering chemicals. Mary has extensive knowledge of the illegal international trade in ivory, acting as a spokesperson on the subject and attending major international meetings on the issue. Findings of EIA’s investigations into the illegal trade in ivory played a key role in establishing the international ivory ban in 1989. Subsequent investigations into this and other trades in endangered wildlife have been pivotal in providing decision-makers with empirical evidence of illegal international trade in endangered species.


    Martha Kearney is a BBC broadcaster and journalist who presents the international news, politics, and current affairs program The World at One. Martha presented Woman's Hour from 1998 to early 2007, including a special edition from Afghanistan. From 2000 to 2007, she was political editor of Newsnight, and she has also presented the Today program and PM on Radio 4. In 1998, Martha was nominated for a BAFTA award for her coverage of the Northern Ireland peace process. She was a 2004 TRIC Radio Presenter of the Year and won a Sony Bronze Award for a special on child poverty. Martha chaired the judges for the 2012 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine and this year featured in the Great Comic Relief Bake Off.

    Start the debate now. Voice your opinions on Facebook  and Twitter: #earthwatchdebate

    All speakers are representing their own views and not necessarily those of their organizations or affiliates. Earthwatch is not a political charity, and any views represented are not necessarily ours.

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