A: How will a legal rhino trade collapse the illegal trade?
A legal trade will create self-sustaining funds, which can be used for the better protection of rhinos against poachers, both in national reserves, on private land and in neighbouring countries.
If we assume that current demand is 1 500 horns per annum, which is more than have been poached in South Africa in any year since records have been kept, we can easily provide for demand via stockpiles, horns from rhinos that die naturally and those harvested from a small proportion of rhino on private games reserves (Eustace, M : ‘Smart Trade’ Rhino Files Supplemet, Wildlife Ranching August 2015). Rhino horn is a renewable resource as it grows at between 0,6kgs for a female, and 1kg for a male per year (Lindsey, P. A., Taylor, A. (2011). A study on the dehorning of African Rhinoceroses as a tool to reduce the risk of poaching. South Africa: Endangered Wildlife Trust and Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa).
All legal horn will be sold with a DNA ‘fingerprint’. RhoDIS, a database held at Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty, already has the data on over 15 000 rhinos (Harper, C. K. (2013). DNA Profiling and a DNA database as a tool to protect the rhino. Faculty of Veterinary Science: University of Pretoria,Onderstepoort, South Africa).
Possibly, yes, but many consumers use a mixture of herbs and finely powdered horn that would make it difficult for them to determine the provenance of the horn. In a legalised trade many ‘wild’ horns will be sold alongside harvested horn. These ‘wild’ horns will come from the considerable stockpiles held by conservation bodies recovered from natural deaths. If there is a preference for ‘wild’ or whole horn, this will be reflected in the price buyers are willing to pay.
From historical records and the on-going eradication of rhinos in Africa and Asia, it appears that the demand is large, but there is no reliable data on the size of the market. The best way to determine the characteristics of a market is to engage in legal trade.
(f the market is 1 500 horn sets a year (1 215 rhino were poached in 2014 and 1 175 in 2015), then the market can be easily supplied (Eustace, M : ‘Smart Trade’ Rhino Files Supplement, Wildlife Ranching August 2015).
All legally sold horn will be accompanied by a RhoDIS (rhino DNA) certificate (Harper, C. K. (2013). DNA Profiling and a DNA database as a tool to protect the rhino. Faculty of Veterinary Science: University of Pretoria,Onderstepoort, South Africa). One way to combat laundering would be to require any authorised buyer of legal horn to consent to random, unannounced checks on their warehouses, wholesale and retail outlets. Generally, legal permit holders can also be expected to help enforce compliance in the market.
It is true that we do not know exactly what the demand is, but we do, at least, have some idea of demand via the poaching numbers. Many products have been launched on the market with far less knowledge of demand (think of Sony Walkman), and rhinos simply do not have the luxury of time, and the money to accurately estimate the demand is not available.
9. Isn’t it reckless to implement the legalisation of rhino horn trade when the economic theory is imperfectly understood?
The assertion that the economics underlying trade legalisation is inadequate is made by two Mexican economists in a non-peer reviewed (i.e. untested) paper. For a critique of their position see Wiltshire, J E : ‘A Layman’s Quest for Logic” (unpublished paper) August 2015. What is reckless is to continue with the clearly failing policy of banning legal trade that has been in place since 1977. The best way to find out about market dynamics is to engage with the market through legal sales; this is how the market for goods and services is determined in general.
If by ‘risk’ you understand the possibility of rhinos being poached to extinction except in small highly protected pockets, then continuing with a 38-year-old trade ban that has failed to curb poaching is the riskiest strategy. Legalisation of rhino horn trade is the only legal way of stopping this slaughter that has not been tried – it is surely time to do so now before it is too late.
Yes. The case of the vicuña of South America is regularly cited (Jacobsen, T. (2013). Rhino horn trade : a critical analysis. South Africa: Rhinodotcom.). The vicuña was poached to the brink of extinction for its fine wool – a product that was sought after by the European fashion industry. In the 1960s, only about 5 000 animals remained in the wild. A campaign driven by an Italian fashionista highlighted the plight of these animals. Protective measures by the South American governments, and the reintroduction of a traditional rounding up and shearing process by local communities, allowed these communities to benefit from the sales of the wool, without them having to poach the animals.
Today, although some poaching continues, there are more than 400 000 vicuñas. Reintroduction programmes into their historic rangelands are proving to be very successful. A number of crocodile species have also been rescued from extinction by encouraging legal sales of their sought-after products (MacGregor, J. (2006). Captive crocodilian production and shaping of conservation incentives. The Call of the Wild – TRAFFIC Online Report Series, 12. ). Also see Crocodile tears and skins.
South Africa has modelled a highly successful conservation strategy by encouraging private ownership and commercialisation of a great number of wildlife species.
12. People cite the vicuña as a legalisation success story, but isn’t it true they are still being poached?
Poaching and habitat destruction are still very large threats to the vicuña and for as long as vicuñas continue to grow wool, these threats will continue to loom over them. As their fleece is so valuable, a thriving illegal trade still exists and some countries have banned the importation of vicuña fibre for the animal’s protection. This action, however noble, has very little effect on consumer demand or on the black market, which simply develops stronger conduits.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) still has active conservation programmes in place for the vicuña. The Vicuña Convention is still held every year and this year, the 20th traditional chaccu (rounding up) will be held in South America. Although the task of protecting the vicuña is unlikely to become much easier, or less intensive, the guardians of the vicuña may hold their heads high with the success they have achieved in growing the vicuña population from 5 000 to 400 000, and the innovative, collaborative approach they used to solve a multiplicity of problems (Jacobsen, T. (2013). Rhino horn trade : a critical analysis. South Africa: Rhinodotcom).
Aside from the ethical argument of this procedure, this has proved to be non-viable (Ferriera, S., Hoymeyr, Markus., Pienaar, Danie., and Cooper, Dave. (2014). Chemical horn infusions: a poaching deterrent or an unnecessary deception? Pachyderm, 55(January – July 2014), 54-61.); the poison just does not disperse throughout the horn away from the point of insertion.
Unfortunately, in order not to harm the rhino, not all of the horn can be cut off. What remains is still enough to make it worthwhile for poachers to kill the animal and hack the residual horn away completely.
Ivory traders in Hong Kong and China are cited as being innovative in using permits for legal ivory to launder poached product. It is true that it would be difficult to stamp out laundering entirely, but distinguishing legal from illegal rhino horn is easier than for ivory. A large number of South Africa’s rhinos are already on the DNA database (Harper, C. K. (2013). DNA Profiling and a DNA database as a tool to protect the rhino. Faculty of Veterinary Science: University of Pretoria,Onderstepoort, South Africa) and all future legal sales of rhino horn would have the associated DNA added to the database. No comparable database exists for elephants and ivory. This database will enable far more effective monitoring of rhino horn trade than is currently the case with the ivory trade.
In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) rhino horn is used in a variety of ways mixed with other herbs mainly to reduce fever (acting as an antipyretic). In Vietnam horn is now reportedly used as a panacea for everything from a hangover to cancer.
The high and increasing price of rhino horn has led to horn being regarded as an asset (store of value) and, as such, is used as jewellery and is also hoarded and traded by speculators.
Previously Yemenis used rhino horn for dagger handles (jambiya) but this market has virtually disappeared due in part to Yemen’s civil war and poor economy.
TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) does not cite it as a cure for erectile dysfunction. It seems the use of rhino horn as an aphrodisiac is largely a Western ‘urban legend’.
Social marketing may eventually work, but it is expensive and takes a long time – just consider how long reducing the demand for cigarettes in the Western world has taken!
There is no irrefutable proof either way of rhino horn’s efficacy. However, we seem to have no problem with selling products that either have not been proven to work (think of many cosmetics and homeopathic medicines), or that have been proven harmful (think of cigarettes), so it seems hypocritical to use this as a reason not to legalise trade in rhino horn (E. Ernst, A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy, British Journal of Pharmacology, Dec 2002).
There were a few isolated auctions and once-off sales of stockpiled ivory some years ago. Conditions of these sales included a multi-year moratorium on future sales of ivory. The middlemen stockpiled the ivory they had bought and trickled it on to the market in order to ensure that their supply lasted. But the uncertain nature of supply meant that the alternative route of sourcing poached ivory continued to be supported. We are proposing a sustainable, regular trade (Eustace, M : ‘Smart Trade’ Rhino Files Supplement, Wildlife Ranching August 2015).
While it is possible that demand will increase if international trade is legalised, it could also decrease as speculators sell off their hoarded horn, as horn may lose its status as a store of wealth that has a steadily increasing value. The underlying demand for horn is uncertain and the best way to more reliably estimate this demand is via legal trade. Should a legal trade cause a surge in demand, legal trade could be discontinued relatively easily.
22. Don’t we need surveys and more research to determine demand before we legalise trade and ‘open the floodgates’?
The rhino-poaching crisis has been debated since 1992 with numerous surveys and ‘opinion pieces’ published, none of which have reduced poaching pressure. The best way to learn about the market is to engage it via a legalised trade.
The channel for illegal horn already exists and is thriving with no competition at all. The introduction of competition in the form of a legal trade could go a long way towards addressing the poaching onslaught. We have a comprehensive rhino horn DNA database called RhoDIS in South Africa, which will help to identify horn, and fragments of horn, ensuring that horn can be identified as being legal (Harper, C. K. (2013). DNA Profiling and a DNA database as a tool to protect the rhino. Faculty of Veterinary Science: University of Pretoria,Onderstepoort, South Africa).
B: How will we turn worthless stockpiles into conservation revenue?
The biggest beneficiary of legal trade will be SANParks (South African National Parks) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife – together they hold 75% of the rhino and also have the largest stockpiles of horn from natural deaths, as they have owned rhino for a much longer time, and on a far bigger scale than private rhino owners.
If we assume that horn from SANParks and Ezemvelo would therefore comprise 75% of the sales; this would bring them in R2.7 billion per annum. As the government grants to these two organisations are currently less than R1 billion combined, this money would give a great boost to conservation.
A legalised trade will bring the South African economy approximately R3.6 billion (US$225 million) if we assume the sale of 1 500, 5kg-horn sets (7 500kgs) at US$30 000 per kg (kilogram), per annum.
No of rhinos in private hands has risen to 33%, those in state hands dropped to 67%. Please amend these figures.
South Africa will hold regular sales with horn available to pre-authorised buyers. These buyers will need to agree to unannounced checks of the provenance of their horn. Any illegal horn found in their possession will disqualify them from future sales and lead to a criminal investigation.(Eustace, M : ‘Smart Trade’ Rhino Files Supplement, Wildlife Ranching August 2015)
A single point of sale with regular, controlled sales of horn to pre-qualified buyers could manage quantities offered, and prices accepted, and so optimise funds for the rhino custodians. This mechanism will give the sales organisation power in the transaction. Read more
The structure could, for instance, be set up to ensure that when a sale is confirmed, the funds will be electronically transferred ONLY to the National or Provincial Parks Authorities’ or the Private Rhino Owners’ Association’s bank accounts.
They should certainly enforce such laws and punishment as deterrents, but it is not certain that these measures on their own will stop, or even diminish, the poaching crisis. Wildlife trafficking is one of the most lucrative illegal activities. Organised transnational crime syndicates handle the market and generally co-opt and/ or threaten government officials and others to help them. Bans on products in demand are unenforceable as evidenced by thriving black markets. In some countries, the punishment for smugglers is death. Despite this, these smuggling rings continue. Strict laws and punishments cannot eradicate a thriving and lucrative illegal market.
All legal horn will be sold with their RhoDIS DNA fingerprint and implanted with an identification chip. Any funds from sales will (after a small administrative fee) be paid directly into either the National and Provincial Game Park’s account or PROA (Private Rhino Owners Association). (Eustace, M : ‘Smart Trade’ Rhino Files Supplement, Wildlife Ranching August 2015)
Trade is not a ‘silver bullet’ and will need to be backed up by a strong field protection and vigorous law enforcement. Legal trade will help game reserves that have rhino to combat poaching better because they will have more funds.
In addition, legal trade will enable us to use our large stockpiles, the horns from natural deaths and dehorning selective wild rhino populations to substitute at least some of the horn currently supplied by poaching.
As with all products of value, there is usually both a legal trade and black market. Legal trade will cut into the current 100% illegal trade.
Not only will this deprive state owned and private games reserves of desperately needed funds, it will simply increase pressure on live rhinos to supply the demand. The criminal syndicates will see the destruction of stockpiles and decline of rhinos in the wild as a clear message that horns are continuing to get scarcer, so driving up prices and stimulating the syndicates to kill remaining rhinos as quickly as possible whilst there are still some left.
As with the drug trade, you cannot collapse an illegal trade whilst the syndicates can make vast profits and are the only conduit for the market to source rhino horn. However, the biggest problem in spending more money on security is sourcing sustainable funding. Donors provide large amounts of money for anti-poaching. There are two concerns about this:
i) There are signs of ‘donor fatigue,’ and
ii) If donor funds decrease significantly, the inadequacy of anti-poaching funding will get worse with, most probably, a further increase in poaching.
C: How will a legal trade create jobs and benefit communities?
Placid, grazing white rhinos are ideal candidates for community-based natural resource management. Male rhinos are territorial and so tend to stay in one area. Rhinos are disease resistant and can live in even semi-arid areas as long as they have access to water. If we cannot tackle the rhino issue at community level (where currently many poachers reside), we will not win the war for wild rhino survive.
2. Wouldn’t communities surrounding game reserves just continue to poach as they can earn so much money from poaching?
At present, the only way that these communities can make money from rhinos (and other wildlife) is through tourism and poaching. The communities that reside alongside Africa’s protected areas should be encouraged to breed their own rhinos instead of poaching them. With a legal trade in rhino horn and dedicated support, this concept will become viable and possibly a highly successful example of community-based natural resource management.
Rural African communities have historically bred livestock very successfully. White rhinos breed relatively easily in smaller areas. With some training, education and support from government and private conservation authorities, communities will have an opportunity to be directly involved in wildlife conservation, instead of being sidelined from it. These communities will also be earning themselves a considerable income and the funds would be sustainable and regular.
Private game reserve owners will benefit from a legal trade, which will encourage them to breed more rhinos and to continue protecting them. But, by far the largest beneficiaries will be the State and provincial parks; they have far more rhino and have owned rhino for longer. so their stockpiles of horn are bigger. It is likely they will receive about 75% of the income from legal horn sales. (Eustace, M : ‘Smart Trade’ Rhino Files Supplement, Wildlife Ranching August 2015)
D: How will a rhino become worth more alive than dead?
Legal trade will create self-sustaining funds for better protection of rhinos against poachers, both in national reserves, on private land and in neighbouring communities. Furthermore, legal sales of horn will encourage private game ranch owners to keep providing habitat and land for rhinos and all the other wild species that benefit from this habitat.
Rhino horn is currently only internationally traded on the black market. It changes hands a number of times before it reaches the end user. Prices of R300 000 to R600 000 per horn set to the poacher and US$60 000 to US$90 000 per kilogram (kg) (one horn set weighs between 4.5 kg and 6 kg) at retail value are quoted. (Lindsey, P. A., Taylor, A. (2011). A study on the dehorning of African Rhinoceroses as a tool to reduce the risk of poaching. South Africa: Endangered Wildlife Trust and Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa)
NO! Rhino horn grows throughout the rhino’s life. Horn is composed primarily of keratin and is similar in structure to a horse’s hoof. It can be cut off just above the growth point (like the quick of your nail) and will grow back.
South Africa has about 20 000 rhinos at present (Emslie, R., Miliken, T., Talukdar, B. (2013). African and Asian Rhinoceroses – Status, Conservation and Trade: CITES Secretariat).
If one quarter of these rhinos were dehorned every three years, and we were able to obtain 4kg of horn from each rhino, then South Africa would be able to sell 20 00 kg of horn every three years from this source alone, approximately the same quantity of horn as from 4 000 poached rhinos – just slightly less than three years’ poaching at the current level. Using horn from dehorning selected wild populations will reduce poaching pressure on all rhino.
The dehorning process is a 20-minute procedure, performed under anaesthetic by a qualified veterinarian. The rhino feels no pain and there is no bleeding, as the part of the horn that is removed is dead material. There is a risk in anaesthetising the rhino, in the same way that we accept risk when human beings are anaesthetised for a minor surgical procedure. See a rhino being dehorned by clicking here.
Private rhino owners are subject to management legislation and check-ups are performed regularly by provincial authorities. South Africa has very strict and extensive laws on stocking rates for wild animals. Watch de-horned rhinos
Private rhino owners will naturally have the best interest of their animals at heart as unhappy animals have lower breeding rates and higher mortality rates. This is evident with regards to rhino in the limited breeding capacity of zoo-kept rhinos and the very successful breeding statistics of rhinos on private game ranches (Emslie, R. (2013). Trends in rhino numbers and poaching – an update. Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice. Retrieved from www.conservationsymposium.com/previous-symposia/2015 website).
Furthermore, South Africa has a successful history of wildlife management and there are a large number of rhino management research programmes underway.
It does not seem to Watch de-horned rhinos.(Lindsey, P. A., Taylor, A. (2011). A study on the dehorning of African Rhinoceroses as a tool to reduce the risk of poaching. South Africa: Endangered Wildlife Trust and Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa.).
Zoologists often use breeding success as a proxy for animal contentment and figures from the largest ranch where rhinos are dehorned are as good as, or better, than those from ranches where they are not de-horned. Emslie, R. (2013). Trends in rhino numbers and poaching – an update. Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice. Retrieved from www.conservationsymposium.com/previous-symposia/2015 website).
D: How will a rhino become worth more alive than dead?
The tipping point for rhino is when deaths start exceeding births. Richard Emslie of IUCN SCC African Rhino Specialist Group estimates that point could have been reached in 2014 – 2015 (Emslie, R., Miliken, T., Talukdar, B. (2013). African and Asian Rhinoceroses – Status, Conservation and Trade: CITES Secretariat).
Many private game reserve owners are pushing for legalisation, but so are the majority of the many prominent, reputable conservationists who are knowledgeable about the rhino horn trade. These include the late Dr Ian Player of Operation Rhino, Mavuso Msimang – former CEO of SANParks, Dr John Hanks, Dr Brian Child and Ted Riley. In addition, communities are also calling for legalisation. For a more comprehensive view of the conservationists who support trade see Rhinos in Crisis (Short version) and Rhinos in Crisis (Long version).
The private game reserves have historically been exemplary custodians, breeders and protectors of rhinos and other wildlife. They are self-funded and have been paying large amounts for security (Private Rhino Owners of South Africa). The private sector holds 25% of South Africa’s rhino population.
If the private sector chooses to disinvest in rhino due to the expenses and risk involved in keeping them safe, we stand to lose one quarter of SA’s rhinos and those that are arguably in the some of the safest locations. This disinvestment is already happening.
The conservation agencies have been the largest benefactors of the private trade in wildlife as they have been able to convert the removal of surplus animals to much needed funds by selling to private game owners.
No of rhinos in private hands has risen to 33%, those in state hands dropped to 67%. Please amend these figures.
The other states could sell horn through the South African trading organisation or easily establish their own organisations, based on the South African model and so receive funds. All horn would need to have a RhoDIS (rhino DNA) certificate (Harper, C. K. (2013). DNA Profiling and a DNA database as a tool to protect the rhino. Faculty of Veterinary Science: University of Pretoria,Onderstepoort, South Africa) to ensure that legal horn could be identified in buyers’ warehouses.
6. Won’t an organisation set up to sell rhino horn (if it is legalised) mount a marketing campaign to increase sales?
This could be (and almost certainly would be) banned in any CITES change to legalise rhino horn sale.
7. Are we not sending mixed messages to the consuming public by legalising horn while trying to reduce demand through social marketing?
Since 1977 we have been sending a single clear message to the market that rhino horn is illegal. More recently social marketing campaigns have attempted to reduce demand. This has not worked as the number of rhino poached has risen 100 fold in the eight years from 2007 to 2014.
8. Why don’t we inform the people of Asia that rhino horn medicinal properties are scientifically unfounded?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles are based on an entirely different system to that of Western medicine. Scientific proof is not required or sought for these practices. It is a belief system that has existed for thousands of years and it is unlikely that it can be radically changed in the foreseeable future.
Although consumers should be educated on the effects of their habits, a massive paradigm shift must occur in order to alter the habits of millions of people. This is going to take a considerable amount of time, resources and money. Due to the surge in poaching and illegal trade, the world’s rhinos do not have time on their side and will exist in only small highly protected pockets within the foreseeable future.