In the media and via our mailing list, we face a good deal of criticism of our campaign to legalise trade in rhino horn. We always try and make time to respond these issues as public perspective is important, in terms of ensuring that we consider all the potential pitfalls and risks of such a trade.
In this newsletter, we address some of the primary concerns:
1. Consumer demand for horn is too great. There are not enough rhinos/horn to support it
- This is an extremely valid concern. From historical records and the ongoing eradication of rhinos in Africa and Asia, it appears that the demand certainly is large and here to stay.
- It is therefore imperative to encourage the breeding and protection of rhinos.
- Rhino horn is a sustainable/renewable natural resource and this resource can be increased if the right incentives are in place to conserve rhinos.
- Rhino owners and national reserves in South Africa currently have a combined stockpile of about 20 tons of rhino horn – horn that is currently useless in safes and vaults – while our live rhinos are being slaughtered at a rate of almost three per day.
2. It is unethical to promote a ‘bogus’ product
- We feel that it is unethical to continue to apply the same ineffective policies of the past to a dying species.
- Bigotry and intolerance in the modern-day global village is unhelpful and antiquated at best; unethical at worst. Attempting to force Western medicinal and scientific principles onto misunderstood Eastern philosophical healing systems and traditions, particularly when the people of Africa have been using wildlife for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, is hypocritical and often unfounded.
- Campaigns to attempt to educate consumers have been largely ineffective in countries where Western principles are often regarded as irrelevant by consumers and sometimes even with contempt. Although we support such campaigns and believe that they could make a difference to demand levels in the long term, we don’t believe that rhinos have time to wait for this necessary paradigm shift.
- Rationale of drug choice is severely limited in the face of serious illness or even simple health decisions. Thousands of Western fad diets and remedies attest to this.
- The fact is, demand and the market for horn exist and we cannot bank on educational campaigns and pleas to save our rhinos. These tactics have not worked for tigers, bears or elephants and they are therefore unlikely to work for rhinos.
3. A legal trade in horn will facilitate the illegal trade in horn by creating a channel for it
- 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 may go a long way towards correcting the perverse price aspect that currently fuels the poaching onslaught.
- We have a fantastic rhino horn DNA database called RhoDIS in South Africa which will help to identify horn and fragments of horn, ensuring that all legal horn can be identified.
4. Better law enforcement and a clamp-down on corruption are needed to save the rhino, not a legal trade
- Market studies have shown that illegal wildlife market trends are similar to other contraband – drugs, weapons, etc. Organized crime syndicates handle the market and generally co-opt and/or threaten government officials and others to help them.
- Bans on these products are unenforceable as evidenced by thriving Black markets. Threats as great as death to offenders are not even punitive enough and syndicates continue to operate despite them.
- Law enforcement has been massively upgraded in S.A. over the past five years with regards to rhino protection. Millions of rands are being invested in it and still, our rhinos die.
- For every poacher that is arrested, there are a hundred more to fill his shoes.
- This is not to say that law enforcement measures should not be strengthened but it is clear that they cannot be expected to solve the problem alone.
- Efforts and resources in this regard would be much better spent on policing a legal and accessible market as opposed to an illegal and unknown market.
5. The private sector just wants to make money from horn sales
- Landowners have historically been exemplary custodians, breeders and protectors of rhinos and other wildlife and they are almost always self-funded.
- Individuals are entitled to make money from their businesses and if the end-result is conservation and protection of wild species and ecosystems, all the better.
- It is naïve to believe that conservation takes place in a vacuum, particularly here in Africa.
- If landowners choose to disinvest in rhino due to the expenses and risk involved in keeping them safe, we stand to lose one third of SA’s rhino population and those that are currently in the safest locations.
- The single largest benefactors of the private trade in game have been the conservation agencies that sell the game to this sector. These agencies continue to generate much-needed management funds through sales of wildlife.
6. A legal trade in rhino horn will lead to a reduction in price and more people will want to buy it, leading to an increase in pressure on rhinos
- This is an assumption at best as there has never been a controlled international legal trade in rhino horn.
- When rhino horn trade was taking place at a national level, the poaching numbers were at a constant minimum – less than 20 rhinos were poached per year in South Africa. The moment the comprehensive ban on trade was discussed and implemented, poaching numbers sky-rocketed.
- The fact that it worked positively for rhinos at a national level is reason enough to test the theory at an international level.
- Considering we are probably going to lose over 1 000 rhinos again this year, we should be testing every theory we have to try and save the species.
7. Trade in horn is not the ‘silver bullet’ in solving the poaching problem
- Perhaps not, but illegal trade in horn is undoubtedly the literal bullet for the remaining rhinos.
- It is logical that a legal trade in horn will have to be coupled with a number of integrated measures, including legislation, improved law enforcement and control of rhino populations.
8. Captive-bred populations of rhinos are ‘worthless’ in conservation terms
A few distinct points make this assumption false.
A few distinct points make this assumption false.
- Every single White rhino currently in a captive or semi-intensive population is a candidate for reintroduction to a more extensive and/or natural environment.
- There is some debate over the genetic integrity of a captive-bred rhino population but this aspect would be easy to monitor through genetic mapping systems and ancestry records of rhinos.
- Rhinos that are able to provide horn to the market from captive-bred populations will ease poaching pressure on wilder populations of rhinos. This fact is evidenced by the crocodile, ostrich and other game industries throughout the world.
Finally, male rhinos will have increased economic value and will not only be utilised in the trophy hunting industry. National parks that sell surplus male animals will be able to do so knowing that their animals will probably have a continued long lifespan on a smaller reserve.