News / Africa

S. Africa Proposes Legal Auction of $1B Worth of Rhino Horn

Part of a shipment of 33 rhino horns seized by Chinese customs agents are displayed at news conference, Hong Kong, Nov. 15, 2011.
Part of a shipment of 33 rhino horns seized by Chinese customs agents are displayed at news conference, Hong Kong, Nov. 15, 2011.
Anita Powell
South Africa is seeking permission from conservation authorities to sell off some $1 billion worth of stockpiled rhino horn. The move, officials have said, may thwart black-market sales of the valuable, but illegal commodity, which has gained popularity in Asia for its alleged medicinal uses. That hunger for rhino horn has decimated South Africa’s population of the rare and endangered animal.  

South African officials say they want to open a new front in the ongoing war against illegal rhino poaching.
 
Already, the government has deployed soldiers to fight poaching in Kruger National Park. They’ve reached out to the government of neighboring Mozambique to stop cross-border poaching, and have signed agreements with major rhino horn markets Vietnam and China to stop black-market rhino horn sales.

Officials have even tried de-horning live rhinos to make them less attractive to poachers and opening a rhino orphanage in a secret location.

Still, 461 rhinos have been killed this year alone, according to the most recent government statistics. If rhino killings continue at that pace, they could exceed last year’s record death toll of 668 rhinos.

So this time, they say they want to take a different tack, by focusing on the simple laws of supply and demand.

South Africa possesses a stockpile of more than 16,000 kilograms of rhino horn. At today’s market prices -- which value rhino horn over gold -- that’s worth about $1 billion.
 
South Africa Department of Environment spokesman, Albi Modise, says the government is putting together a proposal to sell their stockpile legally - a move that could flood the market with legal product. They’ll present the proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 2016.
 
“The research that’s been done tells us that there’s a huge demand for the rhino horn in the Asian countries. And that the absence of a legal market has actually driven people to the underground black market," Modise said.  "Hence the black market has been thriving, because it has been meeting the demand and needs of the particular market. So we’re trying to say, ‘if there is a demand for the rhino horn, let’s rather be the ones to drive it in an open, regulated fashion, than to drive those who want the rhino horn to go into the black market, which has vastly been fuelling the ongoing scourge of poaching that South Africa has been experiencing in the recent years.’”

He says environmental officials hope to use the profits to help conservation efforts.
 
Modise says the rationale behind the sale is simple: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em - and then beat them at their own game.

“We actually are saying that we are very worried that if we don’t do something legal, we might end up with our rhinos being wiped out. That we’d rather be doing something proactively, and learn from that from that proactive, measured and regulated opening, and take lessons from it while also embracing principles of sustainable development," he said. "For us, really, it is to say, we could sit here and say, ‘we don’t want to open trade,’ but then lose our rhinos to the black market. Or we could take the black market head-on and open the legal market and try to compete in a very competitive fashion with the black market, and consequently with the hope that we would be able to drive down the price.”
 
Jo Shaw, rhino coordinator for WWF South Africa, says her conservation group is not convinced. She says the group has recently done a study that shows that demand may outstrip even a large supply: the study found that the demand in Vietnam is roughly five times larger than the current market base.

“We remain unconvinced that a legal international trade in rhino horn is a feasible approach at this point in time, given a number of concerns that would need to be addressed," she said. ..."I think it’s dangerous to view the idea of provision of a legal supply as cutting out the illegal black market chain being operated by sophisticated criminal syndicates.”

The horn is reputed to have medicinal benefits in Asian traditional medicine - among them, as an aphrodisiac, a hangover remedy and even a cancer cure. Those theories have been largely dispelled by scientific research.  But that hasn’t stopped Asian consumers from snapping up the rare product at the whopping price of $65,000 a kilogram - money that South African officials say they want to use to help conserve the rapidly dwindling population.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs