News / Africa

Wildlife Experts Debate Possible Legalization of Rhino Horn Trade

South Africa grapples with strategies to end rampant poaching

Darren Taylor
This is Part 4  of a 5-part series:  Saving Africa’s Endangered Rhinos
Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

 

As the killing by poachers of South Africa’s endangered rhinos continues unabated, conservationists are debating possible strategies to ease the crisis.

A rhino rests on a game reserve in South Africa. Some in the wildlife industry say a legal trade in rhino horn will decrease poaching levels; others argue it would have the opposite effect
A rhino rests on a game reserve in South Africa. Some in the wildlife industry say a legal trade in rhino horn will decrease poaching levels; others argue it would have the opposite effect

According to the country’s environmental department, criminals have slaughtered more than 1,000 of the animals in the past five years. In 2011 alone, they killed almost 450.

Only about 20,000 survive in South Africa, mostly in state and private wildlife reserves.

Organizations trying to save them say criminal syndicates are behind the poaching. Rhino horn fetches high prices on the black market. Some people in Asia, most notably in Vietnam, believe that, when ground and ingested, it cures cancer.

Poachers either kill the rhinos with high caliber rifles, or they dart them with veterinary drugs to sedate them. They then use chainsaws to remove the animals’ horns, leaving them to bleed to death.

Ranchers call for legalization

Many ranchers who’ve lost rhinos to poachers are calling for international trade in horns to be legalized, so that it can be controlled by the relevant authorities. If this happens, they argue, the crime syndicates’ black market will be shut down and poaching will cease.

“Because the demand seems to be so huge, legalizing the trade of rhino horn is looking almost the obvious choice to make,” said wildlife park owner Iain Stewart.

Another rhino owner, Angus Sholto-Douglas, echoed Stewart and added that South Africa should be allowed to sell its existing stock of horns. He said the state authorities and others are storing an “enormous” number of horns taken from animals that died naturally.

“We should do a formal audit of that stock then possibly look at selling 10 to 15 percent of that into the market, to get an idea of how quickly that is sold,” said Sholto-Douglas. “Then we’ll have an idea of how big the demand is, and that will allow us to make an informed decision about whether or not to press ahead with legalization of the trade.”

The carcass of a rhino killed for its horn in a game reserve in South Africa
The carcass of a rhino killed for its horn in a game reserve in South Africa

Game reserve manager Alan Weyer has ideas similar to those of Sholto-Douglas. “In the natural course of events, rhinos die, from things like old age and fighting with one another. And they leave their horns. Those horns are in stockpile at the moment because nobody can do anything (legal) with them. There’s a huge value to the horn – but it’s exclusive to the rhino poachers,” Weyer said.

As long as the only way to make money from rhino horns is poaching and taking the horns to the black market, he added, crime syndicates will continue to kill the animals. “That’s logical. It’s ironic that something designed to protect rhino – making horn trade illegal – is actually also driving the poaching,” he stated.

Weyer suggested South Africa should be allowed to release its stockpile “in a controlled manner” onto the market in Asia. He’s convinced this will bring the price of rhino horn down and “take the (criminals’) profit incentive out of it. I believe it’s the one way that we can control poaching.”

Dangerous gamble

Tom Milliken, an expert in the international trade in wildlife products, has intensively researched the possibility of legalizing sales of horns for Traffic International.

Wildlife officials remove part of the horn of a sedated rhino in an effort to prevent it from being targeted by poachers
Wildlife officials remove part of the horn of a sedated rhino in an effort to prevent it from being targeted by poachers

He warned that the relevant authorities should “exercise extreme caution in moving forward with any notion of a legalized trade. It’s very unclear exactly what the actual size of demand is for rhino horn. If the demand is too big, then a legal trade won’t stop the poaching.”

He said a legal trade, rather than lessening killings, may well encourage further poaching. Milliken added, “We don’t have the ability to run an experiment here and if we fail, we’re probably failing by wiping out all of the remaining rhinos.”

Internationally respected wildlife veterinarian Jacques Flamand said it would be a dangerous gamble to release rhino horns in an attempt to flood the market and bring high prices down in order to make the illegal trade less lucrative for the criminals.

“We don’t know what effect that would have. Would it meet the demand? If it doesn’t meet the demand, we’ll still be in the same position. If it does meet the demand and it brings the rhino horn price down, then it might work. But there are so many unknowns. It is risky; we just don’t know the answer,” said Flamand.

Market is ‘too huge’

Lucy Boddam-Whetham, deputy director of Save the Rhino International, said “on paper,” legalization of the rhino horn trade looks as if it could possibly solve the problem of poaching. But in reality, she said, it wouldn’t be the best course of action at the moment.

A ranger feeds a baby black rhino orphaned when poachers killed its mother on a South African game reserve
A ranger feeds a baby black rhino orphaned when poachers killed its mother on a South African game reserve

“We just don’t understand the scale of demand at the moment and it’ll be incredibly difficult to police the trade even if it is legal -- it’ll be very difficult to control which rhino horns are legal and which are not. And we don’t know at this stage whether the Asian countries involved would want a legalized trade,” she said.

Boddam-Whetham suggested that the illicit trade in horns needs to be controlled before any further thought is given to legalizing the sale of horn. “There just might not be enough rhino horns available to stem the demand. It’s something that needs further investigation.”

South African zoologist Jennifer Gush, who works a lot with rhinos, also cautioned against any “dangerous experiments” with regard to trade in horn. “It’s tempting to join the cry to legalize the trade and to just release as much as possible of the stockpile to bring the price down – especially because we could then use the finance generated to protect rhino,” she said, and added, “I think the market is too huge to flood.… Even if every reserve in the country cut their rhino horn off and sold it and did that on a yearly basis, I don’t think we’d be able to flood the market and bring the price down. There’d still be a big enough black market demand for it.”

Customs officials in Hong Kong with illegal ivory products they intercepted in November last year. Some wildlife experts warn that a legal trade in ivory has previously resulted in an increase in the poaching of elephants for their tusks.
Customs officials in Hong Kong with illegal ivory products they intercepted in November last year. Some wildlife experts warn that a legal trade in ivory has previously resulted in an increase in the poaching of elephants for their tusks.

Flamand said wildlife veterinarians are able to tranquillize rhinos and remove safe amounts of their horns with saws. When done properly, the procedure does not harm the animals.

‘No silver bullet’

Boddam-Whetham said her organization is concerned that “if you flood the market, then more people become interested in rhino horns and demand increases.” She added, “There’ve been studies to show that when elephant tusks have been sold (legally), there’s been a spike in elephant poaching.”

Milliken said, “Obviously rhinos are found in other countries as well, and allowing a legal rhino horn trade could produce unintended consequences for those countries. So I think if there’s going to be any move in the direction of a legal trade, it should encompass the input of all states in both Africa and Asia that have rhino.”

He said there were “huge hurdles to get over. There’s no silver bullet; there’s no quick solution. We have to exercise a lot of caution if we move down this path towards legalization.”

Milliken pointed out that none of the Asian countries where horn is sold illegally have approached South Africa to explore the possibility of cooperating with it to establish legal trading. He asked, “How do you go about constructing a legal trade if you don’t have a partner in the consuming part of the world?”

Poachers will be defeated

Despite the fact that the debate is “throwing up more questions than answers,” according to Boddam-Whetham, she insists the conservationists will eventually triumph over the poachers and the criminal syndicates behind the butchering of rhinos.

The seeds of her confidence lie in the past.“I absolutely believe 100 percent that we can stop the poaching. We’ve done it before, when rhinos were down to 50 to 100 animals in the late 1800s. We stopped the poachers of the late 1980s and early 1990s,” Boddam-Whetham said.

She added, “As long as we keep fighting from all corners, we will win. And we must realize that this fight isn’t just about the rhino. If we lose the rhino war, then the poachers will increasingly target tigers and elephants and all the other animals being affected by the illegal wildlife trade. We have to set an example and keep fighting and not give up and I really truly believe that we can win if we all cooperate and not let up.”

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid