Survival of Africa’s Rhino: Political not Economic Issue

Hot debate concerning legalizing trade of rhino horn in effort to stop poaching. Chris Mercer speaks out regarding pro-trade report by Damien Mander.

rhino farming legalizing horn trade debate

The debate around legalizing the rhino horn trade to save the last rhino is not only heated, it is polarizing those who fight for this endangered species. What’s really at the core of this battle? Is this really about the rhino?

We are not wildlife conservationists, econmists or experts in this matter, merely passionate advocates helping those who are about saving Africa’s wildlife.

We have featured Chris Mercer with the Campaign Against Canned Hunting numerous times as we respect his experience, experience and insights. (RHINO HORN the trade debate eReport)

What follows is Chris’ response to Damien Mander’s view on the horn trade debate:

WHY I THINK DAMIEN MANDER IS WRONG!

By Chris Mercer

Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about why we should all oppose lifting the ban on the trade in ivory horn. I did so because conservation authorities were being deluged by a well-orchestrated avalanche of questionable information, all aimed at convincing them that the only way to save the rhino was by legalising the rhino horn trade. I pointed out that the pro-trade envionmental economists like t’sas Rolfe and Michael Eustace, were relying upon false and dangerous assumptions – assumptions that made their mathematics misleading.

There was a furious response to my blog by those wishing to establish a profitable rhino farming industry.

The Damien Mander Report

Agreement

I agree with Damien that the market for rhino horn is unlimited and that efforts to ‘educate’ orientals out of believing in the medicinal qualities of rhino horn are doomed to failure – pointless.

I agree with him that the only way to save our wild rhino is by more effective policing – rigid para-military protection.

Disagreement

But I cannot accept his dangerous assumption that the S.A. government is capable of protecting our rhino – if only it is given the money to do so, by legalising the trade in rhino horn. This conclusion ignores the root of the problem.

Rhino are not dying because the trade in horn is banned.

Rhinos prospered for decades in S.A. -even though there was a trade ban.

Rhino a Symptom

The rhino is merely one symptom of a far deeper and broader problem:

The catastrophic effects of unrestrained corruption, misuse of and incompetence at all levels of African governments.

Giving large amounts of money to the S.A. government to fight rhino poaching is like giving a barrel of beer to a drunkard.

So when Damien Mander advocates that the trade in horn be regulated by the South African and Asian governments, I am afraid that he is consigning rhinos to extinction.

Without effective and efficient controls to distinguish between legal and illegal horn, the poaching industry will flourish along with the new legalised trade.

South African Conservation Permit System

Anyone with practical experience of the S.A. conservation permit system will know that it is just a bad joke and should be abolished.

No permit system at all is better than a bad one.

The granting of permits for…

Hunting of rhino by Asian prostitutes

Export permits for live rhino to destinations as ‘Thai Skin and Hide Industries’ (obviously wrong)

The mind-numbing, futile bureaucracy of the whole permit system, the very system for which Mander advocates obscene amounts of funding.

Rhino Farmers

As for the rhino farmers, they might as well be farming with sheep or cattle, since what they do is a commercial operation having nothing to do with true conservation.

They boast an increase in Rhino numbers. But anyone who thinks that numbers alone are the true measure of conservation is an idiot – or an economist.

These rhino are not free roaming or part of a functioning ecosystem. They are captive and captive-bred.

Worse, they are a distraction from the crux of the problem, which is government’s abject failure to focus on rigidly protecting all our wildlife in our game reserves.

The survival of rhino and all other wildlife is a political issue, not an economic one.

Damien Responds

It’s now several hours later since this blog post got published. Here is Damien’s response to Chris’ response…

We are on the same side mate (meaning Chris), but I think a few of your replies are a little off the mark.

1: I agree with Damien that the market for rhino horn is unlimited

1: DM – Firstly, I have not said the market is unlimited – “One primary fear is that the demand in rhino horn is too high and that the market, if legalized, could not be met. However, the amount required by the market is not fixed and will be dictated by demand. Demand is not determined by supply, but by what the consumer wants, which also determines price. Also, trade restrictions are most likely leading to stockpiling of horns within the black market, as uncertainty grows regarding the future of the rhino and the value of its horn. This could be pushing market demand for horn above what the actual demand may be.“

2: CM – Rhino are not dying because the trade in horn is banned.

2: DM – Correct, they are dying because people are killing them for their horns. The horn can be taken off the animal without killing it.

3: CM – “Rhinos prospered for decades in S.A. -even though there was a trade ban.”

3: DM – Correct, and in the meantime they were poached to extinction across many other key range states.

4: CM – “I cannot accept his dangerous assumption that the S.A. government is capable of protecting our rhino.”

4: DM – There is no mention of this being the governments responsibility. Only, “the best options for the rhino that we know of, is well trained, well equipped units on the ground, backed up by good intelligence.”

5: CM – So when Damien Mander advocates that the trade in horn be regulated by the South African and Asian governments, I am afraid that he is consigning rhinos to extinction.

5: DM – Nowhere did I write of who should manage the trade if legalized – “One of Doug’s primary concerns within Vietnam if trade were to be legalised, would be how to regulate it. As with many developing countries, corruption is widely present in Vietnam and the concern of regulating wildlife trade is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind. “

“In the past, lucrative trades have existed with other commodities that were rare and exclusive. Bear bile, soft shell tortoise and deer antler wine trade were all previous examples of local wildlife commodities that have been through the spike in Vietnam that rhino horn use is currently going through.”

6: CM – “The mind-numbing, futile bureaucracy of the whole permit system, the very system for which Mander advocates obscene amounts of funding.”

6: DM – I merely asked a question in the report, “What if the demand for rhino horn could be met and a good majority of the revenue put back into conservation?”

7: CM¬ – They boast an increase in Rhino numbers. But anyone who thinks that numbers alone are the true measure of conservation is an idiot – or an economist.

7: And while we sit counting our precious few remaining rhino will we then wish we had some breeding in more places, or not at all? I bet you have had a pet at some stage in your life, or probably enjoy a braii on a Sunday afternoon. Tell me why can we breed cats and dogs, farm cows and chickens, but can’t keep a rhino in a paddock?

8: CM – The survival of rhino and all other wildlife is a political issue, not an economic one.

8: DM – Perhaps, perhaps not. Who is to truly know for sure? The person that shouts the loudest or pisses the furthest? – “I personally don’t know if the legalisation in the rhino horn trade is the definite answer to the future of the rhino, and no one can guarantee this. One thing I do know is that the current situation of trying to preserve them, with limited resources on the ground, is not sustainable overall.”

“For those that are completely against legalising the trade to any extent, I ask you this – Show us where the money is to protect these animals in the wild, and I’m back on your side.”

Cheers Chris and keep fighting the good fight mate! Regards, Damien Mander Iapf

Our Position at Nikela

We are anti-trade for several reasons, however, we are not averse to posting debates around the issue as we are with this one between two passionate, dedicated individuals who both are fighting to save the rhino and other wildlife. Though, with that said, Chris would say the big difference between him and Damien is the end result.

Damien appears okay with rhino being “conserved” in paddocks similar to cattle, while Chris considers this farming not conservation of the wild kind.

Nikela is against legalizing the rhino horn trade because…

  1. The rhino is a wild animal and should not be farmed like we do sheep, cows, goats and poultry etc.
  2. Feeding into the myth that rhino horn has medicinal value is morally wrong

There are of course many more, but these two basic ones lie at the core of Nikela’s opposition to legalizing the horn trade.

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4 Responses to Survival of Africa’s Rhino: Political not Economic Issue

  1. Margot Stewart June 25, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    I agree with Chris Mercer on some of his points, but not all. Firstly, the reason Rhino prospered in South Africa is because for a long time prudent wildlife management in the national and provincial parks kept poaching to a minimum and the criminal syndicates were kept busy elsewhere, to the north of us, decimating the rhino population of Zimbabwe and other African states. I’m not an expert on what happened to the internal structures of the Parks Boards after 1994, but I can just imagine. Now we have abuses both in the parastatals and among the private owners. I agree the Government is lax, that is why we must petition help from other range states and organisations like CITES to put pressure on them. Secondly, I believe the orientals CAN be educated to use alternatives to rhino horn – it will be a difficult task, but not an impossible one. I agree with him that political will in South Africa and the Far East is critical, whether it occurs voluntarily or is demanded by International environmentalists.

    • Wildlife Margrit June 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      Thank you for your insights Margot. Always appreciate and value your input.
      It is crucial that we agree on the main points, those that will actually save the last rhino. The rest, well, it’s okay if we address the problem on multiple fronts, as long as we continue to stay focused on the rhino and not the money.
      Sure as Damien addresses in his report, money is needed to preserve rhino on private properties. Reserve owners knew this when they decided to keep wildlife. And if their sole reason was to make money… well then, that’s starting off on the wrong foot isn’t it?
      Wildlife conservation, like raising kids, should not be a money making proposition. We protect our children and our wildlife (and our environment) because it is the right thing to do.

  2. Damien Mander June 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Chris, thanks for the blog.

    We are on the same side mate, but I think a few of your replies are a little off the mark.

    1: I agree with Damien that the market for rhino horn is unlimited

    1: DM – Firstly, I have not said the market is unlimited – “One primary fear is that the demand in rhino horn is too high and that the market, if legalized, could not be met. However, the amount required by the market is not fixed and will be dictated by demand. Demand is not determined by supply, but by what the consumer wants, which also determines price. Also, trade restrictions are most likely leading to stockpiling of horns within the black market, as uncertainty grows regarding the future of the rhino and the value of its horn. This could be pushing market demand for horn above what the actual demand may be.“

    2: CM – Rhino are not dying because the trade in horn is banned.
    2: DM – Correct, they are dying because people are killing them for their horns. The horn can be taken off the animal without killing it.
    3: CM – “Rhinos prospered for decades in S.A. -even though there was a trade ban.”

    3: DM – Correct, and in the meantime they were poached to extinction across many other key range states.

    4: CM – “I cannot accept his dangerous assumption that the S.A. government is capable of protecting our rhino.”

    4: DM – There is no mention of this being the governments responsibility. Only, “the best options for the rhino that we know of, is well trained, well equipped units on the ground, backed up by good intelligence.”

    5: CM – So when Damien Mander advocates that the trade in horn be regulated by the South African and Asian governments, I am afraid that he is consigning rhinos to extinction.

    5: DM – Nowhere did I write of who should manage the trade if legalized – “One of Doug’s primary concerns within Vietnam if trade were to be legalised, would be how to regulate it. As with many developing countries, corruption is widely present in Vietnam and the concern of regulating wildlife trade is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind. “

    “In the past, lucrative trades have existed with other commodities that were rare and exclusive. Bear bile, soft shell tortoise and deer antler wine trade were all previous examples of local wildlife commodities that have been through the spike in Vietnam that rhino horn use is currently going through.”

    6: CM – “The mind-numbing, futile bureaucracy of the whole permit system, the very system for which Mander advocates obscene amounts of funding.”
    6: DM – I merely asked a question in the report, “What if the demand for rhino horn could be met and a good majority of the revenue put back into conservation?”

    7: CM¬ – They boast an increase in Rhino numbers. But anyone who thinks that numbers alone are the true measure of conservation is an idiot – or an economist.

    7: And while we sit counting our precious few remaining rhino will we then wish we had some breeding in more places, or not at all? I bet you have had a pet at some stage in your life, or probably enjoy a braii on a Sunday afternoon. Tell me why can we breed cats and dogs, farm cows and chickens, but can’t keep a rhino in a paddock?

    8: CM – The survival of rhino and all other wildlife is a political issue, not an economic one.

    8: DM – Perhaps, perhaps not. Who is to truly know for sure? The person that shouts the loudest or pisses the furthest? – “I personally don’t know if the legalisation in the rhino horn trade is the definite answer to the future of the rhino, and no one can guarantee this. One thing I do know is that the current situation of trying to preserve them, with limited resources on the ground, is not sustainable overall.”

    “For those that are completely against legalising the trade to any extent, I ask you this – Show us where the money is to protect these animals in the wild, and I’m back on your side.”

    Cheers Chris and keep fighting the good fight mate! Regards, Damien

    • Wildlife Margrit June 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks so much Damien for taking time for such a detailed response

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