Rhino horn, especially wild rhino horn, is highly prized in some Asian countries. For ages it was used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some believed it would cure anything from cancer to the common cold. However, in recent years it has become more of a status symbol for the new rich. Owning a rhino horn is probably not unlike owning a Rolex watch in the western world.
However, this craze about owning or using rhino horn created a lucrative commodity for organized crime. The same networks who illegally traffick guns, drugs and humans. The wildlife trafficking industry supposedly commands billions of dollars, around 19 billion at last count. This ranks right behind drugs and guns! Now of course the rhino horn is not the only wildlife body part trafficked. Elephant tusks, lion bones and pangolin scales are just a few others which are creating havoc for these wildlife species.
As far as ending the poaching of rhino in South Africa, legalizing the rhino horn trade was presented as a viable option. At first blush, why not explore it as a solution? After all, the situation in South Africa has become quite dire with over a thousand rhino poached each year. Some say its gotten to the tipping point where more are being killed than born. However, who really knows? After all not all carcasses are found. And despite the valiant efforts of people like Karen Trendler and Natalie Rogers we probably have no idea how many little orphaned rhino calves are lost.
With the government seemingly unable (or unwilling) to curb the rhino poaching adequately its been largely left up to creative people to come up with solutions. People like Peter Milton and his high tech drones. Lorinda Hern and her horn infusion. Then there’s folks with sniffer dogs, DNA testing, fake horns… and the list go on. Some have more of an impact than others. However, legalizing the rhino horn trade was raised as ‘the solution’.
Why legalizing the rhino horn trade seems to be more about money than conservation
Where would these legal horns come from?
A lot from one person. John Hume has stockpiled both rhino and their horns. However, although he has well over a thousand head of rhino (sounds like breeding cattle already doesn’t it?) that cannot keep up with the demand. A rhino horn can only be harvested every few years. It’s not like a sheep that can be sheared annually. Or a cow that gives milk daily. Plus, a rhino must be tranquilized to be safely dehorned. Very invasive. Not always safe as Lorinda experienced some years back when one of their rhino died.
There are seemingly two issues here… number of legally harvested horns available, and the constant risk of repeatedly tranquilizing rhino to saw off their horn.
How do you conduct legal business with an illegal syndicate?
The business model of syndicates is to steal their product, not pay for it. Is to bribe and kill, not to follow the laws. How in the world do you blend the two? If one side has to compromise you know it’s not going to be the crime bosses.
The question seems to be… Would the legal trade form a new network or get in bed with the syndicates? The reality? Probably some mixture of the two?
Don’t the buyers prefer wild rhino horn?
Supposedly wild rhino horn… that is, horn that’s hacked off and includes the valuable stump… is more sought after than farm raised horn. When horns are harvested legally (so that the rhino survives) the horn is sawn off about three inches or so from the rhino’s face. This leaves the valuable stump behind. That’s why we see these horrific images of poached rhino with a portion of their face cut away. Poachers don’t care about the animal’s survival, or pain! Also, some dehorned rhino have been known to be poached.
Food for thought. If buyers prefer wild rhino horn, then… legalizing the rhino horn trade would not stop the poaching of South Africa’s rhino, right?
What would happen to the rhino as a species?
Some say they’d be saved from extinction. Well, maybe they would, but to what new way of life? After all, we already see John Hume farming them like cattle. With money to be made would more people get into the business of rhino farming? When wildlife in South Africa became a commodity many farmers changed from cattle to wildlife farming. To date there are over twelve thousand game farms in South Africa! These farms breed lions, sable, Cape buffalo, wildebeest, springbok and so on… Not to create wild environments or balanced ecosystems, but to make money. Either by selling their commodity to other farms or offering them up as trophy hunts.
Would the rhino experience a similar fate? Where does conserving the rhino and its natural habitat fit in this plan?
There are many more pros and cons regarding this matter. Many more that are supposedly scientific and researched. However to the average observer like me, I venture to guess the situation seems quite obvious, legalizing the rhino horn trade is more about money than conservation.