Should South Africa trade in rhino horn legally?

South Africa is facing an onslaught from poachers who are decimating our rhino population to satisfy the demand from mainly the Far East [Vietnam in particular], of ignorant people who believe quite absurdly that the horn is some sort of cure for a multitude of physical ailments.

Last year more than 400 rhinos were slaughtered illegally, and four months into this year nearly 200 more have been killed.

The Ministry for the Environment announced today that they are contemplating approaching the international community to lift the ban on trade in rhino horn so that South Africa can sell it legally, in an attempt to disrupt or destroy the poaching business. Reports indicate that South Africa may be sitting on a stockpile of around 20 tons of the stuff, which is estimated to be worth around R 500 000 a kilogram. That’s several times the value of gold.

Like many things in life, the answer is not straightforward and there are both pros and cons.

What do you think? Vote below:

26 thoughts on “Should South Africa trade in rhino horn legally?

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  3. I strongly vote AGAINST legalizing the trade.. Why doesn’t the SA Government just SHOOT THE BAS****S that poach the Rhino IN PUBLIC.. That will surely discourage others from trying such despicable things..

    • Hi Manaadiar

      The SA government are a seriously dubious bunch themselves. This initiative [legalising trade] might not look like a moral thing to do, but if you put aside your emotions for a bit, you might see that it is not the worst idea.

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  6. The Minister didn’t actuall say that the idea of Legal Trade is under review she just reiterated that the Government is reviewing all options, which has been going on for some time now. There are two schools of thought and it is a complicated issue, however as new studies are becoming available, the evidence shows that Legal Trade is being driven by those who have invested in Rhino as a business and have little regard for the welfare of the animals, this is a disgrace as it shows the lack of ethics being pedalled under the guise of a finacial benefit for the country, these people should just own up to their errors and let the conservationists get on with the job of protecting this important species!

    • Hi Terry

      The article I referenced indicated that the Ministry is considering approaching the international community to look into lifting the ban. This is to probably sensitise them, what with the CITES conference coming up shortly.

      My natural first instinct was to also look at it from a moral/ethical point of view, but as you say, the whole issue is much more complicated, and emotions should not cloud our judgement. You are probably quite right about business interests being a driving force, and I always get horrified when government is involved in anything – self interest and fraud being the order of the day.

      After much thought, I tend to favor the proposal for legalising trade because the benefits has the potential to outweigh the risks. Let’s be honest, conservationists are not doing a good job of protecting the species; admittedly not through lack of trying.

      • Hey Lenny,

        I’m afraid that you and I will have to disagree here, there are moral issues that have to take precedence, and we as custodians have t recognise that, may I invite you to read my speech in Parliament on January 26th (its available on youtube or the text on where i spell out what can be done and how it can be implemented, the Minister has given us our census, has given a further 20 million and as a NGO we are being very effective in the courts, it just takes a little effort and it works you dhouldn’t just give up because in your opinion the conservation authorities are not doing a good job. A little more good research would show that to be incorrect!

        • Hi Terry,

          Thanks for the response. Being a skeptic precludes me from being morally absolute. I prefer to look at things from all possible angles. However, I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of rhinos by any means. I have written here in the past expressing my disgust at both the poachers and the ignorant fools who consume the rhino horn. However, I think we need to explore all possible avenues to find a long term solution to this problem, and that includes one’s that may be deemed to be abhorrant.

          Off course, I’m interested to hear what you have said in Parliament. I’d apprecaite it if you would provide the links to the video and transcripts here, so that others on this forum have access to it as well.

  7. Another point worth raising is that once the stockpile has all been sold, the demand will exceed supply again which will result in an even higher level of attempted poaching of live animals (as there is no legal alternative). So I’m not sure it would even work. Though if the profits that were made from the sale of these horns were pumped directly back into the prevention of poaching it may be worthwhile – it just depends if this benefit outweighs the cost of potentially driving up demand for rhino horn.

    • Hi Hunt

      That’s probably true, but all the various agencies would have bought some time to put measures in place to curb the illegal poaching. Who knows, someone could come up with a synthetic product [which will be a placebo of course] to pedal in the place of real rhino horn. The profits as you say MUST be pumped back into conservation efforts – let’s hope our government doesn’t get its grubby pilfering hands on it though.

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    • Hi Suzanne,

      Perhaps. But what if more people do buy it? Demand will remain if it works. Perhaps it’s a means to an end when more people realise that rhino horn is pure rubbish that doesn’t work. But I’m also speculating…

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  13. flooding the market with stockpiled horn and backing it up with dehorning could quite easily drive the price of horn down to level where it is no longer economically viable/worth the risk to poach,dealing a catastrophic blow to the syndicates.

  14. Rhino should be allowed to contribute to its own upkeep
    The sale of rhino-horn on the international market was banned in 1976. However, it remained legal to sell horn on the markets of several countries including South Africa, which finally placed a moratorium on the local trade in February of 2009. This unfortunately appears to have backfired for although the increase in poaching was initially not dramatic (rising from 83 to 122 in 2009) the demise of the legal trade soon took its toll, which saw poaching skyrocket to 333 in 2010, to 448 in 2011, and to more than 460 so far this year. This dramatic increase has spawned several theories, one being that a well–known oriental personality claimed that rhino-horn had cured him of cancer and that this endorsement led to a spike in demand, but the most plausible explanation seems to be that an inability to purchase horn on the legal market fuelled demand for black-market horn, which is consistent with economic theory and also consistent with what happened when the United States of America prohibited the sale of alcohol in the early 1930‘s. Accordingly, the obvious solution seems to lie in flooding the market with stockpiled horn, thereby driving the price of horn down to the point that poaching is no longer economically viable/worth the risk, and keeping the price down by allowing farmers to dehorn their rhino and sell the horn(which grows back to full size in around 3 years). Some experts estimate that we already are in a position to supply 800 horns per year (which is considerably more than is currently being poached). This path of action seems eminently sensible and would – in the short term – have substantial economic benefits, leading to an increase in the number of farmers and to an increase in the number of rhino. In addition, with rhino already less attractive to poachers due to dehorning (which admittedly still leaves a sizeable stub) this revenue could be used for the protection of all rhino (including those in the Kruger National Park, which due to predators and the need to attract tourists is unlikely to follow suit) and to provide an economic benefit to the local population, which otherwise could be driven to poaching by hunger or by a desire to drive the farmer off land that could be used by locals for other purposes.
    However, there are some who believe that a better option would be to treat the horn (which entails making the horn toxic/unsuitable for use as a medicine and fitting a tracking device etcetera) and it hence is helpful to examine a few of the problems:
    First, the Kruger National Park has already rejected this plan on the grounds that someone – a child perhaps- could become seriously ill or die and one hence struggles to see how farmers – many of whom are allegedly in cahoots with poachers – are going to be persuaded to spend R10 000 to R15 000 on treating the horn of each rhino.
    Second, this toxicity only lasts for approximately 4 years which means that farmers will have to fork out approximately R 3000 per year per animal on what amounts to no more than a temporary inconvenience to those who are prepared to hold onto the horn until the toxicity has worn off. In addition, this would make farming more un-lucrative, impacting negatively on our ability to provide top-quality security and perhaps deterring prospective farmers/breeders.
    Third, luxury vehicles fitted with state-of-art tracking devices are routinely smuggled across our porous borders and it thus is hard to believe that the same would not happen with poached horn.
    Fourth, locals might still poach for food or to drive the farmer off land that is providing them with little or no economic benefit.
    Fifth, treatment would still require a tranquilizer and hence would not be appreciably less stressful than dehorning, which has been likened by some experts to trimming the hoof of a horse.

    All of which is of little interest to those who believe that allowing farmers to exploit rhino-horn is likely to lead to factory–farming (rhinos crammed like sardines into sheds etcetera) and also will set a precedent, forcing us to allow all wild animals to be farmed. This is a highly unrealistic for a number of reasons:
    First, rhino horn has no official value at the moment and government therefore could conceivably expropriate all horn without paying a cent in compensation (which is already the case with clay deposits and water for putting out fires etcetera) with the farmer needing a permit and benefiting only from the fact that government is paying the salaries of security–guards/game-rangers and fixing fences etcetera (alternatively, government could issue a temporary permit and fix the price at which the farmer is forced to sell).
    Second, the primary reason for the high demand for horn is the erroneous belief that it cures a host of illnesses which (as this belief is erroneous) means that the market for horn is likely to shrink dramatically in the not too distant future.
    In addition, the ultimate and clear aim of this plan would be to use stockpiled horn to cause the market to crash, thereby giving investors a lesson that they are unlikely to forget, and if needs be to repeat the exercise at strategically determined intervals. Consequently, farming for horn is not likely to remain attractive for long,
    A volatile market -with lots of burnt fingers- is the key to the rhino’s survival.
    Terence Grant
    Cape Town

    • Well Terence, you’ve convinced me with the first scenario. It sounds reasonable and workable. Flooding the market will make it freely available to every sucker with delusional beliefs. When, as will ultimately be the case, the treatment turns out to be ineffective, hopefully they will either err expire, or cease to purchase rhino horn from shame. Off course an educational campaign exposing the failures of the rhino horn may further be of help towards total eradication of these stupid beliefs.

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