A year ago I started this blog to share information about wildlife and wildlife conservation. This was largely due to my frustrations over the rhino poaching pandemic in South Africa. As such I wanted to revisit the subject now that this blog has celebrated its first birthday. At the time of my original posting on April 9, 2012 160 rhinos had been poached in South Africa. However the poachers were just warming up. By the end of 2012 SanParks statistics showed a record high of 668 rhinos poached throughout South Africa. 425 of these were from Kruger National Park alone.

Sadly, 2013 looks to break that record. A year later no progress has been made in slowing the rate of poaching. As of this post 249 rhinos have already been poached throughout the country. The poaching rate appears to be drastically greater than it was in 2012. So what is being done about this?

Poached rhino with  calf

Poached rhino with calf

While Africa’s rhinos are being slaughtered we are essentially sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Rhino supporters are divided along party lines and both sides are deeply entrenched. On the one side we have those that oppose opening trade in rhino horn. They believe that legalizing trade in rhino horn is immoral. It is their claim that one should not profit from wildlife even if it does lead to more people raising and protecting them. They also claim that this trade will only fuel the demand for rhino horn in Asia and thus lead to more poaching. As of now there is no proof that this is true. Rather than opening trade this group believes that rhino horn should be treated with toxins that make it unfit for human consumption and thus of no use to traditional chinese medicine. The fallacy here is that poaching syndicates do not care about human life and likely have no remorse for poisoning their consumers. After all, China is the most populous country on earth offering an almost endless consumer base.

On the other side we have those that support legalizing trade in rhino horn. While this group is not opposed to treatment of horn for rhinos in parks if it can be done affordably, it is the position of this side that opening trade is the best solution. Legal trade in rhino horn could provide incentive for communities and landowners to conserve their rhinos and allow rhino breeders to better afford security for their rhinos. These results are due to the added income from being able to sell off rhino horn, which is made of keratin and can be harvested without killing the rhino. This method essentially allows the market demand to be fed without the death of rhinos. An issue here is that there are currently not enough rhinos in private ownership to meet the current demand. While this is true, most rhino breeders have been collecting stockpiles of rhino horn from natural mortality and cutting of horn in an attempt to make their rhinos not worth a poachers time. National parks have also been stockpiling horn. This stockpiled horn could possibly flood the market and quench demand at least long enough to find a way to produce enough horn annually to meet renewing demand without threatening the rhino populations.

Cow and calf owned by a friend, were poached a year later

Cow and calf owned by a friend, were poached a year later

The best result would be that we could quench demand long enough to  teach the world that rhino horn does not have any medicinal value. However this goal will not be met anytime soon. While education efforts are currently in place it will take generations to reverse thousands of years of cultural ideology about the value of rhino horn for traditional medicines.

 

There is no solid evidence to prove that trade is the silver bullet to the for the poaching problem. However, conservation groups and biologists have long recognized the value of sustainable use practices for conserving wildlife. The restoration of waterfowl populations in North America owes its success to duck hunters and the money they generate for waterfowl conservation through the Pittman-Robertson Act and the Duck Stamp Act. If history is any example we can only assume that legal trade will have a similar effect on rhinos. The one thing that is obvious, even members of the anti-trade side have admitted this, is that the trade ban has failed. The ban on trade has only led to further poaching and given control of the situation to poachers rather than conservationists and governments. Legalizing trade could bring control of the situation back to the conservationists.

Rhino poached for its horn

Rhino poached for its horn

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