I’ve written a lot about the plight of South Africa’s wild rhino population of late. It’s under concerted and brutal attack from ruthless, well organized poachers who make a killing – quite literally – by selling the butchered animals’ chopped-off horns on illegal Asian markets.
This year’s rhino death count in South Africa now stands at 309.
Earlier this year, the country’s government said that it was considering a complete moratorium on all rhino hunting. Authorities currently issue a limited number of licenses to hunt rhinos legally and export their horns as trophies under the regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Some people have argued that poisoning the horns of living rhinos would deter poachers and recently this strategy has been used in practice for the first time. An informal poll seems to suggest that Care2 readers are somewhat undecided on how they feel about this approach, although, if anything, the numbers lean toward supporting it.
Now, yet another tactic is being touted: legalizing the trade in rhino horns. Do you think that will stop the slaughter?
This week South Africa’s Department of Water and Environmental Affairs announced that they would commission a study on the global rhino horn market and the feasibility of legalizing the trade. Spokesperson Albie Modise said that any funds raised through the sale of government-owned stockpiles would go towards rhino conservation efforts.
Andrew Rossaak, the chairperson of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, believes that this research initiative will help to create “a clear understanding of the demand of horns overseas.” Proponents of the idea argue that banning the trade has failed and that “tried and tested capitalist remedies” should be given a chance.
The Private Rhino Owners’ Association of South Africa also supports legalization. According to its chairperson, Pelham Jones, “we would like to see the legitimate trade of horns from rhinos that have died from age, fighting or relocation.” He says “farmers are sitting on huge stockpiles of horns… we can meet a short-term demand by releasing them and run an education campaign in the process.”
On the other side of the debate, critics believe that legalization would create a demand that could not be met.
Clearly the situation has reached a crisis point, but will legalizing the global trade in rhino horns put an end to the poaching epidemic? Or will it simply open the flood gates and make things even worse? What do you think?
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng