At least two rhinos are killed a day by poachers in South Africa for their horns; around the world, some 600 of the endangered animals a year. Now, some scientists argue that the only way to save the rhino is to legalize the trade of their horns in Africa.
Only 20,000 white rhinos remain, most in South Africa and Namibia. The situation is even bleaker for 5,000 black rhinos; the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011.
Scientists Propose Shaving Off Rhino Horns and Selling Them
Writing in the journal Science, lead researcher Duan Biggs and his colleagues contend that an “insatiable international demand” for rhino horns — which are believed to be an aprodisiac and to have other curative properties in traditional Asian medicine — has meant that drastic measures must be taken. Humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos could, the researchers say, produce enough horns to meet global demand.
Rhinos grow almost two pounds of horn (about 0.9 kilogram) a year; “farming” rhinos to “harvest” their horns would only pose minimal risks to the animals, say the scientists. A central selling organization could oversee the legal harvest and sale of rhino horn, which would sell for less than on the black market. A DNA- fingerprint could be taken from the horns’ shavings and make them traceable worldwide.
Poaching Has Grown Despite Current Ban on Rhino Horn Trade
In support of what many think an outlandish proposal, Biggs points to the legalization of the trade in wild crocodile skins as having “more or less eradicated pressures” on these animals.
Fearing that rhinos could become extinct in 20 years, the scientists are calling for the legalization of the trade in rhino horns because current international regulations banning any trade in rhino horn have not been effective. Even with prohibitions issued by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the black market trade in rhino horns has grown and the price risen exponentially. While a kilogram of rhino horn sold for around $4,700 in 1993, the same amount sold for $65,000 in 2012.
Wildlife Advocates Disagree With Scientists’ Proposal
Colman O’Criodain, a wildlife trade policy analyst with the WWF, tells the BBC that any sort of legalized trade in rhino horns is simply “unenforceable.” Indeed, O’Criodain believes that rather than putting a stop to the “poaching crisis,” legalizing the trade in rhino horns would lead to more rhinos being killed.
Biggs and the other scientists emphasize to the BBC that they “don’t like the idea of a legalised trade but believe it is the lesser of two evils.” The trade ban has also had the side effect of devoting many resources to fighting poaching, rather than encouraging other conservation measures. Biggs speaks of “a pseudo war with people … from the local communities” because the economic benefits of poaching rhinos are simply too attractive in developing regions.
There is no such proposal to legalize the rhino horn trade on the agenda of a Cites meeting next week in Bangkok (though, back in August, a Cites report proposed legalizing the ivory trade.) The South African government is investigating the possibility, says the BBC.
What do you think: could legalizing the rhino horn trade help save the rhinos? Or is this an idea based in good intentions that could only lead to the deaths of more rhinos?
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