Make Rhino Horn Trade Legal, Scientists Plead

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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Photo from Thinkstock


Nicola Thomasson
Nicola Thomasson3 years ago

I feel that perhaps a few select individuals could get a permit to shave off and sell rhino horns. People who work with protecting rhinos and elephants, maybe, so that the money could in return go to helping animal conservation efforts

Warren Friedman
Warren Friedman4 years ago


Briefly, in no particular order:
Knowingly trading in a commodity under false pretences – that it has medicinal value when the seller know that to be false – is highly unethical and is illegal.

Giving credence to a product with no medicinal efficacy could put ill people in consuming countries at risk due to them using an ineffective remedy in lieu of proven therapies.

Based on current and projected usage assuming trade is regulated there would never be enough rhino horn to meet anticipated demand. Mass industrial farming a-la domestic animals would be the end result for the rhino.

Being unsustainable and even with current stockpiles and herds the market would never be flooded sufficiently to reduce the value of horn to a price where poaching is not viable. (Cattle rustling is still a global problem)
Ironically, should rhino horn value become too low those owners that have expanded their rhino herds and thus its range in the expectation of making a large return from horn will then find it uneconomical to continue holding rhino possibly resulting in a reduction of rhino numbers and potential habitat.

Treating rhino as a commodity instead of as a freedom loving being is human selfishness and will reduce one of our iconic symbols to a status similar to that of antelope such as sheep

Elisa G.
E G4 years ago

Legalizing trade will worsen poaching, not decrease it. It will increase the demand for rhino horn, and there is no way that the existing rhino numbers can satisfy any increase in demand. The rhino trade is currently in the hands of criminal syndicates, which will just buy up legal rhino horn and sell it at increased prices, as happened with the recent 'once-off' sale of ivory, which has spelled disaster for Africa's elephants. Poachers and traders are also in the business of extinction - the more rhino they can kill, the more their stockpiles of rhino horn are worth. Just see what is happening with blue fin tuna. South Africa is full of corrupt officials - SA cannot even control its legal trophy hunting of rhino, which has done nothing but feed the illegal trade in rhino horn. Indeed, it is my belief that privatizing rhino game farms has spelled death for the rhino, as unscrupulous rhino farmers have ignited the rhino horn trade by pushing the SA govt to legalize trade. In other words, the current poaching crisis is the result of the call to trade in rhino horn. Animals are not commodities - factory farming the rhino is no more conservation than is a McDonaldd operation.

Caroline Mason
Caroline Mason4 years ago

NO, NO, NO. Trade must not be allowed.
Firstly, there will be confusion in the market with both legal and illegal available. A legal market will provide an avenue to launder illegal ivory.
Secondly, in the case of ivory and the one-off sales, China manipulated the market, selling legal ivory at a higher price than illegal. Therefore people bought the cheaper ivory and the illegal trade and killing continued.
Thirdly, making rhino horn acceptable is extremely risky. It could stimulate massive further demand that legal traders could not satisfy. It will also undo all the good awareness work that many have done so far.
We must change attitudes. Changed attitudes are working with shark fin – the demand is decreasing and this is a recent decrease, it has not taken that long to take effect. We must follow the shark fin method and reduce demand for rhino horn. The authorities currently show no will to stop this slaughter.
Trading with criminals ( and that is what it will be) is unethical. South Africa, no the World, must stand up and fight against the criminals driving this trade, not pander to them and trade with them. Because what next after the rhino?

Paula B.
Paula B.4 years ago

De-horn the whole frikking lot of them........................ :(

Gerhard Lohmann-Bond

The comparison between the legalization of the trade in crocodile products and the trade in rhino horn is flaky in the extreme. Of course it would be possible to farm rhinos, but a look at the rates of reproduction of rhinos shows how different the economics of both trades would be. How many calves a year would have to be produced and how long before their horns could be 'harvested'? It makes no sense at all.

Margot S.
Margot S.4 years ago

Can you please name the "scientists" that hold the belief that rhino horn trade should be legalised? I'm a wildlife activist in South Africa and would really appreciate this information, so I can follow up on their pronouncements. As far as I know the few local scientists who believe that it would be beneficial to dehorn and sell rhino horn, work for or consult for rhino owners who would like to make billions out of this scheme to sell a product that has SCIENTIFICALLY been proven to have no medicinal worth whatsoever. Thanks.. Rhino SOS SA

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago

How do you "conserve" the rhinos.

Freddie Williams
Freddie Williams4 years ago

So, if this is legalised, just imaging the rhinos that would be subject to factory farming, just as the pigs, cows, chickens are. Don't do this!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing