Responses to Your Primary Concerns about the Rhino Horn Auction

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After going through all the comments posted on social media in relation to the rhino horn auction, we noticed a few primary concerns about the legal trade in rhino horn. We’d like you to know that we have heard all of your concerns. Here are responses to ongoing concerns about rhino horn trade.

Concern #1: There are not enough rhinos to support the demand.

We completely understand this concern. The ongoing eradication of rhinos reveal that the demand for rhino horn is large and not going to die down anytime soon. Therefore, we believe that it is crucial to encourage the breeding and protection of rhinos; if we don’t, they will be heading for extinction very soon.

If a rhino horn is trimmed, it grows back. As the horn is a renewable resource, if the incentives are put in place to conserve rhinos, the resource can be increased. That being said, the government needs to let consumer countries know that any potential trade in the horn stocks will have a limit; these countries need to respect the limit. The limit will increase as the rhino numbers increase. If we do not take the steps to meet the demand, we won’t save the rhino.

Concern #2: A legal trade in horn will promote illegal trade in horn by creating a channel for it.

Weather we like it or not, the channel for illegal horn trade exists. Illegal trade is succeeding and has no competition to counter it at all. Forming a competition in the form of legal trade has the potential of correcting the perverse value of the horn, which is what is driving rhino poaching at the moment.

With the correct permit system in place as well as the RhoDis DNA database system in South Africa, we can identify legal horn and keep illegal horn out of our legal trade route.

Concern #3: A legal trade won’t help - we need better law enforcement to save our rhino.

If we take a look at the massive social experiment in America, prohibition of alcohol, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, history shows us that bans on contraband allow the black market to thrive. The prohibition promised a richer, safer, healthier and more moral society; instead, it failed to prevent drinking and actually made the problem worse, increasing organised crime, gangsters, violence, etc.

The prohibition is just one example - there are numerous similar cases. With the ban of trade in rhino horn, organised crime syndicates have control over the market and generally either team up with or threaten government officials to help them with their crimes. Heavy threats to offenders have been useless and they continue to operate despite them.

This is not to say we should not continue efforts to eliminate poachers; however it is clear that merely increasing law enforcement efforts will not solve the problem.

Concern #4: Legals trade didn’t work for ivory.

Many people are saying that because legal trade didn’t work for ivory, it won’t work for rhino horn, but they fail to realise that both situations are very different, for example:

Ivory is represented by dead elephants; rhino horn can be obtained from live rhinos

Ivory trade is isolated as ivory does not grow back like rhino horn; rhino horn is a sustainable trade that we can continue

Elephants aren’t easy to monitor; rhino breeders can monitor, audit and protect their rhino effectively

Elephants are spread across conflict zones, which are difficult to control and protect; South Africa has the world’s largest rhino population

Concern #5: Private rhino breeders’ primary goal is to make money from horn trade.

Private rhino owners have carried a cumulative combined financial burden of more than 100 million US dollars over the last 8 years. The only way a rhino owner like John Hume can continue protecting his rhino is by selling his horn. If he does not get the funds he needs to keep his rhino protected, ten years from now, he'll have no more rhino on his Captive Breeding Operation.

That being said, individuals are entitled to make money from their businesses; in this case, the funds private rhino breeders will receive will help with the conservation and protection of the rhino.

Private rhino owners own about 28% of the rhino population in the country, therefore, the government will gain most of the funds generated from the horn; these funds are much needed to improve efforts against poaching.

Concern #6: What’s a rhino without its horn?

Many critics have expressed their horror that the majestic rhinos are going to be dehorned. Trimming a rhino horn is not like "cutting off their noses" at all.

Rhino horn is made out of keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and nails. Rhinos are anesthetized before their horns are trimmed 88mm above the flesh - the procedure is painless. Once the horns are trimmed, they regrow at roughly 100mm per year. When the horns have grown back, the process is repeated, allowing a safe and sustainable market for rhino horn.

Concern #7: Rhinos bred on a Captive Breeding Operation can’t be returned to the wild.

The rhinos from John Hume’s Captive Breeding Operation can be reintroduced into the wild easily without any rehabilitation process. As the rhinos’ horns grow back, in about 3 to 4 years time you will not even be able to tell that they had been dehorned. This, of course, we can only do once we have removed the threat of poaching as, currently, they will all be killed if we release them back into the wild.

Concern #8: We can’t risk the experiment of legalisation because if it fails we will lose all of our rhinos.

The CITES ban was disastrous for African rhinos and the Moratorium was disastrous for South African rhinos. We have experimented and proved the harmful results of these bans. If we continue with the bans, it will be devastating for our rhinos. As Einstein once said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Additional Sources:

  • Kirsten Conrad, ‘Trade bans – a perfect storm for poaching’, (Tropical Conservation Science V5(3): 245-254)
  • Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes. (2012). ‘The Rhino Poaching Crisis: A Market Analysis’. Conservation Economist February 2012 (Accessed 28 June 2017)
  • Tanya Jacobsen, 2013. ‘Criticisms of a Legal Trade in Rhino Horn’. (Accessed 28 June 2017)
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