South Africa Studying Proposal to Legalize Rhino Trade
JOHANNESBURG — Some South African conservationists and owners of wildlife reserves are advocating for the legalization of the rhino horn trade, which is currently banned by an international treaty. The proposed plan would entail selling only horns from rhinos that died of natural causes and using the profits to fund anti-poaching efforts.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, a record 448 rhinos were poached in 2011 and more than half that number already have been killed illegally so far this year.
Pelham Jones, the chairman of South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association, said the South African government does not have the resources to stop poachers from killing this endangered species for its horns.
They are worth more than their weight in gold for use in some traditional Asian medicines.
“We can double, we can triple our security measures,” said Jones. “We cannot sustain the level of protection of our rhino, especially not when one looks at the value that rhino horns are being sold for in the Far East.”
Jones represents a group of rhino owners and conservationists who now say the best way to save the rhino is to lift the ban on the rhino horn trade.
“We are talking here not of going out and killing rhinos for their horns. South Africa has over 25 tons of horns in stockpiles. These are horns from animals that died of natural causes, horns that broke off during relocation,” he said.
He said legalizing the rhino horn trade would reduce the price and incentive for poaching. DNA testing could be used to assure that only legal rhino horns are sold. And taxes and fees from the sale of legal rhino horns could be used to fund increased security and conservation measures.
The South African government has commissioned a study on legalizing the rhino trade, but Jo Shaw with the wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC remains skeptical.
“We need to know exactly how horn is going to be sold. We need to know who it is going to be sold to. We need to be clear on the mechanisms that will be put into place to stop horns from illegally killed rhinos entering the legal trade.”
She said despite the increase in rhino poaching, the ban is working in that the worldwide rhino population remains steady at about 20,000 animals. And while demand for rhino horns currently is rising in China, Vietnam and Thailand, other countries in Asia have been successful in curbing the illegal trade.
“We do know that, in the past, markets for rhino horns have grown and then been reduced elsewhere. So historically Japan, Taiwan, Korea were all major users of rhino horn. Those countries all have domestic bans in place and the demand is no longer coming from those regions,” said Shaw.
She said that if legalizing the rhino trade to save the rhinos may sound too good to be true, it most likely is.