Could legalizing the sale of rhino horns actually save the African Rhino?

Answer by Rory Young:

I take a teaspoon of crocodile oil every morning.

Why? It might be good for my health.

Is it scientifically proven to be good for my health? No, not specifically, except perhaps for the fact that it is high in vitamin E.

So why do I take it and what has it got to do with the question?

Well, the reason I take it is because an eighty three year old man I know takes it and swears by it. He trains hard in the gym every evening, he has a thirty-something year old girlfriend, he walks with a ramrod-straight back and his mind is as sharp as a razor. Furthermore this is after having lived a hard life as a game-ranger and catching and breeding crocodiles. He never gets sick. Ever.

I am not harming myself by taking and I am not harming the crocodile population by taking it. In fact I am assisting the maintenance of the population. How? Well,this brings me to what this has to do with rhino horn.

Nile crocodile numbers had been reduced to critically low numbers. They were facing extinction.

Instead of just trying to protect the last crocodiles, a controversial decision was made in the 1960s to allow them to be farmed.
The system worked by collecting the eggs and incubating them. At two years of age the crocodiles reach their optimum food conversion level and are slaughtered, except for a percentage that are released into the wild.

The result of this system has been the dramatic recovery of the wild crocodile population and the maintaining of a "stock" captive population that can be used to boost numbers in the wild.

A similar argument has been used for zoos. That is that they serve as a reserve of species for later reintroduction into the wild. The problem however is that zoos don't make much money.

Now, let's get down to the question of "farming" rhinos.

Under the laws of many African countries a wild animal on your land belongs to you. The government can declare the species "specially protected"or what used to be known as "Royal Game". This means that it may not be killed. It does still however still belong to the property owner.

In the case farmed wild animals, depending on the country, ownership can be registered.

The argument for the farming is that the animal should still not be allowed to be killed but that it should be legal for rhino owners to "harvest" the horns and sell them.

The biggest supporter and proponent of this scheme is a man called John Hume who owns over 500 rhinos.

John Hume

A rhino horn takes three years to regrow after being cut. At least three kilograms of rhino horn can be expected every three years. The current prices in Asia is more than US$100'000 per kg. That means John Hume can potentially earn at least $50 million per year by harvesting and selling rhino horns.

Of course this doesn't take into account that prices would be depressed if large amounts of legal rhino horn hit the market but it also doesn't take into account the continued growth of the average Asian's disposable income. Most importantly whatever the potential earnings they would be dramatically more than what he earns tight now which is zero.

White Rhinos on a Private game farm.

The argument then is that if game ranchers were allowed to harvest and sell the horns they would breed and protect the populations on private land. I believe this is quite correct. Poachers can certainly be controlled on private land with the right funding, especially if they are kept in small fenced areas.

Keeping them in small, well-protected and fenced locations  effectively means they are no longer wild. That has been a common comment by reporters visiting John Hume's rhino population, that they are almost like cows, being fed and unconcerned by the presence of humans.

We can conclude two facts from this. These rhinos are not wild and yes this would allow the non-wild and semi-wild numbers to increase dramatically thus preserving a "stock" of rhinos for re-introduction into the parks and other wild areas at a later date.

What about the wild rhinos then? What effect would the sale of legally harvested horn have on the wild rhino population?

The opponents of this plan say that it will increase demand and allow horn from poached rhinos to be sold openly in Asia and increase demand.

What these people don't seem to understand however is that the demand already so massively outstrips the even illegal supply that there is absolutely no way of reducing demand via supply restriction of poached rhino horn.This is simply because the rhinos are being poached so fast that they will be extinct before any small impact on demand can be made.

Rhino horn is used in various Asian traditional medicines.

I take croc oil because it is legally available and might be good for me. However, others have a blind faith in its healing properties and will take it whether legal or not and will pay whatever they must for perceived health benefits. The same applies to rhino horn.

The speed at which the wild rhinos are being butchered means that dramatic anti-poaching measures have to be taken regardless of whether legal trade in harvested horns is permitted. However, because of the lack of success in reducing rhino poaching to date this cannot be relied on. We have reached the point of drastic measures being needed to reverse the declining numbers.

In conclusion, it is my belief that in the case of the rhino the only way to now save the species is for South Africa, which has the vast majority of rhinos left, to allow private game farmers to harvest and sell the horns for profit. I am not in agreement however with allowing the hunting of rhinos.

I have opposed legalizing the sale of rhino horn till now but have no more faith in African governments tackling the poachers properly nor in the international community properly tackling the trafficking of poached rhino horn, or any other endangered species product for that matter.

At the same time, rhinos in protected areas such as National Parks should have their horns injected with the recently developed products that render them useless for Asian medicine.

Injecting Rhinos' horns with non-lethal chemicals on the Sabi-Sabi reserve in South Africa.

Most importantly the poaching war needs to be taken seriously by African government and the trafficking of the horn taken seriously by the international community. It is because the governments are not doing anything to stop the decline in the Parks that we need to look to boosting numbers through legalizing sales in the private areas.

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4 thoughts on “Could legalizing the sale of rhino horns actually save the African Rhino?

  1. This makes sense and, just like the legal sale of ivory, can end up sustaining national parks, providing a much greater income than gate fees can ever do. If only bodies like the WWF and UN can see the logic of strategies like this. They tend to err on the side of total preservationism rather than sustainable conservationism.

  2. This is hugely interesting. I’ve never heard this idea before but seems to be a reasonable solution. I would doubt that an idea like this would get through all of the emotion and sentimentality surrounding the rhino poaching issue. I’ve heard people saying that the solution is to “kill all the poachers” and with that kind of extremism, I fear that people would consider a sensible option like the one you’ve mentioned as some kind of compromise or even defeat.
    I think it’s a great idea though and I would be optimistic that it could be pretty effective.
    -Nick

    • The debating is raging right now and the SA government has indicated its intention to go ahead with it.

      Deliberately killing poachers would amount to murder. However, the reality on the ground is that it is a shoot first or be killed situation and I have been in it. Most poacher groups are specifically armed to fight any rangers they encounter.

      I agree. It IS a defeat but it is necessary to admit that the current actions being taken are failing catastrophically.

      -Rory

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