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Sci­en­tists call for legal trade in rhino horn

pub­lished 04 March 2013 | mod­i­fied 04 March 2013

white rhino poachingFour lead­ing envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists urged the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity to install a legal trade in rhino horn — in a last ditch effort to save the imper­illed ani­mals from extinc­tion.

In an arti­cle pub­lished on March 1 in the inter­na­tional jour­nal Sci­ence the sci­en­tists argued that a global ban on rhino prod­ucts has failed, and death rates among the world’s remain­ing black and white rhi­nos are soar­ing due to ille­gal poach­ing to sup­ply insa­tiable inter­na­tional demand.

Cur­rent strate­gies have clearly failed to con­serve these mag­nif­i­cent ani­mals and the time has come for a highly reg­u­lated legal trade in horn
Dr Duan Biggs, lead author, ARC Cen­tre of Excel­lence for Envi­ron­men­tal Deci­sions (CEED) and Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land »

As com­mit­ted envi­ron­men­tal­ists we don’t like the idea of a legal trade any more than does the aver­age mem­ber of the con­cerned pub­lic. But we can see that we need to do some­thing rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to con­serve Africa’s rhino.”

The researchers said the West­ern Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2011. There are only 5000 Black Rhi­nos and 20,000 White Rhi­nos left, the vast major­ity of which are in South Africa and Namibia. “Poach­ing in South Africa has, on aver­age, more than dou­bled each year over the past 5 years. Sky­rock­et­ing poach­ing lev­els are dri­ven by tremen­dous growth in the retail price of rhino horn, from around $4,700 per kilo­gram in 1993 to around $65,000 per kilo­gram in 2012,” they say. “Rhino horn is now worth more than gold,” the sci­en­tists note. This growth is mainly attrib­uted to soar­ing demand by afflu­ent Asian con­sumers for Chi­nese med­i­cines.

World trade in rhino horn is banned under the CITES Treaty — and this ban, by restrict­ing sup­plies of horn, has only suc­ceeded in gen­er­at­ing huge rewards for an ille­gal high-​tech poach­ing indus­try, equipped with heli­copters and stun-​darts, which is slaugh­ter­ing rhi­nos at alarm­ing rates. Attempts to edu­cate Chi­nese med­i­cine con­sumers to stop using rhino horn have failed to reduce the growth in demand, they said.

The sci­en­tists argue that the entire world demand for horn could be met legally by humanely shav­ing the horns of live rhi­nos, and from ani­mals which die of nat­ural causes. Rhi­nos grow about 0.9 kg of horn each year, and the risks to the ani­mal from today’s best-​practice horn har­vest­ing tech­niques are min­i­mal. The legal trade in farmed croc­o­dile skins is an exam­ple of an indus­try where legal­i­sa­tion has saved the species from being hunted to extinc­tion.

Fur­ther­more, if rhi­nos were being ‘farmed’ legally, more land would be set aside for them and this in turn would help to con­serve other endan­gered savan­nah ani­mals, as well as gen­er­at­ing much-​needed income for impov­er­ished rural areas in south­ern Africa the researchers argue.

They advo­cate the cre­ation of a Cen­tral Sell­ing Organ­i­sa­tion to super­vise the legit­i­mate har­vest and sale of rhino horn glob­ally. Buy­ers would be attracted to this organ­i­sa­tion because its prod­ucts will be legal, cheaper than horn on the black mar­ket, and safer and eas­ier to obtain, they said, adding “horn sold through a Cen­tral Sell­ing Organ­i­sa­tion could be DNA-​fingerprinted and trace­able world­wide, enabling buy­ers, and reg­u­la­tors to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between legal and illicit prod­ucts.”

A legal trade in rhino horn was first pro­posed 20 years ago, but rejected as ‘pre­ma­ture’. How­ever, the time has now come for a legal trade in horn, says Dr Biggs. “There is a great oppor­tu­nity to start seri­ous dis­cus­sions about estab­lish­ing a legal trade in rhino horn at the 16th CITES Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties (COP-​16), which is to be held from 314 March this year, in Bangkok.”

“Legit­imis­ing the mar­ket for horn may be morally repug­nant to some, but it is prob­a­bly the only sen­si­ble way to pre­vent extinc­tion of Africa’s remain­ing rhi­nos,” the sci­en­tists conclude.

The paper “Legal Trade of Africa’s Rhino Horns” by Duan Biggs, Franck Cour­champ, Rowan Mar­tin and Hugh Poss­ing­ham, can be read in full here.

(Source: CEED media release, 01.03.2013)

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