The market for rhino horn is complex. The biggest market is for traditional medicine in China and Vietnam, for fevers, seizures and recently as a cancer cure due to a myth that top officials were cured. Status is another reason people buy rhino horn; to show they can afford it.
So rhino horn is believed to be a natural and magical cure for all kinds of illnesses, to the point where people will pay £40,000/kg for it. However, we know rhino horn is made up mostly from Keratin - the same as our hair and nails - and possesses no medicinal value. So the solution to the rhino crisis seems obvious: education! End the demand and you end the supply; when the buying stops the killing will too.
This of course, is true. However, as stated in our first post, the belief that rhino horn saves lives dates back so far that reversing it would be nearly impossible. Even if it was possible, it would take too long, and time is something the rhinos do not have.
Even if 99% of Chinese and Vietnamese people stopped buying rhino horn, the remaining 1% would be enough people to lead to the extinction of rhinos within 10 years.
Therefore, another solution is needed. We are not saying that promoting the truth about rhino horn should stop, because the more people know about how useless it is medically, the better. However, in order to prevent extinction, something else is necessary too.
|A rhino after de-horning|
These de-hornings mean there are stockpiles of rhino horn (being kept safe) that have been sustainably harvested. Rhinos can survive without their horns, as they are predominantly used for protection. Rhinos who have been dehorned are still breeding well and thriving without them. As the photos in this post show, they don't look nearly as different as you would expect, and remain calm in their natural environment. As long as the horns are safety removed by a vet, the rhinos will be fine. The reason they die when poached is due to the brutality of the way the horns are removed.
If rhino horn trade was legalised, the existing horns that have been removed can be sold, and the money can be used for conservation and protecting these animals. Furthermore, lifting the ban adds economic value to the animals.
As stated in a previous post, we live in an economic world. In order to really protect these animals, you have to give them an economic value. Legalising the trade would mean rhinos would have to be protected in order to supply the market. Breeding programmes would be flooded with funding, and rhinos are suddenly "worth" protecting.
We'd like to take this time to say that this is not how we believe the world should be. We see the value in rhinos beyond economics. We know these animals are beautiful and unique, and should be saved purely for that. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like this; and this is where conservationists come into it.
South Africa would also need a monopoly on trade so the price remains high, and the amount of horn available is controlled. If the supply is high, the price will drop and the demand could reach unsustainable levels. The price needs to be controlled so that it is low enough to beat the black market, but high enough to keep the demand sustainable. The issue here is South Africa does not have a monopoly of supply, because there are 5 species of rhino living in Asian countries and elsewhere in Africa; but South Africa does have the most of any country.
South Africa has until 27th April 2016 to propose lifting the ban to CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). If South Africa does this, to make it legal 2/3rd of voting countries will have to agree.
This is why education on this topic is crucial. For these countries to vote yes to lifting the ban, they need to know why it's a good idea and how it can help save the rhino.
We know it's controversial, and potentially more radical than other solutions, but time is not on our side. Something needs to change soon, and the people promoting this are the private owners: the people who work everyday to save these animals; and they know what they're talking about. We will be following this story in the lead up to 27th April.