By Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, Timothy Fitzgerald
The world's five rhinoceros species remain threatened with extinction in the wild despite a 36 year international trade ban on rhino products. Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which are sought for medicinal and ornamental purposes in Asia and command remarkably high prices on black markets. Recent attempts to restrict markets for trophy hunts and rhino horn in South Africa were followed by unprecedented increases in poaching levels. This has prompted suggestions to investigate a legal trade alternative. We develop a model of rhino conservation that takes full account of contemporary conditions (markets, institutions, technology, and relevant biological parameters) and establish conditions under which an appropriately structured legal trading regime may prevent the extinction of the white rhino in South Africa. Taking advantage of existing data on rhino populations for calibration, we simulate the bioeconomic model to assess the effects of a legal trade regime. The results indicate that intensive management of rhinos, coupled with a legal outlet for verified horn, would increase rhino numbers while lowering the effective price for horn. Substantial expenditures for protecting live rhinos are required, despite which poaching persists at greatly reduced levels. These results are then brought to bear on the broader debate over rhino policy.