By Emily Mellgard
There is a debate over whether a tightly regulated legal trade in rhino horn could help stem the tide of rhino poaching in southern Africa. Most rhino horn, like ivory, finds its way to the Far East. The largest consumer of ivory is China. Vietnam is the largest consumer of rhino horn. It’s ground into a powder and used in traditional and modern medicines to cure everything from cancer and the flu, to hangovers, and as an aphrodisiac among the nouveau riche. It is also carved into libation cups for use in temples. The use of rhino horn is a deep-rooted tradition, even though the horn is keratin (as are human fingernails and hair) and has no medicinal properties.
Will legalizing trade in rhino horn decrease the illegal slaughter of rhinos as the legalization and regulation of crocodile farming and trade decreased the poaching of wild crocodiles? Or will it have the same effect on poaching as the one-off sales of elephant ivory; causing insatiable demand and uncontrollable killings?
To legalize rhino horn trade, the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) must vote to downgrade rhinos from Appendix I (no trade) to Appendix II (partial trade) as it allowed specific countries to do with elephants in 1997. South Africa, home to over 70 percent of the world’s rhino population, announced on July 3 that they would submit a proposal for legal trade at the 2016 CITES Conference of Parties, which will be held in South Africa.
When elephants were placed in Appendix I, banning the ivory trade, in 1989, ivory demand was partially met by a diversification in the market: mammoth tusks from the Siberian Arctic, animal bone, and the resale of already carved ivory. The one-off ivory sale to Japan in 1999 had little effect on poaching levels. When China became the second approved buyer in 2007, the one-off sales in 2008 caused a massive, and still escalating, demand. Advocates for the sales argued that the influx of legal ivory would decrease demand for illegal ivory, driving down poaching, but the opposite happened. The ivory stockpiles were sold by African governments in bulk, but then broken up into smaller portions and resold by the buyers for astronomical returns, which increased the bottom ceiling price. The increase in available ivory also increased the number of consumers. As legal stockpiles were depleted, demand continued to rise, providing more than enough incentive for poachers to continue hunting. More....