By Merritt Clifton
WASHINGTON D.C., WINDHOEK, JOHANNESBURG–– Who covets rhino horn most, Vietnamese nouveau riché who believe powdered rhino horn can cure them of cancer, or U.S. trophy hunters willing to pay almost any price to hob nob with the elite of Safari Club International?
Who is really to blame for driving up the price of rhino horn to the point that rhinos are in jeopardy of being poached into extinction?
Trophy hunters argue that the high sums they pay to shoot rhinos fund rhino conservation, including rearing thousands of rhinos to trophy size in captivity before they are released into fenced habitat to be shot.
But the hunting money has raised the “floor price” for rhino horn so high that Vietnamese criminal syndicates exploiting the desperation of cancer-stricken Vietnamese wealthy are able to out-gun, out-helicopter, and out-bribe the hunter-funded rhino protection forces, in an arms race that rhinos can only lose, no matter which human faction wins.
Trophy rhino horn imports
Long known and keenly debated among conservationists, the economics and politics of rhino hunting and poaching surfaced before the U.S. public after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on November 6, 2014 published notice that it had received import permit applications from two U.S. hunters who propose to kill critically endangered black rhinos in Namibia, then bring the trophies home.
Trophy hunting consultant and TV personality Corey Knowlton won a Namibian permit to kill a black rhino by paying $350,000 for it at a Dallas Safari Club auction in January 2014. The other applicant, Michael Luzich, is “a certified member of NRA’s ‘golden ring of freedom’ which requires a minimum donation of $1 million,” said Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, who with International Fund for Animal Welfare North American regional director Jeffrey Flocken has been rallying opposition to the import permit applications.
Explained Flocken in a recent alert to activists, “With only 1,800 remaining in Namibia out of a worldwide population of about 5,000, black rhinos are currently endangered and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. As such, an import permit must be issued to bring the trophy into the country. A permit is issued if the trophy is taken as part of a ‘well-managed conservation program that enhances the long-term survival of the species.’ The Dallas Safari Club claims the money will be used to manage the rhino population and to help the Namibian government thwart poaching efforts. However, reports have indicated that the club is threatening to withdraw its donation to the country if the U.S. denies an import permit.
“Kill it to save it is not only cruel, it’s not conservation,” Flocken added. “Allowing these import permits will reinforce the idea that killing an endangered species is acceptable,” if for a high enough price.
“If black rhinos and other dwindling species are to have a future,” Flocken finished, “people must be encouraged to value the animals for their inherent worth alive, not their price tag when dead.”
Public opinion: U.S. & Vietnam
IFAW public opinion research suggests that about 89% of the U.S. public opposes hunting rhinos for sport, and 77% object to hunting clubs raffling off the opportunity to kill endangered species.But a more meaningful poll, as regards the future of rhinos, was a recent Nielsen survey conducted in Vietnam, funded by the Humane Society International division of HSUS, which has for three years conducted educational campaigns against rhino horn use.
Following up previous research, the Nielson survey found that Vietnamese demand for rhino horn “has declined, just within the last year, by a startling 38.1 percent,” summarized Pacelle.
The Nielsen research discovered “a drop of 25.4% over a year in the number of Vietnamese who believe that rhino horn has medicinal properties,” Pacelle continued. “In the city of Hanoi, where most of the public information campaigns have been concentrated, there was a 77% decrease in the percentage of people who buy or use rhino horn.”
Only 2.6% of Vietnamese people still use rhino horn, the Nielsen survey found. More....