March 1, 2013
Scientists Want To Legalize Rhino Horn Trade To Protect Species From Extinction
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
An international group of leading environmental scientists are advocating a legal trade in rhino horn as a last ditch effort to save the animals from extinction.
The scientists argue that the current global ban on rhino products has failed to protect the animals as death rates among the world's remaining black and white rhinos are soaring. This increased death rate is due to illegal poaching to supply the insatiable demand for these mammals' horns.
The paper outlining their plan has been published in a recent issue of Science.
"Current strategies have clearly failed to conserve these magnificent animals and the time has come for a highly regulated legal trade in horn", says lead author Dr Duan Biggs of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (ARC) 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 Western Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2011, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The remaining populations of rhinos are found mostly in South Africa and Namibia. Currently, there are only 5,000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left globally.
"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 [$2,150 per pound] in 1993 to around [$29,500 per pound] in 2012," they say.
This makes rhino horn more valuable than gold; a price mainly attributed to the growing demand for unique Chinese medicines by affluent Asian consumers.
Under the CITES Treaty, world trade in rhino horn is banned. Unfortunately, by restricting supplies, the ban has only succeeded in raising the price, making it more profitable for illegal high-tech poachers armed with helicopters and stun-darts. Poachers are slaughtering rhinos at an alarming rate.
Other methods of stemming the growth of demand, such as educating Chinese medicine consumers to stop using rhino horn, have failed.
The global demand for horn could be met legally, the scientists say, by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos and harvesting horns from animals that die of natural causes. A rhino's horn grows by almost 2 pounds a year, and today's best-practice harvesting techniques have minimal risks to the animal. Other animals, such as the crocodile, have been saved from extinction with legal farming industries.
More land would be set aside for legally farmed rhinos, helping to conserve other savannah animals. The researchers argue that this would generate much needed income for impoverished rural areas in southern Africa, as well.
Dr. Biggs and his colleagues advocate the creation of a Central Selling Organization that would supervise the harvest and sale of legal rhino horn globally. They claim that buyers would be attracted to such an organization because the products would be legal, cheaper than the black market, safer and easier to obtain.
"Horn sold through a Central Selling Organization could be DNA-fingerprinted and traceable worldwide, enabling buyers, and regulators to differentiate between legal and illicit products," he says.
This is not the first time such a measure has been proposed. Legal trade in rhino horn was initially proposed 20 years ago, but was rejected as being "premature."
Dr. Biggs says the time for this idea has come. "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 3-14 March this year, in Bangkok."
"Legitimizing 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.