Friday, 10 November 2017

A legal trade in rhino horn could be twice as big as illegal one

30 October 2017

By Adam Popescu

What is the best way to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn? A new analysis claims South Africa could, legally and sustainably, produce enough of it to meet current demand. But conservationists say it might not prevent poaching.

About 25,000 rhinos remain in Africa, most of them white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) in South Africa. However, since 2008 the nation has experienced a wave of poaching. As of July, 529 rhinos have been killed there this year. The main purpose is to obtain rhino horn, which is sold in China and other Asian countries as a traditional “medicine” and a trophy.

Such killings take place despite a ban on the rhino horn trade. So in 2013, Duan Biggs at the University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues suggested creating a legal trade in the horn. Rhino horns can be removed without killing the animal and grow back in a few years, so, in principle, ivory can be obtained sustainably. The idea is to flood the market with a “responsible” product, cutting the price of ivory and reducing the incentive to poach.

In April, South Africa ended its eight-year moratorium on trading rhino horn, and some local rhino owners have since started selling. The biggest mogul is breeder John Hume, who has 1500 rhinos and a cache of more than six tonnes of ivory, and who helped end the moratorium with a lawsuit. Hume says his life’s mission is saving rhinos. He partly funds his work by sawing off horns and selling them at auction. In August, he sold 500 kilograms online.

Many conservationists are unconvinced. But until now we haven’t even had the answer to a basic question: how much rhino horn can be sustainably supplied.

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