The debate around re-opening the international rhino horn trade is still raging. While government has not given any indication yet of whether it will support the proposal to lift the ban, the demand for rhino horn from Chinese medicine practitioners is not going away.
Here’s a summary of the cases for and against the legalisation of rhino horn.
The argument is that, just like in America’s prohibition period on alcohol (which was a failure), the Chinese have not curbed their demand for rhino horn, regardless of the international ban on the substance, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
One solution that has been proposed is for South Africa to set up a Central Selling Organisation (CSO) similar to that initiated by De Beers to control world diamond sales. Both government and private rhino owners would have a stake in the CSO, and payment for rhino horn would be made directly to the rhino owners, not to crime syndicates. It’s been proposed that a system like this would eliminate the possibility of corruption and horn laundering.
For Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical companies buying the horn, the upside of the system would be selling the rhino horn at a 100 per cent profit, and this would ensure the government stamped out illegal rhino horn trade.
Considering the huge stockpile of rhino horn in South Africa, combined with regular horn “harvesting”, it’s estimated that SA could legally supply up to twice the current demand for rhino horn, without any killing required.
Trade prohibitionists are skeptical that any attempts to commercialise horn trading would be enough to shut down the black market, or cause rhino horn prices to nose dive.
Wildlife conservationists are also concerned that farming rhino for their horns will essentially turn one of Africa’s Big species into a domestic animal. Captive breeding for profit may put the genetic integrity of the species at risk, it is argued.
International governments banned rhino horn trade in 1977. Since then, the African rhino population has become all but extinct and the number of rhino killings in South Africa has reached a critical state recently, as this infographic shows.
From a previous yearly average of around 20 rhino killings before 2008, in the last four years there have been more than 1 000 rhino poaching incidents in this country.
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