Will Legalising Rhino Horn Trade Stop Poaching?
Rhino are on the critically endangered list of the IUCN Red List. The WWF lists the Javan Rhino in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia as the most threatened with only 60 remaining worldwide. The Black Rhino in Southern Africa has under 5000 remaining in the wild, and last year, 2015, South Africa reported that over 1100 Rhino were poached. Rhino are endangered and environmentalists met to discuss the future of Rhino and opened the debate to “possibly” legalising Rhino horn trade to combat worldwide extinction.
Lets dissect what this could mean for the Rhino populations of the world. We could continue to monitor the poaching trend. As a mere numbers game, the more Rhino that are poached will mean that there will be a higher level of security around those alive, and in the end the war against this trade in illegal Rhino horn will end with both sides losing out. There are numerous stories of running gun battles between rangers and poachers both of which are losing their lives.
The Independent reported in October 2015, the deaths of “Four Rangers Killed Trying to Stop Elephant Poachers in Congo Park“. Save the Rhino International wrote that only as a last resort should human life be taken in the protection of a wild animal, and normally when the poacher endangers the life of a warden or ranger. Any opportunity to capture and arrest the poacher/poachers should be first attempted. Reading the comments below that article, there seems to be little mercy for anyone as a ‘Poacher’ with one commentator volunteering for free to Flay poachers alive and then shoot them!
In January 2015, the Telegraph wrote an article, “South African rangers kill two rhino poachers in Kruger National Park“. It seems that not only are Rhino, Elephant or Pangolin being poached and hunted to extinction, but the loss of human life over these actions is beginning to mount up too! The battle lines are being clearly defined and people are taking sides with the ultimate declaration. “Stop poaching or suffer the consequences!”
Can we then find an alternative? At this point it would be worth investigating the reasons for a trade in Rhino horn at all? It is after all made of the same protein that our own fingers and nails are made of – keratin. Why then grind this up, add it to boiling water and drink it?
For the belief that it will cure your ailment! There are many theories as to why Rhino horn might be valuable. It might be useful in detecting poisons in water, making a prized handle for a dagger for a Yemeni boy aged 12 or for the curing of ailments. There is even a theory that by drinking rhino horn you will have the strength and power of the rhino within you! (See PBS Nature for more indepth reading)
There have been attempts to de-horn Rhino, keep them in an area that is highly patrolled and we even have warning systems in place to alert authorities to the illegal smuggling of poached rhino horn, and yet these efforts are resulting in a loss of more and more Rhino. Even de-horned Rhino have been killed, normally to avoid tracking the animal again in the future and again not getting the prized horn. A waste of energy and time to a poacher!
What are the alternatives then?
Change the way a group of people have been brought up to believe in it’s particular healing properties? Have public flogging of poachers or as I read in a comment, bring back the death penalty for poachers. Do we de-horn the wild Rhino we have and sell that on the market at a cost that supports further rangers in the field to protect more Rhino and support conservation? What about mixing Rhino horn and other horn from other species to “bulk” up the product and not damage the rhino population as much. There was even a suggestion of flooding the market with Rhino horn and within it have poison that would in effect cause serious harm to ‘innocent’ people in the long run – unaware that their ‘beliefs’ may be flawed.
The issues that surround Rhino horn and the intense search to gain it is driven by belief and high monetary reward. These two fundamental principles alone fly in the face of any conservationist’s cry to “save the Rhino”. Why would a person pass on the opportunity to feed their family and live a wealthy lifestyle because a “few” animals are being killed? Why would a person, wrapped in their belief that their “medicine” can cure their ailments pass on the ‘natural’ fix? They won’t and this then is the issue.
In time it may be possible to show that the actual benefit of eating something similar to your own fingernails has no benefit. That perhaps the psychology of taking the medicine as a placebo is what in effect is causing the rapid response, but beliefs take far longer to change. That is through a process of education – grass roots education. (See this article)
Perhaps the best way to avoid the complete extinction of Rhino is to tackle it from the monetary perspective and that may just be a way we will preserve these animals. If Rhino horn may be farmed, as one might farm a cow or better still a deer, and be able to sell it legitimately then the price for Rhino horn would fall. The lure of high profit would vanish and we would be able to monitor the trade a little better. Once that mysticism of a rare creature’s medicine is removed, and it becomes available, the discussion on whether it really does any good can be examined. (e.g. cigarettes and alcohol)
As humans we are drawn to the rare and expensive. A Ford or Honda will get you from point A to point B, but when placed beside a rare specimen, say an Aston Martin DB5 as used by James Bond, the desire is heightened to own such a rare thing. It does the same thing, but the psychology is what is different between the two.
If we could “farm” Rhino on large reserves with ample space, harvesting Rhino horn for the purpose of legalising Rhino horn trade, may we have found a solution to more than one issue? We will generate employment. Land will be set aside for the protection of wildlife. Other species will be present on that land. Rangers can be utilised in a way that benefits all wildlife and not just endangered species. The market price will fall. The Rhino doesn’t need to be killed to take the horn. The poacher will become redundant in this field, leading to far fewer killed Rhino. People can again be respected and treated as human beings, with their misconceptions and “possible” ill beliefs.
Research can be carried out, and studies undertaken to dismiss widely held beliefs. We can all become involved in understanding each other. The Rhino, may just be the animal to bring us to a closer understanding of ourselves, to realise we all hold beliefs which may be redundant and yet only when we have open dialogue, when we stop shouting at each other and when we aim to find solutions can we really move forward.
Where do you stand in the mission to save the Rhino?