Conservation Issue of the Week: A legal Market for Rhino Horn? A Swaziland Perspective.

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It is well known that the poaching of rhinos and illegal trafficking of their horns is quickly becoming an epidemic. South Africa had 668 rhinos poached across the country in 2012, compared to 448 rhinos lost to poachers in 2011 and 13 in 2007. The international community has taken note, and is starving to take action. The United States pledged $10 million to combat wildlife trafficking and the European Union recently followed suit, committing 12 million euros to the fight against poaching.

Defending the rhino population has generated discussions worldwide and the idea of rhino ownership has sparked an interesting conversation about resource protection among conservationists. Legalizing trade in rhino horn is one possible strategy amongst the discussion and one that many Africans support.

“Legalized commercial horn trade would bring a cut of percentages back to the custodian, provide incentive to expand his share of the profits and increase his investment in rhinos and other wildlife. Ted Reilly of the Kingdom of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks said.  “The trade ban on rhino horn and overregulation is not working in Africa or Asia.  There will always be criminals and thieves, but that does not mean we should ban the production of valuable things simply because they get stolen.”

Yet, other conservationists are skeptical on the idea of wildlife being traded as everyday goods. Many believe that demand for an object cannot be decreased while simultaneously flooding the market with that same product. Overall, the question lingers: will legal trade decrease the value of rhino horn to the point at which there is no incentive to poach?

“People will defend what they own. If benefits flow from such defense of ownership, it is likely that greater additional investment will be committed to grow those benefits.  That is the nature of man and this reality is common cause,” Reilly said.

Reilly and other South Africans are firmly backing the idea of legal trade through farming horn on private conservancies. South Africa currently holds 90 percent of the world’s white rhino population and local organizations believe if legal trade is to be an option, it must be done while there is still a healthy population of rhinos to test the theory.

“Rhino farming is already in practice in China. It would be a shame if, in the years to come, all of the world’s white rhinos are to be found in China and Africans have to go there to see what not long ago had been previously exclusively theirs,” Reilly said.

From the above, it is apparent that rhino farming as a survival strategy option is a possibility, but should not be implemented unless a cohesive report demonstrates its margin for success. Research is currently being conducted in South Africa to investigate the sustainability of legal trade, but a decision will not be made by CITES until 2016.

Hopefully, research will provide a comprehensive strategy for the years to come, and give local wildlife departments the needed information to embark on the best course of action.

For more information check out a recent debate held by Earthwatch in London.

The Kingdom of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks (BGP) is a non-profit trust which manages three game reserves in Swaziland: Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve.

Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news.

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