Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rhino horns: flood the market with sustainable horn, instead of prohibiting the market?

The WSJ and the NYT consider the problem of poached Rhino horns.
Here's the WSJ:
Would a Legalized Horn Trade Save Rhinos?
With poaching on the rise, ranchers in South Africa want to flood the market—but conservationists warn of corruption and cruelty

"The global rhino population has dwindled from 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to about 29,000 today. The surging trade in illicit horn has cut the population of the three remaining Asian species to just a few thousand, including about 40 Javan and less than 100 Sumatran rhinos. Just about 20,000 Southern White Rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos, which include three subspecies in Africa, survive.
"Black-market rhino horn can fetch as much as $100,000 a kilogram in Vietnam and other Asian countries, where it is peddled as a cure for ailments ranging from headaches to cancer. Many conservationists say that a legal marketplace would only raise demand. They argue instead for publicity campaigns to debunk the myths that lead many in Asia to pour rhino-horn powder into useless pills.

Others warn that rhinos can’t wait for those beliefs to wither. “I do not think we have a significant amount of rhinos left to invest in education,” said Louise Joubert, founder of SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary, a rehabilitation center and reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo province. Rhinos “are on a ticking time bomb down to extinction.” Mr. Hume and many ranchers argue that legalizing the trade and flooding the market with sustainably harvested horn could sate demand, lower prices and cut poachers out of the equation.

Rhino horn is made of keratin, like human fingernails. It grows as much as 5 inches a year. Biologists say that as long as a stump of 2 to 3 inches remains, it can be trimmed, doing a rhino no more harm than a manicure. “There are no nerves in rhinos’ horns,” said Raoul du Toit, director of Zimbabwe’s Lowveld Rhino Trust. He said there is no evidence that the procedure affects rhinos’ breeding practices or leaves them more susceptible to predators. “Why would you hunt a rhino for seven, eight, nine, 10 kilos of horn when, in a lifetime, it can grow 70 kilos of horn?” Mr. Hume asked.

"Animal-rights activists, conservationists and South Africa’s government are skeptical. Critics say that Mr. Hume and other large ranchers stand to profit if they can sell horn harvested from their herds.

“Where we differ is with your attitude towards the exploitation of an endangered species with the intention of making large profits,” Margot Stewart, founder of the nonprofit group Wild and Free South Africa, wrote in an open letter to Mr. Hume. She argues that rhinos are wild animals and should not be kept in paddocks like sheep or cows—and that it is unethical to farm and sell rhino horn since it has zero medicinal value. “Only two parties want this to continue: the rhino farmers and organized crime syndicates,” she added.

"Mr. Hume petitioned South Africa’s High Court in Pretoria to lift the moratorium in September. A judgment is expected in the next few weeks. “I honestly believe the more horn we can sell to people who are using it, the less pressure there will be on my rhinos and Kruger Park’s rhinos,” Mr. Hume said, alluding to South Africa’s premier national park.
"Mr. du Toit, the conservationist in Zimbabwe, warns that poverty and graft in the region are too widespread to trust that the rhino-horn market would be restricted to sustainably trimmed horns. Corruption “is our biggest problem,” he said, and it would “pervade the supply chains” of a legalized horn trade.

"The sides argue about precedents. A one-off sale of elephant-ivory stockpiles from four southern African nations in 2008 only whetted appetites for tusks, and elephant poaching has since soared to all-time highs. But a sustained, legal tide of supply—not a brief flood—has worked for other species, like South America’s vicuña, a llama relative. Mr. Hume notes that vicuñas were once slaughtered for their softer-than-cashmere coats but are now farmed sustainably, back from the edge of extinction."
Here's the NYT:
U.S. Pours Millions Into Fighting Poachers in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — The Obama administration is stepping up efforts here to combat illegal wildlife poaching, an expanding criminal enterprise in South Africa that has driven several animal species toward extinction and fueled the growth of international gangs.
But the effort is coming as South Africa wrestles with its own strategy, which could diverge significantly from Washington’s. Just last month, a South African court lifted a ban on domestic trade in rhinoceros horns, reigniting a debate between those who claim that a legal trade within South Africa’s borders could help stem the poaching crisis and those who say it would only worsen it.

HT: Sangram Kadam (he's on the market, you could hire him...)

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