Revisiting the horn ban

2019-01-15 16:19


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I don't know who came up with the idea that as human beings we need rules and laws to regulate almost every part of our existence. From the moment you are born you are registered and the regulations come into effect. Even the parents who brought you into this world act as enforcers of the laws, some of which they themselves don’t even agree with.

But when do we decide that some laws are just not working?

Who has the power to make the decision that we should get rid of certain laws because they are doing more harm than good, and what capacity does that person even have to have to make such decisions on behalf of the masses?

The point I’m getting at has to do with the 1977 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) ban on the trade of rhino horn. Who is it that is really benefiting, the rhinos or the poachers?

There are more than 180 countries that are members of Cites but not all of them are in support of this ban because it is clearly not working. In fact, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) has made a submission to Cites to consider lifting the ban at its next World Wildlife Conference, which will be held in Sri Lanka in May. One wonders, though, why the South African government hasn’t made a similar proposal, considering the fact that 90% of the continent’s rhino population is reported to be spread across its nine provinces and we all know that it is decreasing at a very fast rate as hundreds die at the hands of poachers every year.

According to a statement released by the convention earlier this month, Cites is legally binding for its members, and aims to ensure that the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It does so by monitoring, listing and regulating legal and sustainable wildlife trade, and by combating illegal trade in wildlife. But is its ban not threatening the survival of the rhinos?

The pro-trade group, Legal Trade for Rhino Survival, makes a sensible argument why lifting the ban would be more helpful in keeping these endangered beasts alive. They say dehorning the rhinos would be a painless process as morphine would be used.

In fact, one of the pro-trade advocates, Thug Haines, says it would be like cutting your nail because the horn would grow back after being harvested. So if we have a self-renewal resource that can be harvested without hurting the animal and helps keep that animal safe from the poachers, why the hell are we not doing it?

There is a market for rhino horn in Asian countries so wouldn’t it be better for the horns to be harvested safely and then sold legally, instead of having poachers kill not only the rhino, but also the rangers protecting them, and then profiting from the illicit trade, while the custodians of the rhinos are left wondering what else they can do to protect what’s left of these African treasures?

Some have argued that the legal trade in horns would be disastrous because it could legitimise rhino horn use and reawaken dormant markets in countries like Japan and Taiwan. However, the reality is that, with or without these markets, the rhino population is decreasing, and very fast, and that’s because the demand remains very high.

Others say pro-trade models are naive and untested so they might not work, but how would we know if they can work if we don’t try those models?

The anti-trade models are obviously not working, so isn’t it time to try something else before we run out of rhinos? I’m sure that Cites would not just sign off on pro-trade without scrutinising the models to ensure that they would not hurt the economies of participating countries and would not pose an even greater danger to the rhinos.

There are also those who believe pro-trade would confuse consumers and undermine diplomatic and demand-reduction campaigns.

I don’t share this sentiment as I believe that these campaigns have done nothing to reduce demand. In fact, I suspect that over the years, we’ve had an increase in demand because the poachers and their clients know that they are running out of rhinos.

It’s becoming harder for them to find those that are still alive because there are so few of them out there and the custodians are investing their last cent in protecting them.

At the moment, the illicit market is lucrative for the criminals because they have a monopoly over it and they don’t have to bear any expenses for keeping the rhinos alive.

The average cost of protecting one rhino in southern Africa is estimated to be around R48 670 per year and that does not include the cost of human life as we regularly get news reports on how rangers who risk their lives in protecting these beasts are slaughtered by poachers.

How many more human lives do we have to lose before we decide to take the power away from the criminals?

By legalising the trade, the game parks and private owners could also get rid of the thousands of kilograms of horns they have in stock. That could give them much-needed revenue for other conservation initiatives.

While we’ve put so much faith in Cites as a body that determines international rules governing trade in wildlife, do we consider its ban on rhino horns to be still in the best interests of all its member states, including South Africa?

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rhino poaching

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