Thoughts on legalising the Rhino Horn trade in South Africa

Horn. Rhino. South Africa. Trade. Ban lift. It’s a divisive issue that has sparked quite the furore.

It is uneasy to accept the concept of legalising the domestic rhino horn trade in South Africa, due to a few areas: the fallible relationship between supply and demand in a complex context; the attitudinal and behavioural effects of those who purchase the horn and its resultant effect on demand; the people who participate in the trade, which can potentially include black market cartels and the potential funding of terrorism; and not least, the animal welfare issues inherent in mass breeding rhinos like cows and regularly tranquillising them- which carries many health risks- and then harvesting the horn in a commercialised fashion.

It’s very simplistic to assume that increasing supply and reducing the market value of horn will decrease poaching. This is true only if demand is constant or declining; and that the legal domestic trade will not leak back out to the black market anyway, and into the hands of China and Vietnam.

To stimulate a commercial industry in the name of conservation seems fraught with complications. Even if the money does go back to conservation- this may prove only to be a band-aid solution at best.

Other alternatives including greater on-the-ground enforcement by the state, and permanently staining the horn- if there’s the political will, which is where the conundrum lies.

Lifting the ban is a massive risk, and perhaps too large a gamble that the rhino may not have time to endure.

At the end of the day, harvesting horn for conservation is fraught with many questions. May the upcoming UN conference show strong leadership and initiative in moving this debate forward in a just and balanced way.

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