September 22nd is World Rhino Day. To save the rhino we must stop the hand wringing do-good conservation nonsense and get busy finding 21st century solutions to the problem. We need to re-start trade in rhino horns, save human lives, create jobs and let capitalists save the rhino from an otherwise certain path to extinction. Let me explain.
The CITES blanket solution of banning trade in endangered species is archaic and born out of the 20th century antagonism between capitalists and environmentalists. The industrial revolution is over and the sustainability revolution has begun – conservationists and business need to work together to deliver a permanent solution to the issue. If they don’t, the black rhino will be extinct within 20 years from now and the only people to blame will be the conservationists and governments whose thinking is stuck in the past.
It is estimated that in 1970 there were 60,000 rhinos in Africa and today there are nearer 28,000 – primarily due to the ban in rhino horn trade resulting in their natural habitat being turned to more profitable cropland. The ban has been in place for over 30 years during which the main beneficiaries have been criminal poaching organisations. There has been a 9,000% growth in rhino poaching between 2007 and 2014 in South Africa alone. Current estimates indicate they could be wiped out in less than 20 years, and yet we persist with policies that do not and will not work.
The majority of rhinos exist in national game reserves or private reserves. Having a rhino attracts visitors to a private reserve and thus owners attach a ‘willingness to pay’ value onto rhinos. They are regularly traded at annual wildlife auctions and fetch somewhere in the region of $30-40,000. Their value is falling as the danger and security cost of owning one increases. Over 1,000 rangers killed have been killed in the last 10 years protecting this critically endangered species.
Distorted rhino market economics dictate that these endangered species are worth more dead than alive. As a result, a poacher will spend more time and resources trying to kill one for its horn than an owner can justify in trying to protect it. This market anomaly is a direct result of misguided government and conservation efforts to save this species. The price of a rhino horn on the black-market fetches ten times the value of a live Rhino at almost $440,000.
This price is a simple function of supply and demand. As the number of rhinos decreases, the price of the horns will increase. With normal goods this would dampen demand – however with rare things from diamonds to artworks, sky-high prices can make them seem even more attractive. With an increasingly middle-class Asian market the logical conclusion of a persisting trade ban on rhino horn is the animal’s extinction.
Rhinos are in fact relatively easy to breed – all they need is plenty of space in which to roam and mate. With some 20,000 rhinos in South Africa, natural deaths could provide over 600 horns a year. Private rhino breeders could provide more by regular horn “harvesting”. This would also protect and increase natural habitat.
A government regulated organisation could tax a percentage of the revenue and plough it back into their conservation funding, and consumer education in Asia.
Advertising that frames consumers as irrational purchasers of worthless toe nails might achieve the desired outcome. This may over time reduce demand whilst financing their conservation and ensuring their survival.
The South African government, as the greatest guardian of the world’s last remaining rhino species, is a key stakeholder. Visiting South Africa to see the Big Four would be a major blow to its vital tourism industry. The South African government supports restarting the controlled trade in horns. It is the likes of the WWF, the Born Free Foundation, and governments without a vested interest in the survival of the rhino who oppose it – and will be to blame for the rhino’s extinction.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.