South Africa’s Rhino Dilemma

South Africa has an alarming problem with the poaching of rhino, including ‘rouge’ hunting ‘outfitters,’ police and authorities (allegedly):

Rogue South African trophy hunters are directly involved in ‘a mad scramble’ to poach rhinos and get their horns out of the Kruger National Park, according to reliable intelligence sources.”

Confidential documents reveal that the kingpin is a safari outfitter with a hunting concession close to Corumana dam. He regularly hunts wildlife without permits, according to intelligence, and smuggles animal trophies and rhino horns in a hidden compartment of his vehicle” – “Hunting Outfitters Involved in Poaching,” Oxpeckers.org, 12 May 2016

One potential proposal forwarded with claims it might quell demand is rhino horn harvesting (also see Appendix below). But the potential ‘only positive’ effects being touted have been challenged by economists and academics (see ‘The ‘Economics’ of Harvested Rhino Horn Trading section’ below).

On April 21, South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Jeff Radebe explained that the ‘Committee of Inquiry’ (The committee) had rejected the proposal (for now):

The recommendations endorse South Africa’s integrated strategic management approach to resolving the poaching of rhino and illegal trade in rhino. The committee recommends that the current mode of keeping the country’s stock levels be kept as opposed to the trading in rhino horns” – attributed to Jeff Radebe, “Rhino horn trade still on the table,” The Citizen, Amanda Watson, 5 May 2016

For now it seems, South Africa has rejected rhino horn harvesting proposals to legalise farmed rhino horn trade (but pre-stockpiled harvested rhino horn are being kept in ‘the vault’ for future ‘reference’).

Since South Africa’s ‘rejection,’ Swaziland has now stepped forward and proposed the very same harvested rhino horn trade ‘theory’ (dated 27 April 2016) to CITES CoP17.

However, the “Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parties met in South Africa in April 2016 to draft a common position on issues for CITES CoP17,” wrote the CITES Management Authority of Swaziland – Source: “Rhino horn trade still on the table,” The Citizen, Amanda Watson, 5 May 2016

Swaziland’s proposal refers to its population of Southern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum), which is currently listed on CITES Appendix II (Swaziland and South Africa only; this species is protected by Appendix I in its other range states). Swaziland is seeking approval to sell its stockpile of white rhino horn as well as “harvest” rhino horns from a “limited number” of white rhinos. Swaziland is home to 73 white rhinos.

So, there was clear collaboration (allegedly) between South Africa and Swaziland up to April 2016. On 17 March 2016, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa denied reports that she had “pre-empted” recommendations of the on-going ‘Committee of Inquiry’ (due to issue final report on commercial rhino horn trading, April 2016). So, it now looks even more potentially damning, because if indeed South Africa was still in cahoots with Swaziland to jointly draft a proposal to CITES (CoP17) in April, then Edna’s Molewa’s 17 March 2016 denial looks at best, somewhat ‘feeble.’

It’s plain to see in the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) budget document (dated 24 February 2016) that the ‘Committee of Inquiry’ decision has indeed been pre-empted, or why would there be any need to state the submission to CITES of rhino horn trade proposals in February 2016? :

“The projected increased expenditure in the Administration programme and the Biodiversity and Conservation programme over the medium term is for the department to host the 17th conference of the parties (COP 17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in September and October 2016. South Africa will submit its rhino horn trade proposal at CITES COP 17. The proposal aims to reduce rhino poaching, as it promotes the legal selling of rhino horn. If this were implemented, the sales could generate significant revenue to supplement conservation funding” – Estimates of National Expenditure, 24 February 2016, page 3

Edna Molewa has suggested:

It was a genuine, genuine, mistake of somebody who was in the finance department. We have always been clear we are taking this matter to Cabinet, so as long as there has not been a decision at Cabinet, nobody had the right to write anything anywhere.”

And where would you be writing this thing from anyway? None of us actually had the committee of inquiry report; it was only tabled afterwards, so again we apologise on behalf of that person, I don’t know who it is. We are aware it actually caused a whole lot of hullabaloo out there but we came back to clarify the process we were going to follow” – Source: “Rhino horn trade still on the table,” The Citizen, Amanda Watson, 5 May 2016

The ‘Economics’ of Harvested Rhino Horn Trading

The only potential way that a legal trade in harvested rhino horn can work is on an economic level, to challenge and positively change the illicit rhino horn market dynamics (curtailing rhino poaching and helping to ‘conserve’ the rhino species).

Leading (independent) economists/academics have cast doubt that such a complex, illicit market (ie. a non-conventional model compliant economic scenario) can be effectively influenced with any proposed ‘legal’ trade introduction:

Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand – “We find that a legal trade will increase profitability, but not the conservation of rhino populations” –  Journal for Nature Conservation (Published October 2015 version available at cost/subscription)By Douglas J. Crookes, James N. Blignaut (Department of Economics, University of Pretoria).  

Download PDF – “Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand” – Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA) working paper 520 version, May 2015, Douglas J. Crookes & James N. Blignaut (Department of Economics, University of Pretoria); Note: ERSA is a research programme funded by the National Treasury of South Africa.

Governments, economists and conservationists who think they can curb poaching by selling rhino horn and ivory legally have little understanding of macroeconomics or the sophistication of international crime syndicates” – “High-level report calls SA wildlife trade policy reckless,” Business Day Live, 13 June 2014

Leonardo’s Sailors: A Review of the Economic Analysis of Wildlife Trade,” The Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value; School of Environment, Education and Development; The University of Manchester, by Alejandro Nadal and Francisco Aguayo, 23 June 2014

The potential ‘downside’ highlighted by economists of any such legal harvested/stockpiled rhino horn trade may well risk more rhino being poached to satisfy increased demand stimulated by unwanted market dynamic changes and/or the volume of rhino poaching increasing to maintain the illicit trafficking syndicates’ profits/margins.

Anybody that says they are 100% certain that adding legally harvested rhino horn trading to the complexity of the ‘illicit’ rhino horn market dynamics can only have positive effects, is ignoring the current economic/academic study; to the contrary, on the fundamental issue of those positive effects being likely to occur the ‘economic’ models and theory says ‘no.’

We must not overlook the notion that any such rhino horn harvesting operations would all be ‘ethical’ with an emphasis on animal welfare. One only has to look at the abomination South Africa has served up to the world in the form of the ‘canned’ hunting industry to see what a virtually unregulated animal exploitative money making exercise that has become (and always has been) to not believe any platitudes that rhino horn harvesting farms would not sink to the same levels of depravity, deceit, complicity and corruption.

There are obvious negative ‘economic’ and ‘conservation’ risks with the harvested rhino horn proposals, unless of course one has a potentially vested interest in personally profiting from farmed rhino horn harvesting perhaps (?).

Rhino Fight

South African Petition –CITES, Upgrade our rhino to Appendix I

Event Page  “CITES, Upgrade our Rhino to Appendix I”

Global march for elephants and rhino, 24 September 2016

Appendix – Background Information of the Harvested Rhino Horn Proposal

The South African farm owned by John Hume has the largest privately owned rhino herds in the world.  The farm harvests a rhino’s horns under ‘safe and painless’ anesthetised conditions, after which the rhino is released back into the farm’s protection. The rhino’s horn eventually grows back after about two years. The harvested horns are micro-chipped and currently stock-piled in a very secure vault. Under South African law only rhino horn extracted by a permit (concession) Trophy Hunt, can the resulting rhino horn ‘legally’ be exported.

As John Hume’s argues that under the current law “We are basically telling the Vietnamese that it is fine to kill an animal because our tradition of cutting off a rhino’s head to put on a wall as decoration is acceptable. But your tradition of cutting off its horn to use as ‘medicine’ is abominable

Legalising the rhino horn trade may be one of the approaches that helps reduce poaching. In theory, ‘legal’ farm supplied rhino horn being released from stock-piles to meet demand will mean that prices paid will fall, thus making poaching less viable, plus making farms like John Hume’s more commercially viable. Changes to the governing law are being mooted in the South African government. There are several different options for extending the ‘legalised’ trade in rhino horn:

  1. One off sale of rhino horn stockpiles
  2. Domestic trade in rhino horn
  3. (Semi) permanent international CITES regulated sale

On John Hume’s farm, the rhinos’ existence is perhaps rather ‘synthetic’ but better than no existence. However, under the current climate, even on John Hume’s farm the rhino are not safe from poachers, with regular incursions.  Either way, there is no doubting the human ‘commoditisation’ or ‘canned’ business opportunities presented by the plight of the rhino.

In terms of rhino horn, then harvesting the horns (in a sustainable way, that doesn’t kill the ‘donating’ rhino) and allow legal export from farms ‘might’ help reduce illegal poaching, but what sort of world is that we are condoning?

Note: The ‘economic’ models say rhino horn harvesting has a high likelihood of increasing profitability, but a low likelihood of actually helping ‘conserve’ rhino(5) . Furthermore, the pro-harvested rhino horn trade supporters (Governments, economists and conservationists) ‘who think they can curb poaching by selling rhino horn and ivory legally have little understanding of macroeconomics or the sophistication of international crime syndicates(6,7)‘.

References

  1. South Africa Lifts Rhino Horn Ban,“ IOLScitech, 27 November 2015
  2. Rhino Horn Trade Ruling Divides Opinion,” Saturday Star, 28 November 2015
  3. Legalising Rhino Horn Trade Will Add to Poaching – NSPCA,“NEWs 24, 30 November 2015
  4. The Economics of Poaching, Trophy and Canned Hunting,” IWB, 2 September 2015
  5. Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand” – Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA) working paper 520, May 2015, Douglas J. Crookes & James N. Blignaut (Department of Economics, University of Pretoria); Note: ERSA is a research programme funded by the National Treasury of South Africa
  6. Leonardo’s Sailors: A Review of the Economic Analysis of Wildlife Trade,” The Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value; School of Environment, Education and Development; The University of Manchester, by Alejandro Nadal and Francisco Aguayo, 23 June 2014
  7. High-level report calls SA wildlife trade policy reckless,” Business Day Live, 13 June 2014

3 thoughts on “South Africa’s Rhino Dilemma

  • justnicephotos

    (May 18, 2016 - 12:24 pm)

    Very difficult clicking like on such a tragic report. Shared far and wide.

  • Kristen

    (May 19, 2016 - 12:42 pm)

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