Shifting the burden of proof means no trade in rhino horn – Pretoria, are you listening?

There is no way whatsoever to begin to suggest that a legalised trade in rhino horn would be beneficial to rhino populations in the wild.The highly questionable motive to reinstate a legalised trade in rhino horn, as is currently being purported by numerous “conservationists” and businessmen in South Africa, is squaring the South African Government up for a nasty and unnecessary fight, especially in the run-up to the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

In a new report by Economists at Large called Horn of Contention, commissioned by IFAW to review the literature on the economics of trade in rhino horn, the message is clear – there is no way whatsoever to begin to suggest that a legalised trade in rhino horn would be beneficial to rhino populations in the wild. 

In fact, the only guarantee is a huge amount of risk given the lack of data on how and to what extent demand is being driven in the East, notably in China and Vietnam. Without a handle on demand dynamics and firm action in addressing such, not to mention seriously dealing with the criminal syndicates involved in illicit trade, legalising trade could realistically push rhino populations closer to the brink of extinction.

Why is it, in this day and age, that we continue to cling to archaic traditions, beliefs and practices?

The answer is simple – economics. 

At the end of the day, there is a lot of money to be made in trading rhino horn and, if we look at the trend in poaching levels over the past five years or so, illegal practices are clearly worth the risk for those involved.

There is money to be made all along the trade chain. Those wishing to sell horn on the supply side see conservation as an agricultural practice, i.e. farming.  Those wishing to sell horn on the demand end also see rhinos in utilitarian terms, in the case of rhino horn use, superfluous at best. Clearly, something is seriously wrong with this picture.

It is time for the pro-traders to call it for what it is, i.e. it’s really only about the money, and to stop hiding behind ridiculous arguments that legalising trade would stop poaching and benefit wild rhino populations.

Ignorance is bliss, but I doubt that there are many out there that would support legal trade if they spent a few minutes doing some basic math on the back of an envelope – it is not difficult to see that, even with our very limited understanding of demand variables, supply will never be able to keep up. 

Pretoria, please take note.

--JB

Read our new report, Horn of Contention, making the case against trade in rhino horn by clicking here.

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Azzedine Downes,Executive Vice President for International Operations, VP of P
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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