Having frequently commented on the subject of rhino horn over the years, I felt compelled to respond to the debate that has sprung up in this thread as I could see it turning into another argument about animal rights. I get slightly annoyed by the frequent assertion that opposition to the trade in rhino horn, is entirely driven by the animal rights agenda or at least the implication that it is which came up in the film. It is the case that some of the big NGOs involved in conservation these days do have such an agenda, but it’s absolutely not the case that all conservation organisations do. I have argued before that animal rights arguments really aren't helpful to the debate on rhino horn, because it allows advocates of trade to dismiss opposition to their viewpoint, on the grounds that animal campaigners are irrational extremists opposed to any and all animal exploitation and therefore need not be taken seriously. In my view this is bad for both sides of the debate, I see it as important to challenge all of the arguments put forward for a legal trade to at least try and ensure that every angle has been considered by those who advocate trade. If there is to be a legal trade then it is essential to get it absolutely right and not make the mistakes that have been made with ivory. Likewise I am not in any way ideologically opposed to a trade in rhino horn; I would describe my position as still unconvinced, I want to hear every argument in favour of trade to see if I should reconsider my position, there may well be questions and arguments that I haven't considered.
The issue is how to save the remaining 5 rhino species from extinction.
Sex selection that was mentioned would if it becomes possible with rhinos certainly allow rhino breeders to boost their breeding stock by producing more female calves and fewer surplus males. Unlike with dairy cattle where bull calves really have no use, unless they’re used for veal production which is now starting to happen, surplus rhino bulls can be raised and then sold for hunting. However I imagine that if a legal horn trade revived the market for live rhinos, the value of a breeding cow would presumably be much higher than that of a surplus bull, if rhino breeders stopped producing surplus bulls I'm not quite sure what effect this would then have on rhino hunting as there would still be plenty of hunters wanting to shoot one. I don’t have a problem with that if it’s done humanely but I wouldn't ever want to shoot one myself, having met a couple of white rhinos it would be about as challenging as walking into a field and shooting the neighbours bull. However that really has nothing to do with the trade in rhino horn, I have thought for some time that when a hunter shoots a rhino the horn should be removed and replaced with an exact replica. The real horn would be added to the stockpile, there’s no real merit in a hunter having the real horn if it can be replaced, and indeed having a real horn could be a liability. Only very recently a notorious Irish criminal gang were going around Europe stealing rhino horns from museums and private collections. Hunting while relevant to the value of rhinos should be entirely separate from the horn trade.
Of course as mentioned in my previous post the sort of breeding techniques that would allow rhino breeders to employ sex selection have not been perfected in rhinos, I don’t foresee a time at least in the immediate future when rhino farms will become like many cattle farms and no longer have their own bulls because they don’t need them anymore. There could come a time in future when AI becomes routine in rhinos, however no matter how docile they become, simply being very considerably bigger and heavier than cows makes them dangerous to work with. If this time ever comes it could lead to concerns that rhinos on farms are becoming more and more like other domestic animals but at the present time such concerns are a distraction when rhinos are being poached to extinction. This is why I have argued before that some interventions from animal campaigners are unhelpful to the rhino horn trade debate.
Before I continue in the interests of accuracy @Bugs I have to say that the fallow deer isn't the most prolific antelope on the planet, but then I don’t believe that was quite what you meant to say.
It is although not native to the UK our most common deer species I believe, because of the numbers kept in deer parks, however in the UK deer are farmed solely for meat, the removal of antlers in velvet is illegal on the grounds of animal welfare. Because antlers are growing when they are covered in velvet deer have to be anaesthetised in order to remove them. Fallow may also be a very commonly farmed species in Europe, in New Zealand deer where farming is a huge industry indeed along with China NZ is the largest producer of farmed deer, fallow come second to red deer in numbers and are raised for meat and trophy antlers not as far as I know for velvet. NZ is properly the biggest producer of deer antler velvet and it comes almost entirely from red deer and wapiti (or elk as Americans like to call them) and hybrids of the two. Having said I've no doubt that some fallow deer velvet is sold but it may be that it’s not as valuable as that produced by red deer. Fallow may be the most prolific deer species in the world I don't know for sure, but not as far as velvet production is concerned.
I had intended to comment on the film advocating rhino horn trade some time ago when I first watched it, I have since watched it again several times and will now offer some thoughts. Inevitably I have ended up repeating points I have made in earlier threads but not everyone reading this will have read those posts or be aware of those other threads on rhino horn, however I apologies if I have repeated myself too much and for the length of my post as I hadn't intended it to be quite this long.
The film Rhino in Crisis A Blueprint for survival is very convincing and certainly makes a good case for the sustainable use of wildlife something I'm actually broadly in favour of, except when it comes to ivory and rhino horn for which I'm still to be convinced that trade is the right answer. Given the extraordinary high price that rhino horn attracts I don’t think you can really compare it to crocodile hide never mind to game meat or even hunting trophies.
I find what Michael t’Sas-Rolfe has to say, the least convincing though I don’t for a moment deny that he has a far greater understanding of economics than I do. Firstly he states that he doesn't think NGOs really understand the trade or not as well as they think they do, some campaigners against the trade in illegal wildlife products have a very good understanding of the trade most notably Karl Amman the Nairobi based photographer and filmmaker who has travelled extensively in Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and China investigating the rhino horn and other illegal wildlife trades. He then states that it really doesn't matter what rhino horn is used for I find this a very odd statement, it’s one thing to know but not to care what your product is used for, as might be the case with deer antler, but to sell something without having any proper understanding of what your customers are doing with it, seems pretty strange to me. I really can’t see how you can claim that demand reduction will either not work or not work fast enough if you don’t know who is using horn and what they are using it for, or how you can claim that we will never change 5,000 years of tradition if you don’t actually know whether they are still using horn for the same purpose that they were in the past. The reported use of horn in Vietnam to treat cancer for example is an entirely modern phenomenon the argument that we cannot persuade people to change their view to me doesn't therefore hold water. Being cynical one might suggest that people advocating that the trade should be legalised, are obviously not in favour of demand reduction and are therefore going to argue against it and that it won’t work because they have no interest in it working.
I think that that research on rhino horn consumption contradicts his view, that it doesn't matter what horn is used for.
Here are some links to articles by Karl Amman published in Swara magazine that I have posted before, the last one links to the whole issue of Swara rather than the individual article so you need to scroll through it.
Wishful thinking and rhino conservation
Tiger cake and rhino horn – a walk on the Asian wild side
Rhino jewellery the latest Asian fashion fad
The fact that rhino horn is increasingly being used to make jewellery might seem to contradict the research the @Bugs posted, but not necessarily because obviously when you carve rhino horn you produce lots of shavings that can still be consumed as ATM. So it is possible that horn is both made into jewellery and ornaments as well as being used for ATM. I think it is important to know these things because it has been suggested that for example the horns should be ground up in Africa first prior to export but obviously that wouldn't be a good idea if they want the horn for carving.
Also as I understand it the centre of the trade has shifted from China to Vietnam and Laos although having said that large numbers of Chinese tourists visit these countries and take rhino horn souvenirs back over the border, so arguably these countries are a backdoor into China. I don’t think it was mentioned in the film but it has been before that the horn would be sold through licensed medical centres in China. Do you really know where the main market for the horn is? Is it China or is Vietnam and maybe also Laos or would legal horn be sold in all three countries?
He goes on to state that contrary to what a lot of people think hiring shooters to kill rhinos is expensive, well the journalists who have visited the infamous rhino horn towns in Mozambique would seem to bear this out. You can tell who the poachers are because they live in the big houses and drive the flash cars; however their wealth comes at a high price, a good few of their mates who have ventured into Kruger hoping to make their fortune have not returned. It is a risky business being a rhino poacher you may make a lot of money or you may wind up dead from a ranger or soldier’s bullet. Of course the money that poachers are paid has to reflect that risk.
He further states that smuggling horn costs a lot of money; this again is borne out by the recent case of the rhino horn seizure at Bangkok airport for example. That consignment of 21 horns arrived on a flight from Ethiopia. A while ago it was rumoured that there could still possibly be a few black rhinos in the country but this seemed very unlikely and I'm sure is definitely not the case now, I would think the last rhino in the country disappeared decades ago. I wouldn't know how much if any horn they might have stockpiled, but it is reasonable to assume that these horns were not Ethiopian in origin. They therefore came from somewhere further south, ignoring stockpiles there are I would suggest only 4 countries that have enough live rhinos to produce that much horn, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa and given that the worst poaching seems to be occurring in the last of these countries, my guess would be that’s where the horns came from. To get that number of horns from SA to Addis and then onto Bangkok would obviously cost a good deal of money, in our dangerous world one would hope that everything that is put on an aeroplane is x-rayed, so clearly people are being paid to look the other way. When the bags containing the horns arrived they were collected by two women, according to all of the reports I read in the Thai media the women were accompanied by two policemen, they escorted them through the airport and tried to ensure that their bags were not opened, clear evidence of corruption. So again this confirms his view that it costs quite a lot of money to get rhino horns from Africa to Asia.
The fact that the crime syndicates can afford to pay poachers a good amount for their services, that they can pay all of the necessary people to look the other way when the horns are smuggled out, is possible because of the very high price of horn. It would seem to me that the most logical way to put a stop to this, would be to try to bring down the price of horn to a point where it is too low for the poachers to be willing to risk their lives and for the syndicates to want to have to bribe lots of different people. That we should be trying to reduce the profit margins, to such an extent that poaching becomes no longer economic. Yet this is not what Mr t'Sas Rolfe is advocating, he is instead suggesting a system that would keep the horn price as high as possible, this can only succeed in helping all rhinos if you can prevent the sale of illegal horns (which I doubt), if a parallel illegal trade exists, then a very high horn price would mean that the criminals will still have plenty of money to hire poachers and bribe officials. Therefore poaching would simply continue as now, I didn't entirely understand the point about why a low rhino horn price would be a bad thing, all that was said is that it would encourage speculation and corruption, I don't really follow why a low price would encourage corruption and an extremely high price wouldn't. Since many of advocates of trade believe in using a legal trade to bring the price right down I think this point could have been addressed much better. Is maintaining a high horn price in the best interests of rhinos or rhino farmers? I don’t wish to suggest for a moment that Mr Hume is not sincere in his desire to save rhinos, but he and other rhino owners are sitting on millions of dollars worth of horn if they are regularly dehorning their animals and storing the horns, for private rhino owners to advocate a trade model that would crash the price of horn or at least bring it down substantially would be madness. I hasten to add that I have absolutely no objection at all to farmers making money from their animals, but it is easy to see why some people would see this purely as a money making venture rather than a conservation one. Why people might think that they have chosen the legalisation route that would be best for rhino farmers, rather than the one that might best for rhinos overall.
He did make one point that I have made myself before on a few occasions, that attempting to flood the market would be futile because the buyers in Asia would simply buy up all the horn stockpile it and trickle it onto the market to keep the price high. All you would succeed in doing is moving stockpiles of horn out of the hands of governments and private individuals in Africa and into the hands of traders, very likely criminals in Asia. However while you could not flood the market I'm sure you could bring the price of horn down markedly if that was your aim.
A good deal of the argument in the film is about how strict protection and the militarisation of conservation hasn't worked and has alienated local African populations living around protected areas I don’t entirely disagree with that. However if it proves impossible to stop the sale of illegal horns and a parallel illegal trade exists then all rhinos will still be vulnerable to poaching as they are now and will require the same degree of military style protection.
The trade system that is being advocated would guarantee a very high price for horn and Professor Child states that you should be trying to increase the value of your animals, not decrease their value through demand reduction. I do not understand how you can square keeping the price of rhino horn as high as possible, whilst at the same time arguing against the militarisation of conservation. Obviously it makes sense if you are a private rhino owner to want to keep the price of horn very high so that you can both profit from the horn and the sale of live rhinos for which there would be a good market once again. However if you were say a rhino tracker working for Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia spending every day tracking the last truly wild black rhinos in Damaraland or you were a TANAPA ranger guarding the free roaming black rhinos in the middle of the Serengeti, why would you want your rhinos to be as valuable as possible. Surely for these people and the rhinos they look after, reducing the price of rhino horn as far as possible would be a much better idea, than ensuring that they still have a huge price on their heads. If as I believe there will be, there is a parallel illegal trade in horns then these rhinos will be no less vulnerable to poachers. If you cannot prevent the sale of illegal horns then conservation will have to be just as militarised as it is now to protect rhinos. Much is made of how rhinos do not need to be killed to obtain their horns but again as I think I've said before, they do if they don’t belong to you. Unless you can make it near impossible to sell illegal horns, then ensuring that the horns on a rhino’s nose are still worth many thousands of USDs will ensure that that animal remains a tempting target for poachers.
In Damaraland they do dehorn some of their rhinos, John Hume said in the film that this does not alter their breeding behaviour but then clarifies that by stating that he’s not talking about a wild situation, because in the wild it does. In a fight for dominance and mating rights between two bulls, a smaller bull with intact horns will defeat a larger dehorned bull allowing the inferior bull to mate, which is not how it should be. It is also the case that if cows are dehorned the survival rate of their calves drops significantly as they are no longer able to defend them from predators, in Damaraland if a cow is believed to be pregnant they will not dehorn her and if she does give birth they will wait until the calf is two years old before doing so. By that age the calf is big enough to defend itself against lions and spotted hyenas and they can dehorn both mother and calf. So dehorning wild rhinos isn't quite as straight forward as dehorning farmed ones, but you could certainly argue at least in the case of Namibia that they could be brought on board and that as they are dehorning animals when they can, they should be selling the horns. Maybe this could be done in the Serengeti as well, I don’t know, but this is the argument that I want to see, rather than only really being told about what will happen in South Africa.
Essentially my point is that maintaining a very high price for rhino horn, will only help save rhinos outside of farms and private conservancies, if you can guarantee that selling illegal horns will become more and more difficult. Otherwise rhinos will remain a target for poachers. I don’t understand enough about economics but I don’t really follow this argument as to how legal trade will crowd out illegal horn, I believe that corruption will guarantee that illegal horns are still able to reach Asia and will still be sold and I haven’t seen anything to change my view. Is the point that in theory once the trade is legal the privately owned rhino population in SA and perhaps also Namibia, will increase year on year as more people see how much money they can make from owning rhinos, therefore the amount of horn available for sale will keep increasing?
If the effect of this is that as the amount of legal horn available increases so the pressure on rhinos elsewhere in other countries decreases that would be great, but I want someone make the case for this and show that this really is what will happen.
The spokesman from de Beers makes the point that if any of the licensed outlets for rhino horn are found to be selling illegal (laundered) horn they would be as it were struck off, causing them to lose a very lucrative source of income. This certainly goes some way to addressing the corruption issue and laundering of horns, but I'm still not quite sure how you will stop illegal horns from being sold elsewhere. Will the outlets that currently sell horns illegally alongside bags of pangolin scales and other illegal wildlife products be shutdown? How will the legal trade force these people to stop selling horns? Bearing in mind a point I've made before that the criminal syndicates that control the illegal wildlife trade aren't simply going to walk away from one of their most lucrative products. I think I'm right in saying that wildlife is the fourth largest illegal trade, it is more lucrative than drugs and in many Asian countries if you’re caught smuggling drugs you can get the death penalty, if you’re caught smuggling wildlife products you get little more than a slap on the wrist. What I want to see is a more detailed more convincing explanation as to how the legal trade will put these people out of the rhino horn business.
In reference to that research on rhino horn consumption a couple of points I didn't entirely follow although I confess I probably haven’t read through all of it thoroughly enough. What exactly is meant by wild rhinos? and what do consumers understand this to mean because having seen the video of John Hume’s rhinos I would certainly not regard them as wild, they are clearly farmed. If consumers want wild horn then that’s not what he would be selling, looking at this from a rational western perspective there is clearly no difference between farmed horn and wild horn it is all exactly the same, it’s not like for example salmon where there is a discernible difference between farmed and wild even if it’s not huge. We I think all accept that rhino horn has no actual medicinal properties, we just disagree over whether that matters or not, the idea that wild horn is somehow better or more potent is ridiculous to us. However what matters is what the consumer thinks and if they believe that wild is better, then that is what they will want if they can get it. This research confirms my view as I've argued before that if the criminals can still sell illegal horn, they will claim that only their horn is genuinely wild whereas the legal horn is farmed, that they are offering a superior product. Also they appear to want horns from rhinos that have not been killed but such horn is not currently available yet this hasn't stopped them from buying horn products. The obvious question then is if consumers prefer wild horn, would they choose wild horn obtained by lethal means over farmed horn obtained by non lethal means? Which is more important to the consumer, the fact that the horn is wild, or the fact that it was obtained by non lethal means?
If illegal horn is still being sold how will you persuade people to buy legal horn in preference? After all we are told there is no stigma attached to buying illegal horn indeed the fact that is illegal is part of the attraction.
My issue remains the same as before, I know and understand what legalisation could do for rhinos in South Africa and probably also Namibia but I still don’t know what it will do for rhinos in Tanzania or for that matter Nepal where a greater one-horned rhino was poached just recently. What I want to see is someone explaining how this model for establishing community rhino conservancies for example will be applied in other countries besides SA and Namibia. I might add on this point that in Kenya, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, KWS and the Northern Rangelands Trust have already successfully established a community rhino sanctuary Sera Conservancy in Northern Kenya in an area where everyone thought reintroducing rhinos was madness, without obviously anyone selling rhino horns. Of course if the trade was legal, those people though they don’t own the rhinos as all rhinos in Kenya still belong to the state, could in theory benefit from selling the horns. That is if the horns can be harvested I don’t how easy it would be darting and dehorning black rhinos in what I assume is some pretty thick bush. My point essentially as I've argued before is success means a reduction of poaching in all rhino range states in both Africa and Asia and I want to see arguments put forward as to how legalisation will benefit all of these other rhinos. South Africa may have more rhinos than any other country but it still only has two out of the five rhino species and discounting the extralimital East African black rhinos at Thaba Tholo Ranch in Limpopo only 3 out of four African rhino subspecies (1 white and 2 black, I regard the northern white as effectively extinct). If legalisation benefits rhinos in South Africa and their population increases but has the opposite effect on East African black rhinos or Asian rhinos then that is not a positive outcome in my book.
The question of whether or not community run rhino sanctuaries harvesting horn will be established in say East Africa is actually perhaps somewhat academic given that neither Kenya nor Tanzania supports legalisation. Surely you need to convince these countries that they are wrong and they need to come on board.
Will legalisation put black rhinos back into places where they are extinct like for example the Niassa Reserve in Mozambique, will those fisherman on the Lugenda River shown in the film be running their own community rhino sanctuary someday? Bearing in mind that in recent years elephant poaching has been out of control in the reserve and what was a substantial population that included more than a few huge tuskers has been severely reduced. One could not currently regard Niassa as a suitable place to return rhinos.
Will it put black rhinos back into Uganda or into Ruaha NP in Tanzania and other places?
Will it make greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal safer than they are currently?
I understand why the film is so focused on the South Africa and only really looks at Kenya to point out how Kenya’s conservation policy has failed, although there are great things going on in Kenya like the Sera Conservancy, I broadly agree that Kenya’s rejection of sustainable use has been very bad for wildlife numbers.
Some animal rights campaigners might object to the sustainable harvesting of lechwe but I can see no reason at all why if the black lechwe are properly protected which thanks to AP they now are that a small number shouldn't be harvested. However poaching of black lechwe would I presume be purely to supply meat to local markets, it is not smuggled out of the continent and sold for ridiculous sums. There are I've no doubt plenty of examples of how animals can be used sustainably to provide meat or generate income, however I don’t think you can realistically compare either rhinos or elephants to these other animals because of the huge difference in price, you can’t compare a rhino horn or a tusk to a haunch of lechwe venison. The appalling case of the rhino that was poached in a French zoo just recently, to me really illustrates just how different the situation with rhinos is to that of other animals, outside of a war zone where people are starving no one is going to break into a zoo to kill an animal for meat.
In essence I believe that the very high price of rhino horn and ivory makes a well regulated sustainable trade in either product almost impossible.