Most kids grew up learning about dinosaurs. The glorious creatures that once roamed the earth before a massive meteor wiped them out. For most of us, this sort of narrative is how we learn about the concept of extinction. Unfortunately, children growing up today will not have to look as far back as the dinosaurs to understand the idea of losing a species forever, they need only look to the African elephant, tiger, orangutan, and rhino to hear this word. It could be as soon as 2040 when the elephant is declared extinct from the wild, and even sooner for the rhino – after all, some sub-species such as the Western Black Rhino have already gained the title extinct.
In the case of the dinosaur, the cause of complete extinction may be debated but it appears to have occurred as the result of one catastrophic incident. For the animals we know and love today, the causes of extinction are complicated and varied, but they all largely share one thread – human influence.
What’s Happening to the World’s Rhinos?
In the case of the rhino, population decline can largely be credited to poaching. It is believed that the rhino’s horn possesses potent medicinal qualities in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The supposed “medicinal benefits” of rhino horn include the ability to cure typhoid fever, boils, and poisoning. The horn is even used as an aphrodisiac. None of these claims are backed up by hard evidence, and considering that rhino horn is composed entirely of keratin. Suffice it to say, you could get these alleged benefits from chewing on your own hair and nails.
Sadly, the potency of the myth surrounding rhino horn far outweighs the potency of its benefits, yet this species continues to pay the price. It’s estimated that there are only 29,000 rhinos left in the world and an average of 1,000 individuals are poached annually.
In the face of this, many organizations and governments are working to implement efforts to protect the rhino from poachers. Some examples include removing rhino’s horns and organizing anti-poaching units. However, the South African government has a different idea for rhinos – legalizing the horn trade.
What a Legal Rhino Horn Trade Means
Of the 29,000 rhinos that are left in the world, around 90 percent of those live in South Africa. In this country alone poaching has seen a 9,000 percent increase since 2007. Knowing this, legalizing the trade of rhino horn seems like a completely irresponsible thing to do.
The idea is that by legalizing part of the trade in rhino, it will limit the amount of rhinos that are butchered illegally. If there is a closely monitored trade, then it is a way for authorities to track and hinder the rampant exploitation of wild rhinos.
The same logic was applied in allowing the legal trade of elephant ivory – as long as the ivory predated the international ivory ban. Effectively, any ivory that was brought into circulation prior to the ban could be purchased and sold, which theoretically limits the trade. However, it also creates a massive loophole for the illegal trade. With the ability to counterfeit paperwork that certifies the age of the ivory and lax enforcement of the law, the illegal ivory trade has indeed received a boost from allowing the trade rather than the opposite.
A statement from Audrey Delsink, Humane Society International/Africa executive director, speaks to this: “While the global community is working to save rhinos from poaching and to eradicate the illegal trade in their horns, South Africa’s proposed regulations will not only open a loophole for criminal syndicates to launder poached rhino horn, but also create an enforcement nightmare, both within the country and internationally. We do not have the luxury of time to spare when it comes to the fate of rhinos, and we have to focus on shutting down the illegal trade rather than endorsing legal trade in rhino horn which has significant enforcement challenges and poor capacity.”
Further, this proposed system would also allow buyers from other countries to come to South Africa, buy rhino horn, and take it back home with them, which opens the door to having these horns be subsequently sold on the black market.
What You Can Do
The future of the rhino is on the line and with an average of three rhinos being poached a day for their horns in South Africa, there simply isn’t time to gamble and see if legalizing the trade would work – especially when examples of other species show this is ineffective.
Humane Society International has launched a petition to Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, urging that the government block the legal trade in rhino horn. If you want to add your name in support, click the link below.
Image source: Volodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock