Sometime in March, South Africa’s Constitutional Court overturned a 2009 government ban on the trade in rhino horn. Or, rather, they refused to hear a government appeal against an early overturning of the ban, issued by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Obviously, this decision is controversial. On the one side, you have the professional hunters and breeders. They maintain that legalizing the trade in rhino horns will give them the economic incentives to breed and protect rhinos. And on the other side, you have animal rights activists and old-school conservationists.
I’ve written about this before. Check out: the economic probability of rhino extinction. The basic summary:
- CITES permits the legal hunting of any species once the population of a species exceeds a particular level.
- South Africa exceeded its required population levels for white rhino in 2003 (at that point, 90% of all white rhino were in South Africa)
- Permits began to be issued from then.
- But in 2008, South African officials panicked after noticing a large uptake in the amount of rhino hunting permits being issued to Vietnamese nationals.
- So they cut back the permits, and issued the trade ban.
- In response, the price of rhino horn in Vietnam skyrocketed (in the mid-2000s, Vietnam had been swept up in rumours that rhino horn milkshakes could cure cancer – not a joke).
- The price became so attractive that high-tech poaching units began emerging, complete with helicopters and the like.
- And the rest of the story involves rhinos being slaughtered in zoos and game reserves, as well as rhino horns being stolen out of museums.
From my side, if poachers are able to steal rhino horns out of zoos and museums in the big cities of Europe, then I’m not sure what chance the Sub-Saharan game reserves really have.
A Price of Rhino Horn Update
Here is something that does appear to have worked: a nail polish Facebook campaign in Vietnam. The price of rhino horn in Vietnam has fallen to almost half of its 2013 levels.
A quote from the Vietnam’s VN Express newspaper:
WildAid has targeted demand [for rhino horn] by launching a communications campaign in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation, using TV advertisements and billboards that feature celebrities like Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, Prince William and David Beckham.
Early [in 2015], the organization invited American actress and wildlife activist Maggie Q to speak at a conference in Hanoi against the use of rhino horn.
More than 40 Vietnamese celebrities have also gotten on board with the campaign, which sought to raise awareness that rhino horn is structurally similar to human nails and hair by holding a nail polish contest on Facebook.
The world of marketing should be celebrated for that. It’s incredible.
And it makes me wonder whether the whole ‘rhino trade’ argument has made us too myopic. There are some creative solutions out there, and perhaps we need to focus more on those.
After all, never has social media been so powerful #Trump.
A Journey of Rhino Horn Infographic
In case you don’t feel like reading the original post, here’s an infographic from Al Jazeera:
Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.
Mark April 6, 2017 at 13:11
Why is it ok to discredit a psuedoscientific medicinal use of Rhino horn in SE Asia, but homeopathy is handled with kids gloves? In other words, if Rhino horn did cure cancer or AIDS or ED would the ban be more or less justified and would it be more or less effective in protecting Rhino? It seems to me that so called conservationists are more concerned about standing by their principles (no killing/exploiting rhino) then their goals (thriving Rhino populations)Reply
Alan April 8, 2017 at 12:05
One the other side are old-school conservationists…
No, that is not true. On the anti-rhino trade side are people who have risked their lives infiltrating the syndicates and going undercover to understand the market, the supply chain, the entire system. Also people who understand intelligence-gathering, recruiting former poachers, and economic modelling.
On the pro-trade side are few of those people. There are a lot of economists using thumb-sucked estimates with zero market analysis, and a lot of old-school conservationists who believe that the sustainable utilisation model will work. I work with these latter people and I have a lot of respect for them, but they are desperate for solutions and grasping at straws.
The weight of evidence suggests that legalising rhino horn would be a disaster, for the same reasons that the limited legal permits issued for ivory were disasters with long-term and far-reaching repercussions. In other words, we can’t do a “pilot project” and just try it out to see if it works. It didn’t work for ivory and we’re still paying the consequences of that experiment.
Short reason: there are more millionaires in Asia than there are rhinos in the world, by several orders of magnitude. Already about 90%, by some estimates, of the powdered rhino horn circulating in the medicinal trade is fake (cow or water buffalo horn), because there isn’t enough supply for the market despite the unprecedented poaching levels. On top of that, premium buyers demand proof of “wild” rhino horn – usually portions of the face attached to the horn and sometimes the ears or tail as well. “Clean” rhino horn is still valuable, though, just not as much as “proven wild” horn.
Economically, the best business model is a mining model – wipe out the rhinos, harvest the horns and invest your money elsewhere when the commodity is finished. A trickle of legal rhino horns entering the market annually (about 8 tonnes/year according to the pro-trade estimates) cannot compete with a simple shoot-’em-and-bag-’em business model, especially when the shoot-’em-and-bag-’em model already has the entire supply chain locked up, including the government officials who will be overseeing any future legal trade.
Here’s a link to David Crookes and James Blignaut’s model on the efficacy of rhino trade. Certainly the most comprehensive analysis to date, and already out of date as new intelligence becomes available on the rhino horn industry (the illegal side). The new intelligence doesn’t make the picture any better.
If you want the original paper, PM me and I’ll send it to you.
Mark April 11, 2017 at 07:54
Ivory has to my knowledge been freely traded in the last 30 years, a flash sale of stockpiled ivory doesn’t count. And in any case you analysis is flawed, if rhino horn was legal it would be easy to certify no need to attach parts of Rhino, the high demand would greatly motivate the breeding of Rhino, in much the same way the demand for wool increased the sheep population, or ostrich feathers ostriches.
Are there any examples of banning an in demand product being successful? Alcohol nope, Drugs, no again, but what about cannabis, that was recently leagalised in the US state of Colarado, that seems to have gone well, The Netherlands and Portugal too have more success with legalisation then criminilastion.
The only point we agree on is no pilot project, full legalisation is the solution and the sooner the betterReply
Mark April 11, 2017 at 07:55
edit* Ivory has not been freely tradedReply