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:

  1. CITES permits the legal hunting of any species once the population of a species exceeds a particular level.
  2. South Africa exceeded its required population levels for white rhino in 2003 (at that point, 90% of all white rhino were in South Africa)
  3. Permits began to be issued from then.
  4. But in 2008, South African officials panicked after noticing a large uptake in the amount of rhino hunting permits being issued to Vietnamese nationals.
  5. So they cut back the permits, and issued the trade ban.
  6. 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).
  7. The price became so attractive that high-tech poaching units began emerging, complete with helicopters and the like.
  8. 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:

journey of a rhino horn

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 Or both.