Is it time to legalize the rhino horn trade?
The Krugar National Park has turned into a low level warzone as poachers battle conservation agencies to kill rhinos for their horns. Each animal is worth around USD250,000. Prices have soared to USD65,000 a kilo driven by rising consumer incomes in Asia. The trade is outlawed under the CITES convention but the trade continues to grow. For this reason, some experts are now talking about whether legalization of the trade is a better option than prohibition.
Currently US$250k each – name of supplier unknown
The main case for legalization is made by Duan Biggs, a South African academic based in Australia. In a paper published this year he argues that a “carefully structured and adaptively managed legal trade will be more successful than the trade ban at conserving rhino”. He advocates the need for “an open, informed, evidence-based debate that acknowledges different cultural perspectives and belief systems”
At the heart of the issue is a philosophical divide. Many conservationists and animal welfare groups argue against the idea of “sustainable use” of animals. Rather they believe that animals should be allowed to run free and be protected by us. Biggs notes in his video that it is very “challenging” for NGOs to support sustainable use, legalized market approaches after 30 years of advocating “conserve and protect” approaches.
Presumably there is also an inbuilt financial incentive for the same NGOs to maintain prohibition in place as they are funded by donations from millions of people (some very rich) who share the same “anti-use” beliefs. Switching to advocacy for legalization risks reducing their income streams.
The case for legalization merits further research, particularly on addressing uncertainties around governing the market but the greatest challenge appears a bridging a philosophical divide.