Rhino Dilemma – what is the answer?

Perhaps we need a radical new approach – and you may not like this, as it goes against the grain of what you have been preaching – BUT for a moment agree with me that the conventional approaches are clearly not working and there is no argument about this – and our The Western conservation attitudes ARE BUSY pushing the Rhino towards extinction.

BUT, for a moment lets forget about rhino’s, or elephants, or even Africa for that matter:

Imagine that (for want of a better example) Citrus trees were endangered. And despite scientific proof to the contrary there are still lots of people like you and I that wrongly believe that large doses of Vit C can stave off colds and ‘flu. So Vit C (in this hypothetical situation) is very expensive and it’s trade has been curtailed or even banned in some countries. And this skyrocketing price causes illegal harvesting of the trees which are processed in large vats and their Vit C is extracted – and as a result the tree numbers are dwindling and soon will be extinct. A few astute businessmen know this and are paying silly prices and are hoarding Vit C because as soon as the trees are extinct they will be sitting on a gold mine. Yet we have a few conservation organisations that have collected lots of Vit C in strongrooms but keep it locked up because a Rich-country dominated organisation (them having squandered all their trees decades ago) have deemed illegal trade illegal.

All because a some people wrongly believe that large doses of Vit C will stave off colds and ‘flu

We need a multi-pronged approach to solve this problem and we need to ignore the west and come up with an African solution:

Anti poaching – the problem with this is as long as there are poor people in Africa there will be both an incentive and avenues for both subsistence and commercial poaching – rather like the poor fellow stealing a rabbit to feed his family and ending up banished to Australia – it’s a survival instinct combined with the opportunistic predatory human nature. Shooting poor people (as advocated by many of the white’s on the internet) who are poaching rhino horns for a few thousand rands will only turn the poor masses against conservation and against those who are trying to protect wild animals – “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU RHINOS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN POOR AFRICANS – KILL THEM ALL!!” – Rather give them a TANGIBLE benefit that is of a higher and more sustainable value! Also – just think of the logistics and costs involved in protecting 20,000 rhino’s in South Africa. This will cost billions – not just millions! (BTW do the math – the poachers have harvested much less than 25% of the rhino’s annual population growth to date!) (note approx 21,000 rhino – both species – in South Africa in 2009 growing at 5% pa before poaching – approx 1,050 increase pa. poaching is heading towards 200-250 this year, so poaching (upper end) is 1.2% of the population or 24% of annual increment)

Summary: Anti-poaching as a sole solution will only keep the bunny huggers happy and stands a good chance of driving the animals towards extinction at a faster rate as it will simultaneously drive up horn values as populations begin to decline.

Education – yes – both at source and destination – now this is something we can work with – and it worked in Yemen during their oil boom but remember you are talking about peoples health – a commodity more valued by people than anything else, so this will not be an easy option – it will be time consuming and costly both in monetary terms and resources. but IT THE BEST LONG TERM SOLUTION. But what happens if we don’t have a long term – as in the case of the African rhino species

The driving force behind this acceleration in destruction is purely $$ a high value at retail – street level- and the fact that it is perceived to be a finite resource.

The same argument can be applied to the trade in illegal drugs – look at what is happening today in Mexico and with the S. American drug cartels. Look at what happened during Christian fundementalism-driven Prohibition in the 1920’s in the USA – lots of people died and Bugsy Malone and Al Capone made millions – and people still got drunk! Even look at the problem with Abalone poaching in South Africa – a state owned resource!

If we could bring that price down and legalise the trade we can control it from cradle to grave

We are sitting on a sustainable harvestable resource, with many millions in value in protected vaults and on live animals. The government of SA can easily lay claim to all rhino horns (both live and dead) For once lets put our emotions aside and realise that as a short term solution we NEED to tamper with the price mechanism wherever the horns are being sold. And in the process tell CITES to get lost – they have not saved anything and dictate to Africa generally (like the West) in a most patronising manner. And, as we’re doing this, lets use the bulk of our resources, both money and manpower for education through massive marketing and advertising schemes – use Asian celebrities if we need to and SHRINK the demand this way by applying a levy on sales (example cigarette sales paying for health warnings).

If you don’t change anything, then nothing changes. Madness can be defined as – doing the same thing and expecting the result to change. For close to 100 years we have tried to stop poaching – it did not work when Africa had 500 million people, why will it work now when it has close to 1 billion people. Facts are facts – Asian buyers are prepared to pay R19,000/kg for horn, hundreds of millions of Africans are starving – sounds like selling horn legally is the closest thing we have to a logical solution – irrespective of your emotional perspective. The trend is not in favour of more conventional logic (kill the poacher) being applied. It is not an accident that South Africa has the most rhino, the solution in South Africa has been private ownership and almost free trade in rhino within the country. Now lets extend the ONLY example of an increasing and financially valuable rhino population to global thinking. Quick and dirty estimates would value the rhino herd in South Africa at R2.1 to 2.5 billion. What is the real provable value of a live rhino in Kenya – you cannot tell me, neither can their neighbours – but the poacher can tell you its value – DEAD.