A LETHAL HARVEST
Thanks to unabated demand for its horn in Asia, the African rhinoceros is teetering on the verge of extinction. There are some ideas for saving them that go beyond stopping poachers, Chris Davis reports from New York.
crime,” said Peachey.
“For a long time as ordinary people were involved in rhino poaching, they would get $100, which seemed like a lot of money,” he said. “People sometimes make excuses for the illegal wildlife trade saying that indigenous people live in a difficult world and this is an opportunity for them to better themselves. It rarely if ever works that way.”
“People who are involved in taking contraband and getting it to consumers move into the beginning of that chain, when they see the profit that lucrative, they just can’t resist.”
“The people who were the middle men got involved in poaching itself. They have cut out the ordinary people who were doing the poaching and now you find there are organized gangs that are highly equipped, heavily armed, poaching from helicopters. It’s organized crime. It’s not just individuals taking advantage of an opportunity, it’s gangs that go out with the intent to poach rhinos, make a substantial investment and experience a substantial return,” Peachey said.
According to China’s Auction Association, mainland auction markets saw sales of rhino horn doubling yearon-year. In 2011, 2,750 pieces of rhino horn carvings fetched $179 million on mainland auction blocks. Today pieces bring an average price of $117, 582.
“The high prices for rhino horns in Asia even attracted the attention of criminal gangs which targeted museums and galleries in Europe and successfully pulled off a series of rhino horn thefts,” said Grace Ge Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who opposes the creation of an international market.
Acting of a tip from IFAW about the auction sales of rhino horn, tiger bone and elephant ivory, Chinese authorities banned all auctions of these endangered species in 2012, Gabriel said. “The auction ban resulted in a 40 percent reduction of auction volume in mainland China,” she said.
“Legalizing rhino horn trade would feed two distinctly different markets, remove the stigma associated with consumption of endangered species, stimulate the insatiable demand for rhino horn and fuel further rhino poaching,” Gabriel wrote on her IFAW blog.
“Profiteers are pushing the legal trade, lobbying the agricultural industry hard saying ‘We should have the right to farm these animals and the security costs are so high for our business we need to finance them, of course we’re rhino conservationists, but we stand to make a packet of money,” Kennaugh said.
“If a legal market exists and these high prices continue to be paid,” said Peachey, “then people will go and kill a rhino on a farm — and it’s already happened. Rhinos that should be protected have been poached. And that horn goes to market.”
“If all rhino horn trade is illegal,” he continued, “then any time you see a rhino horn you know someone has committed a crime. There’s no ‘Let me see your papers’, there’s no opportunity to provide counterfeit paperwork or counterfeit permits. It’s black and white. You’re taking a rhino horn across the border, that’s illegal, you’re under arrest.”
The only way a legal market would work, he believes, would be if people were willing to sell rhino horn for $5 a pound. “If you sell it at a price that is so incredibly low, it loses its value as a status symbol, it loses its value to a certain extent in the practice of TCM and demand just might plummet,” he said.
Peachey cited a survey done by the South African government recently of 54 rhino owners: only seven had ever sold rhino horn. “So for people to contend that this is an industry and they need to do this to survive, in fact that’s not the case,” Peachey said. “That says that there were 47 rhino owners who were not compelled to sell rhino horn in order to survive. They found another way to manage these rhinos that they had on their farms or ranches in order to get them to pay their way.”
The proposal will be run up the flag pole at the next CITES convention in September. It is not expected to pass.
Contact the writer at chrisdavis@ chinadailyusa.com
A white rhino calf stands beside its grazing mother in Kruger National Park.