Mark Car­war­dine

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - Mark Car­war­dine’s

All you need to know about rhino poach­ing

WHAT IS THE PROB­LEM?

Af­ter the in­fa­mous ‘Rhino Wars’ of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the slaugh­ter of rhi­nos for their horns was mer­ci­less, con­ser­va­tion ef­forts re­duced poach­ing to im­pres­sively low lev­els. But it’s on the rise again – South Africa alone is now los­ing about three rhi­nos ev­ery day. It doesn’t take a rocket sci­en­tist to work out that this is un­sus­tain­able.

WHO BUYS RHINO HORN?

Rich Viet­namese col­lect rhino horn carv­ings as a dis­play of wealth, or an in­vest­ment, and drink rhino horn wine (‘the al­co­holic drink of mil­lion­aires’). In Viet­nam and China it is also used in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, mainly to re­duce fever, but also for ev­ery­thing from snakebite and hang­overs to blurry vi­sion and devil pos­ses­sion; some even claim it cures can­cer.

DOES IT WORK?

No, it’s made of ker­atin – a fi­brous pro­tein – which is also the main con­stituent of hair, fin­ger­nails, hooves and feath­ers. Tests in western lab­o­ra­to­ries find no ev­i­dence for its sup­posed med­i­cal prop­er­ties – chew­ing your own fin­ger­nails would have as much medic­i­nal value. The claim that it is used as an aphro­disiac is an ur­ban myth.

WHY HAS THERE BEEN A SUD­DEN RESUR­GENCE IN POACH­ING?

There is an in­sa­tiable ap­petite for rhino horn in Asia, with a po­ten­tial mar­ket of 1.5 bil­lion users. Po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and civil un­rest in Africa means a break­down in law and or­der and easy avail­abil­ity of guns; the Chi­nese are also in­creas­ingly in­volved in min­ing and road-build­ing projects. Poach­ing has be­come more high-tech, and there is a fail­ure of some coun­tries to pros­e­cute rhino poach­ers suc­cess­fully.

HOW MANY ARE LEFT?

A cen­tury ago there were 500,000 rhi­nos roam­ing Africa and Asia. Now there are fewer than 30,000: 20,700 south­ern white, 5,000 black, 3,500 Asian one-horned, 100 Su­ma­tran, 60 Ja­van and just three north­ern white rhi­nos.

WHAT IS BE­ING DONE TO PRO­TECT THEM?

Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally since the Rhino Wars. Ma­jor user coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ja­pan, Tai­wan, South Korea and Ye­men, have im­ple­mented trade bans and suc­cess­ful aware­ness cam­paigns. More re­cently, China has started to tackle the prob­lem and tra­di­tional medicine prac­ti­tion­ers are in­creas­ingly pro­mot­ing al­ter­na­tive in­gre­di­ents (though the same can’t be said of Viet­nam). Mean­while, anti-poach­ing ef­forts are more pro­fes­sional and wide­spread.

WHAT ABOUT THE AR­GU­MENT FOR LE­GAL TRADE?

All in­ter­na­tional trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977 (with a few ex­cep­tions). But South Africa and oth­ers are push­ing for ‘one­off’ sales of their stock­piles (har­vested from live rhi­nos and con­fis­cated from poach­ers). Also, many of South Africa’s rhi­nos are on pri­vate ranches and the farm­ers want an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket for their har­vested horns. The ar­gu­ment is that le­gal trade would flood the mar­ket, thus re­duc­ing the in­cen­tive to poach, and would gen­er­ate funds for con­ser­va­tion.

WOULD THIS WORK?

No. There is no way of dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween le­gal and il­le­gal horns, it would more likely cause an ex­plo­sion in de­mand (which is what hap­pened af­ter one-off sales of ele­phant ivory) and it could even cre­ate new users, by re­mov­ing the so­cial stigma of buy­ing il­le­gally. With so many po­ten­tial cus­tomers, it will never be pos­si­ble for sup­ply to out­strip de­mand and, of course, it would send out mixed mes­sages – is rhino horn le­gal or not?

SO WHAT OF THE FU­TURE?

There is no magic bul­let. The only long-term so­lu­tion is to elim­i­nate de­mand but, mean­while, anti-poach­ing op­er­a­tions are crit­i­cal to keep rhi­nos alive. One thing is cer­tain – if we don’t up our game ur­gently, there will be none left to save.

THE ONLY LONG-TERM SO­LU­TION IS TO ELIM­I­NATE DE­MAND BUT MEAN­WHILE, ANTI-POACH­ING OP­ER­A­TIONS ARE CRIT­I­CAL.”

De­mand for horn in Asian coun­tries once again threat­ens rhi­nos.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.