Cape Times

Could hunting save rhinos?

- Patrick Neylon

RHINOS have been walking the Earth for more than 50 million years, but their days could now be numbered.

Due to growing numbers being poached, some scientists are estimating we will see the last free rhinos within 20 years.

A rhino horn sells for more than gold, diamonds or platinum on the black market – an estimated $60 000 (R770 000) a kilogram.

Although some countries have made it illegal to hunt rhinos, that has not helped spur the growth of rhino population­s. This has forced some countries to get creative in their tactics to save rhinos. Some countries even do the opposite of what is believed to be right and make hunting them legal, or change the appearance of rhino.

Namibia and South Africa are two countries known for offering trophy hunting permits for endangered species such as rhino. And the permits have fetched prices of up to $350 000. Looked at like that, it can seem somewhat contradict­ory to offer people the ability to kill an animal and to also have it on the endangered species list, but data shows this can help increase the population.

Plus the money raised from selling the permits to the trophy hunters goes back into the local villages and improves their living conditions. In Namibia, the number one way they fund wildlife conservati­on is from the permits sold from wildlife hunting. The extra money the permits bring to countries like Namibia and South Africa gives local farmers and community members incentives to protect rhino and other wildlife.

One of the best success stories of this practice is the way the white rhino population grew from barely 100 to nearly 20 000 today.

Another conservati­on attempt has been to paint rhino horns pink or other colours to ward off poachers. The idea is that the dye that goes into the horn hurts the poacher’s ability to sell the horn. It has a chemical that causes humans to vomit or have diarrhoea if ingested (in traditiona­l medicine), and it can be easily detected by airport scanners, making it difficult to travel with a rhino horn and not get caught.

While there has been some success in both practices, the facts is that more need to be done.

The white rhino has been the best success story: it is now the largest rhino species in the world and still growing. Other species though, such as the Sumatran rhino, have fewer than 100 left in the wild in Asia, and it seems unlikely they will bounce back.

The belief in Asia that rhino horn can cure even cancer makes them more valuable than gold to their culture. Asian countries also don’t have programmes like those in Namibia that allow the local community to earn a living off the rhino population.

Therefore there is no true incentive to protect rhino. Without trophy hunting licences being introduced, our children and grandchild­ren might well inherit an Earth with no wild rhinos.

Neylon is a Florida Gulf Coast University student looking to spread awareness of economic tools that can improve communitie­s and the sustainabi­lity in nature.

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