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David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Trade in Rhino Horn

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s (DSWF) position on the international and domestic trade of rhinos.

There is much debate and controversy surrounding the trade in rhino horn, but DSWF strongly believes that allowing a legal trade would normalise it, stimulate the existing markets, and set a dangerous precedent for consumers and consumptive markets.

Furthermore, legally obtained rhino horn will not satisfy the consumer demand at current or future levels and would further proliferate the existing poaching epidemic.

DSWF actively campaigns for and supports:

Rhino drinking water, horn
  • A total ban on the international trade in rhino horn
  • An end to the domestic trade in rhino horn
  • Ending any future discussions on possible rhino horn trade

There is significant international scepticism regarding how the trade of rhino horn would be sufficiently regulated, both nationally and internationally.

With lax law enforcement, resources, and funding, DSWF predict that the legal trade will simply create a resource for the illegal trade to be laundered into.

Legal markets exacerbate economic and political issues and make the trade impossible to monitor. With the implementation of a comprehensive and total domestic and international ban, the issue is simply one of law enforcement.

Why complicate a system that is already hard to monitor, measure and enforce? In example, the ‘one off’ experimental ivory stockpile sales in 1999 and 2008 (to Asian markets), emphasise a failed attempt to fulfil consumer demand with disastrous effects.

The sale created a new consumer market that couldn’t previously afford the ivory, spiked demand, and fuelled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching – contributing to the death of 100,000 African elephants between 2010 and 2012.

Although market dynamics are unclear, flooding markets to satisfy demand could deeply aggravate the already dire position of rhino populations worldwide.

There is an element of empathy attached to rhinos – an affinity for these majestic creatures and, by legalising the domestic and international trade, we alter this perspective, normalise it, and promote its progression towards extinction.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
James Kydd
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
James Kydd

What is legally harvested rhino horn?

With a burgeoning demand for rhino horn from consumer markets, preparations for the harvesting of rhinos has become a prevalent practice in South Africa.

Many private rhino farmers are breeding rhinos, strategically removing their horns for the sale into domestic trade, (a now legal practice in South Africa), or storing them in stockpiles – pre-empting their commercial aspirations of a revival of the international trade in rhino horn.

What are the consequences of the legal market in South Africa?

Artwork by Christine Lamberth
Rhino pencil drawing, artwork

The recent legislative changes and subsequent removal of the trade moratorium regarding the domestic trade in rhino horn, was surrounded by worldwide scepticism due to the disastrous ramifications for rhino populations. 

Whilst the ruling by South Africa’s High Court only had the remit to lift the national trade ban, the almost immediate translation of ‘domestic’ rhino horn auction websites into Vietnamese emphasises the murky motivations, desire, and deadly potential for trans-continental sales in the imminent future.

The legal trade risks normalising consumption through reduced stigma from destination countries at the heart of the poaching epidemic. DSWF believes that this will result in stimulated demand, incentivising poaching and the creation of new consumer markets, hastening the rhino’s trajectory along the dire path towards extinction.

Although there is some discussion that legalisation of rhino horn trade could economically discourage poaching initially, its accessibility would open up new consumer markets stimulating a demand that the legal market couldn’t fulfil for biological, enforcement, and management reasons.

The counter argument hinges on the notion that an increase in supply will lead to price reductions. However, the positive effects of these price reductions are largely uncertain, unproven, and too high risk for a species so close to the brink of extinction.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Can legally harvested rhino horn be kept out of illegal domestic markets, and can domestic trade be sufficiently regulated?

DSWF believes that where legal wildlife markets exist, black and illegal markets flourish.

In a region suffering from political instability, a lack of funding and resource for wildlife departments, and endemic corruption, the idea of a centralised or devolved system to regulate a legal domestic trade with such a high value ‘commodity’ is a fallacy.

Conditional trade in any guise cannot be sufficiently regulated and pressurises an already struggling system.


Which horn devaluation and protection methods are being trialled and implemented?

NGO’s and governments are trialling and implementing numerous rhino horn devaluation techniques to counter the ever-growing poaching epidemic in Southern Africa.

Demand reduction aimed at consumer countries lies at the forefront of longer-term solutions to sustaining rhino populations.

DSWF believes that demand reduction, alongside education, is key for both consumer markets and local communities.

Short-term solutions, however, are also needed to run in parallel with longer term strategies to stem the demand of this rampant crisis.

The de-horning of rhinos has been used as a widespread deterrent technique used to discourage poaching.

However, to be effective, it must be coupled with extensive anti-poaching security and monitoring efforts.

With only 90% of the horn being removed safely, the sad reality is that, although less profitable, poachers will still kill rhinos for the stub or simply to avoid re-tracking it in the future.

Infusions are another devaluation technique where horns are infused with a composite that pollutes the horn, rendering it useless for ornamental or medicinal use. Whilst the concept is relatively new, it is proving fruitful as a deterrent and offers a pro-active solution.
Please donate to help us end the cruel trade in rhino horn.

£50 could help reduce demand for rhino horn through educational campaigns in Asia.

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David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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