Could legalising rhino horn trade save the species?

11th April 2012

South Africa is considering legalising the trade of rhino horn in an attempt to save the species, a statement released from a government official has said

In a bid to combat rampant poaching, South Africa is considering approaching the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) with a proposal to trade rhino horn internationally. Although the internal preparatory processes are in their infancy, South Africa is already preparing to discuss the idea at the 16th Conference of Parties, said the state's minister of water and environmental affairs Edna Molewa.

Despite the millions ploughed into anti-poaching methods, the rate of poaching is still high; 159 rhinos were reportedly killed in the first three months of 2012. The rising deaths have called for a revision of how rhino populations are conserved.

At present, rhino horns can be exported from South Africa as a hunting trophy but the bid could expand the rights to trade internationally.

If the legalisation was approved by CITES, old horn stockpiles could be sold to further fund species conservation and horn 'harvesting' in farms would hopefully help take the pressure off wild populations. All traded horns would be micro-chipped and DNA samples collected to stop illegally attained horns entering the market.

However, the idea has been met by some opposition. “The recent string of high-profile arrests shows that people within the private game farming industry are involved in poaching. The issue is, therefore, a little more complicated than simply legalising the trade in rhino horn. For example, it would allow poachers to launder illegally gotten rhino horns,” said WWF South Africa’s chief executive Morné du Plessis.

In the government's statement, the minister announced that 90 poachers have been arrested since January 2012 and 150 new rangers, currently undergoing paramilitary training, are to be deployed to Kruger National Park. 

South Africa is home to the world's largest population of rhinos and consequently, is a hotspot for poaching. From South Africa, poached horns find their way to South-East Asian countries where they are used to supposedly cure an array of maladies.

What do you think about legalising the trade of rhino horns and rhino farms? Is it cruel to harvest the species for their horn? Or do you think that current conservation efforts aren't working and something else needs to be tried?

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