A potentially disastrous scenario to relax the ban on rhino horn sales will be up for debate this week at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of CITES currently underway in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In the midst of global rhino crises, the Kingdom of Swaziland has recently submitted a proposal to CITES to legalize the international trade of rhino horns. Swaziland’s anti-poaching body believes selling their 330kg stockpile of horn collected from naturally deceased animals and poachers could raise close to $10 million USD to help protect Swaziland’s 73 remaining white rhino from poachers.
In addition to selling the stockpile to the traditional medicine markets of the Far East, Swaziland is also pushing for the sale of a further 20kg on an annual basis, raising $600,000 by harvesting horns from living herds and re-growing horns from dehorned rhinos.
Grave concerns are being expressed throughout the conservation community that the concept of selling rhino horns to fund anti-poaching measures is seriously flawed.
It is being strongly argued that the coexistence of legal and illegal rhino horn will not only make enforcing the law impossible, it will also fuel consumer demand, especially in countries like Vietnam and China.
It is pointed out that the lifting of the international trade ban for Swaziland will inevitably create a situation where both legal and illegal products from this species exist on the market. This would represent a huge challenge for law enforcement in terms of confusion, de-motivation as a result of pursuing much more complex cases that might lead nowhere, and in ultimately enforcing the law.
The other fear is that demand will never decrease when international policies encourage the trade and consumption of wildlife products. If the trade in rhino horns is legalized, it would ignite fresh consumer demand for rhino horns since they can be legally purchased. Consequently, the size of the consumer market for rhino horns will grow ever larger. This would also be a risk to the wild rhino populations on an international scale if the stimulated demand were to lead to the acceleration of poaching rhinos for production.
“How can we justify encouraging people in my country not to consume rhino horn if we agree to allow the sale and consumption of rhino horn from ‘legal’ sources? If we really want to protect rhinos, we must show a serious commitment to protect these precious animals, not profit from their deaths,” said Ms. Ha Bui, Education for Nature – Vietnam vice director. “ENV would, therefore, encourage CITES Vietnam and all other country members to vote NO to Swaziland’s proposal.”
Vietnam has long been considered a major consumer of rhino horn as well as a significant link in the illegal supply chain. Some impact has been achieved but there is still a long way to go, and the worry is that if Swaziland are successful in their overtures for a dispensation the inevitable outcome will be the undermining of all the efforts thus far to curb consumer demand.
While it is too late for the rhino in Vietnam (the last remaining rhino was shot in 2010) there is determination that the South East Asian country should play a major role in preventing extinctions occurring elsewhere.
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