Is a legal trade the best way to curb poaching?

In the face of rampant rhino poaching in South Africa, some conservationists and private rhino farmers are lobbying for removal of the international ban on rhino horn trading and the creation of a legal market, to quell poaching.

They believe the trade ban is creating a situation where rhinos are being killed unnecessarily. It’s taking resources away from other conservation efforts, and is leading to the situation where there’s a pseudo war taking place in the Kruger National Park.

The South African government is exploring this option and could make a proposal at the 2016 Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) to allow it to open up rhino horn sales. That would require support from a two-thirds majority of the 178 member states.

Proposals to lift the ban, which has been in place since 1977, have sparked debate about whether a legal market would actually curb poaching. Opponents worry that it would stimulate the black market trade that exists in parts of Asia, where rhino horn sells for 65,000 dollars a kilogramme – more than gold or cocaine – and is touted as a cure for hangovers and an aphrodisiac in countries like Vietnam.

But advocates say it would be the solution to the poaching crisis.

What do you think?

Although it is South Africa that is posing the question, the issue of poaching affects just about every country with wildlife.We’ve decided to open up a new topic on our forums so that you can have your say. 

Last year, poachers killed 668 rhinos in South Africa, mainly in the Kruger National Park, which houses the world’s largest population of white rhino.

In an Apr. 3 press statement, the South African government said that the number of rhinos killed since the start of 2013 totalled 203. Poaching has roughly doubled each year over the past five years in South Africa.

If poaching continues at the current rate, the Kruger National Park’s rhino population will start to decline from 2016, according to South African National Parks researchers. Worse, scientists estimate that if poaching accelerates, Africa’s rhino could be extinct in the wild in just 20 years.

To be effective, advocates propose that an independent body – a central selling organisation – that reports to CITES would run the market and sell horns to registered buyers. Part of the revenue from sales would be channelled to conservation efforts and used to strengthen anti-poaching initiatives.

Not convinced

But various conservation groups oppose legal trade.

Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, an independent organisation committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime, points to the spike in illegal ivory sales in China after it legally bought stockpiles of ivory from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe in 2008.

The Chinese government bought ivory for 157 dollars/kg but sells it for up to 1,500 dollars/kg. Retailers, however, sell ivory products for as much as 7,000 dollars, according to an Environmental Investigation Agency report.

But as much as 90 percent of the ivory that enters the market in China is illegal, according to the report.

“Legal ivory is now more expensive than illegal ivory, and what you have is the biggest upsurge in poaching since the (1989) ban (on international ivory trade),” Rice told IPS.