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Education is the only way to save the black rhino

21 January 2014

3:20 PM

21 January 2014

3:20 PM

Could legalising the trade in rhino horn – and allowing sport hunting – be the solution to Africa’s rhino poaching problem? Legalisation, it is argued, will make it easier to control the trade in animal products and negate the black market. It’s a similar argument to one often used about the legalisation of marijuana – as Hugo Rifkind wrote a couple of weeks ago:

‘This is an economic land grab. It is the process of taking a criminal industry away from criminals.’

Controlling a legal trade in animal products is easier said than done, however. Authorities have struggled to suppress the illegal trade, so there are doubts about whether they can regulate a legal one. The economics are uncertain, too. Flooding the market with legal rhino horn would increase its availability, thereby decreasing its value. But, even if that were to happen, there might not be enough rhino horn in the world to meet growing demand. The use of rhino horn as a medicine is a status symbol in many parts of Asia, where the number of people able to afford the product is rising rapidly.


Raising rhinos in parks and using them for sport hunting is one suggestion; then, at least, a rhino has a price on its back as well as its horn. That argument might work if poachers could make more money from regulated sport hunting than they do from poaching; but rhino horn sells for around £40,000 per kilo at the moment. The Dallas Safari Club, who controversially auctioned off a permit to hunt a black rhino earlier this month, sold that license for £214,000. If we can assume that is the top end of the rhino hunting market (the auction was, after all, well publicised in the media), then the figures don’t quite add up. Each rhino has two horns; the average weight of a pair of black rhino horns is 2.5kg (£100,000-worth of horn), but the larger white rhino horns weigh an average of 6kg, at a price of £240,000. Factor in the fact that breeding rhinos for hunting would come at a price – including the running of the game reserve and paying for their protection – and it’s hard to see how sport hunting would be a viable option.

The man who bought the permit auctioned in Texas – one of five black rhino hunting permits issued by Namibia annually – describes himself as a ‘conservationist’. The permits enable the Namibian government to target the black rhino that are shot; these are normally the older bull rhinos that can no longer breed and could be a threat to the younger, healthier males. In the majority of species – as with deer in the UK – this kind of culling tends to be the most sensible way of managing a population. But the global black rhino population stands at around 5,000, so it’s much harder to justify culls.

As with most things in life, money is the problem. If rhino horn were to lose its value entirely, poaching would stop. Conservation is a matter of educating the people who buy rhino horn: mainly the Vietnamese, but also the Chinese and many other Asian countries. Actors Bai Ling and Jackie Chan are among the Asian celebrities who have been enlisted to fight for the rhino, as has the basketball player Yao Ming. But unless demand is stopped, it’s hard to see poaching coming to an end.

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Show comments
  • Roy

    It would not be the solution. Education would only spread the news of how fantastic is the price obtainable. The only way is poaches to be shot on sight. No ifs, no buts, shot on sight. People having access to wild life conservation areas should be heavily licensed and authorities know who at any one time has permission to be out there.

    • sfin

      Agreed. And you have a good precedent to back up your argument – when Kenya’s national park rangers were effectively given ’00’ status.

      People at the time complained that they were judge, jury and executioner but the beneficial effect on Kenya’s elephant population was dramatic – so much so, that they’ve had to start culling.

  • Troika21

    If everyone wanted to eat PandaBurgers; some-body, some-where, would find some-way of getting the lazy things breeding again.

    Same with the Rhino. I’ve read that the licence was expected to reach $1 million, but failed because of exactly this sort of hand-wringing and opposition.

    • AndrewMelville

      Panda burgers are very dry with bitter aftertaste. Most chefs recommend marinating them first in whisked California Condor eggs, then frying gently with baby seals livers. Yummy! I’d have that every day in season.

  • Tom Tom

    How will educating rhino save them ?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Everybody is helped by “education”, including rhinos. The rhinos should immigrate and be given student visas and allowed to take on large amounts of government-backed loans. They can pay back them back after they get to work. Rhinos would bring a welcome dose of diversity to the work force, I’m sure we’d all agree, and since it’s all about rubbing the Right’s nose in diversity, let’s bring on a beast that can do the job proper.

      • AndrewMelville

        There’s a Roma Rhino family living at the bottom of my street. They are demanding that the council provide them with a roofed prayer pad for their five daily trumpetings. The young women are cute but the males are quite belligerent. And none of them can read. Most of them have jobs as community activists.

  • Newcombe

    Best solution:

    Create a huge reservation in USA and transfer all animals from Africa and Asia there.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Sorry. I know it is a serious matter but the headline is funny.

    • RobertC

      Yes, it is a serious matter, and yes, the headline is funny!

      I thought that education was the only way to save the poor, to save the young from destitution and now, it is the only way to save the black rhino!

      I hope they are better behaved in class.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I gather they are not.

  • sfin

    Education? OK, but the main thing that will save the black rhino is if they continue to attract the £214,000 the Texan gentleman paid to shoot one that was to be culled anyway. Managed hunting offers the best conservation full stop. I’ll let the words of a professional hunter in South Africa explain:

    “My client has paid $50,000 for a trophy buffalo. I am leading him to one I know who was ousted from the herd last year by a younger male. This animal will now, either starve to death, or more likely be eaten alive by predators. He has fathered over 100 calves and I am giving him a quick death. In return he is giving me $10,000, he’s giving another $10,000 to the government and he’s giving $30,000 to the national park who’ll maintain his habitat for future generations. Without that money, and in competition with a growing human population, this park will be farmland within 10 years and his herd will no longer exist.”

    Wildlife has to pay its way, like anything else.

    • Fergus Pickering

      You mean save them in Africa. Hard to do given what Africans are like. How many black rhino are there here in England? Do you have the figures/

      • AndrewMelville

        There are 3.6 million Rhinos in Tower Hamlets alone. However, we don’t record their colour, you racist git.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Education is indeed the key. Someone should tell the Chinese and Vietnamese that eating their toenails and fingernails is a more effective and cheaper option than rhino horn.

    • Fergus Pickering

      You can tell them but they won’t believe you. Think about alternative medicine shops. People everywhere are endlessly gullible. You may not believe me but there are actually people who think that when I switch the central heating on I am actually causing volcanic activity on the other side of the globe. Yes really! Some witch doctor in a white coat told them.

      • Hexhamgeezer

        Perhaps if feng shui practicioners lowered their prices people wouldn’t resort to rhino horn. And maybe toenail fungus renders their own bodies products off limits.

    • AndrewMelville

      Tastier too.

  • HookesLaw

    Abolish fox hunting but legalise the murder of rhinos with a bulls eye on their bum? Are rhinos vermin? Do we eat rhino meat? I’m not sure I see the justification for breeding rhinos, just to kill them – for sport.
    As I understand it we hunt stags and deer etc because we need to cull them because of their numbers and its usually the older sicker animals killed. This is not what you are suggesting here for rhinos.
    And then there is the horn – giving in to the superstition surrounding rhino horn hardly seems like a cogent policy for the 21st Century.

    The solution is to make the rhino more valuable alive than dead. Education, law and order, tourism, jobs and prosperity.

    • sfin

      “Are rhinos vermin?” To the people who live and farm in their territory, they most certainly are (they’re also likely to kill you if you meet one whilst strolling in your neighbourhood – not something we generally have to think about in Europe).
      Managed hunting of large game – like any business would definitely target the older, sicker, unproductive members of the population (predators like lions do it naturally – we call it farming).
      I applaud your last sentence in its entirety – beautifully put – may I suggest adding managed hunting to the list?