#ShockWildlifeTruths: Rhino horn online auction pros and cons, readers respond

2017-07-20 12:39 - Unathi Nkanjeni
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Cape Town - Major concerns have been raised about an online rhino horn auction that is set to take place in August this year, putting South Africa's domestic rhino horn trade parameters as set by CITES to the test, with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) stating that it does not allow rhino horn to be traded internationally.

The DEA issued a statement with a compliance warning, to make the parameters of the sale clear, saying "international trade in rhino horn is, and remains, illegal, and steps will be taken against any individual or group attempting to illegally move rhino horn purchased on the domestic market out of the country." 

MUST-SEE: SA rhino horn online auction ads indirectly targeting known hotbeds for illegal trade stokes DEA concern

Although confusion still remains, as false impressions about the online auction are spreading across social media. 

The Rhino Horn Auction blog issued a primary concern response, saying "after going through all the comments posted on social media in relation to the rhino horn auction, we noticed a few primary concerns about the legal trade in rhino horn. We’d like you to know that we have heard all of your concerns."

Here are the concerns:

There are not enough rhinos to support the demand

"We completely understand this concern," says the rhino auction blog. "The ongoing eradication of rhinos reveal that the demand for rhino horn is large and not going to die down anytime soon. Therefore, we believe that it is crucial to encourage the breeding and protection of rhinos and if we don’t, they will be heading for extinction very soon."

"That being said, the government needs to let consumer countries know that any potential trade in the horn stocks will have a limit; these countries need to respect the limit. The limit will increase as the rhino numbers increase. If we do not take the steps to meet the demand, we won’t save the rhino."

A legal trade in horn will promote illegal trade in horn by creating a channel for it

To the second concern, the blog says, "Weather (Sic) we like it or not, the channel for illegal horn trade exists." 
"Illegal trade is succeeding and has no competition to counter it at all," says the blog. 
"Forming a competition in the form of legal trade has the potential of correcting the perverse value of the horn, which is what is driving rhino poaching at the moment.

"With the correct permit system in place as well as the RhoDis DNA database system in South Africa, we can identify legal horn and keep illegal horn out of our legal trade route."

A legal trade won’t help - we need better law enforcement to save our rhino

Rhino auction blog says "If we take a look at the massive social experiment in America, prohibition of alcohol, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, history shows us that bans on contraband allow the black market to thrive."
"The prohibition promised a richer, safer, healthier and more moral society. Instead, it failed to prevent drinking and actually made the problem worse, increasing organised crime, gangsters, violence, etc."
"The prohibition is just one example - there are numerous similar cases. With the ban of trade in rhino horn, organised crime syndicates have control over the market and generally either team up with or threaten government officials to help them with their crimes," writes the blog. "Heavy threats to offenders have been useless and they continue to operate despite them."

"This is not to say we should not continue efforts to eliminate poachers; however, it is clear that merely increasing law enforcement efforts will not solve the problem."

Legal trade didn’t work for ivory

The blog responded to this concerning saying, "Many people are saying that because the legal trade didn’t work for ivory, it won’t work for rhino horn, but they fail to realise that both situations are very different."
"For example, ivory is represented by dead elephants; rhino horn can be obtained from live rhinos.
"Ivory trade is isolated as ivory does not grow back like rhino horns. Rhino horn is a sustainable trade that we can continue.
"Elephants aren’t easy to monitor; rhino breeders can monitor, audit and protect their rhino effectively.

"Elephants are spread across conflict zones, which are difficult to control and protect; South Africa has the world’s largest rhino population."

Private rhino breeders’ primary goal is to make money from horn trade

"Private rhino owners have carried a cumulative combined financial burden of more than 100 million US dollars over the last 8 years," says the blog. "The only way a rhino owner like John Hume can continue protecting his rhino is by selling his horn. If he does not get the funds he needs to keep his rhino protected, ten years from now, he'll have no more rhino on his Captive Breeding Operation."
"That being said, individuals are entitled to make money from their businesses; in this case, the funds private rhino breeders will receive will help with the conservation and protection of the rhino

"Private rhino owners own about 28% of the rhino population in the country, therefore, the government will gain most of the funds generated from the horn; these funds are much needed to improve efforts against poaching."

What’s a rhino without its horn?

"Many critics have expressed their horror that the majestic rhinos are going to be de-horned. Trimming a rhino horn is not like "cutting off their noses" at all." 
"Rhino horn is made out of keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and nails. 

"Rhinos are anaesthetised before their horns are trimmed 88mm above the flesh - the procedure is painless. Once the horns are trimmed, they regrow at roughly 100mm per year. When the horns have grown back, the process is repeated, allowing a safe and sustainable market for rhino horn," says the blog.

Rhinos bred on a Captive Breeding Operation can’t be returned to the wild

To the last concern, the blog responded by saying, "The rhinos from John Hume’s Captive Breeding Operation can be reintroduced into the wild easily without any rehabilitation process."

"As the rhinos’ horns grow back, in about 3 to 4 years time you will not even be able to tell that they had been de-horned. This, of course, we can only do once we have removed the threat of poaching as, currently, they will all be killed if we release them back into the wild," says the blog.

Poll results:

With the topic of the online auction being met with major concerns, Traveller24 did a poll to find out what the public thought of the rhino horn online auction.

At the time of writing this article, some 4 675 votes were cast saying that, like ivory, the online auction won’t work to reduce illegal trade and poaching. 

In contrast, 2 975 votes agree that this auction would actually create a loophole for illegal trade. A total of 1 369 votes suggested that this auction will decrease rhino poaching.

See results:

Rhino crisis highlighted

While poachers target the horn believed to have high-value medicinal properties, such tragic and reckless poaching incidents highlight how intense and fearless the criminal industry has become.

In just a short space of time, poachers have attacked Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in KwaZulu-Natal, which has subsequently decided to close down after a heavily armed gang hit the orphanage on the night of 21 February. 

SEE:  Elephant Whisperer's rhino orphanage closure a blow for anti-poaching in SA

Recently, SA’s special investigative police unit arrested poaching suspects at OR Tambo International Airport who were trying to smuggle rhino horn out of the country. The two alleged smugglers were arrested on 12 June and 10 rhino horn, valued at R2.8 million, were recovered.

SEE: Minister of Environmental Affairs welcomes arrest of rhino horn traffickers

While government says it is doing all it can to reduce poaching and increase arrests, some conservationists have alleged that there is massive corruption within the court system, resulting in the release of several suspects or the engineering of ongoing delays in trials that go nowhere - while poachers are becoming more brazen in their attack. 

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