The Constitutional Court’s ruling allowing for the legal domestic trade of rhino horn can only be a good thing for game farmers, conservationists, and anyone else who wants to see the rhinoceros thriving.
To many, it might seem counterintuitive, but the basic economic and social consequences of the criminalisation of the rhino horn trade have made the conservation of rhinos far more difficult than is necessary.
SEE ALSO: Saving the rhino – free market style by Nicholas Babaya
South Africa currently holds the overwhelming majority of the world’s rhino population with two of five extant species being native to South Africa, namely the black rhino and the white rhino. While the historical range of these species extended all throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, a history of war, strife, poverty and government mismanagement has led their numbers to dwindle. South Africa has a country with relative peace and high regard for its wildlife, and so it’s no surprise that we have the vast majority of the world’s rhinoceros population.
The value of rhino horn by weight currently exceeds that of gold and, as a result, the lengths to which poachers are willing to go have become extreme and dangerous. This has had the effect of creating a security risk for farmers who have rhinos on their farms. Rhino poachers are serious criminals and so many game farmers simply decide not to keep rhinos due to the security risk they pose to them, their families and their staff.
By legalising the trade of rhino horn, the security risk will be lowered, and so it will become more attractive for game farmers to breed rhinos on their farms. This will be a huge help in boosting their population and making sure that there is a good degree of genetic diversity. Historically, many species which have been brought back from being critically endangered have faced the problem of what is the ‘the genetic bottleneck’ in which excessive inbreeding becomes necessary because of small populations. This tends to bring out recessive genes which give rhinos traits which might adversely affect their survival in the wild. A notable example of this would be with American bison, which were almost killed off in the 1800s and had to be bred back to a healthy population often by cross-breeding with cows (something which is normally considered unethical by conservationists). Even today, most American bison have a small percentage of cattle DNA as a result of the genetic bottleneck.
The other benefit to conservation from rhino horn trade is that if game farmers were able to sell rhino horn, they would be earning money which would then be put back into their business, i.e. conservation. The rhinos would effectively ‘pay for themselves’ in this way. It’s also much better for farmers to dehorn rhinos, as they could do it safely and in a way which does not harm the animal. By contrast, poachers often use gruesome methods, often using a chainsaw to cut horns off and leaving the animal to bleed to death.
Overall, liberalising trade in rhino horns will ultimately be the factor which save rhinos from extinction. South African conservationists need the help of lawmakers to amend statues regulating agriculture so that the business of conserving endangered species ceases to be based on moral prohibition and starts to be business-oriented in which the preservation of the conservation of a species can benefit those who put in the effort to preserve those species.