Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Think of the fence contract...  

While this could almost classify as a frivolous post, it's becoming clearer that wild rhinos and even elephants could become effectively extinct very soon. Is the idea of a rhino farm so outlandish?
South Africa, where 75 percent of the world’s rhinos live, is also at the forefront of a counterintuitive move to legalize the rhino horn trade. If adopted, the new policy would promote safer rhino-horn farming: rhinos could be sedated while parts of their horns were cut off, and then the horns would grow back. A team of Australian conservationists signed on to the idea in March. As Kevin Charles Redmon explained at the time on Pacific Standard, lifting a trade ban would ideally increase the supply and lower the price, and thereby lower the incentive for poachers to slaughter the animals. However, Redmon wrote:
The black market will only collapse when legal horns are cheaper and easier to obtain than ill-gotten ones and penalties for operating outside the ‘central selling organization’ are severe. DNA signatures and radio chips will help trace licit horns, and exporters will be subject to regular audits. At the same time, buyers must demand cruelty- and conflict-free wares (think of efforts to demonize blood diamonds).
Legalization remains highly controversial among animal rights activists and wildlife conservationists. The World Wildlife Fund, the Environmental Investigation Agency, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have all been critical of the idea. What if lifting the ban increases demand, as it did in fact following similar, previous experiments with the ivory market? Or what if a legal trade simply establishes a parallel but separate market, while illegal (whole) rhino horns and heads continue to sell underground?
Likewise, would legitimizing the sale of rhino cups encourage and validate the baseless myth that they actually have medicinal properties? Perhaps conservationists’ and governments’ efforts would be better directed toward fighting the very misconception that drives the demand in the first place. [More]
This free-market approach, however, does not have a good track record in products where demand is so irrational and lucrative. There are strong countering arguments.
South Africa reportedly will not seek a full legalization of all rhino-horn trade but a one-time sale of current stockpiles. The South African government has stockpiled more than 16,400 kilograms of rhino horns—mostly confiscated from poachers—while private owners possess about 2,000 kilograms more—ironically, mostly horns that have been removed from live animals to make them less attractive to poachers. With rhino horns fetching anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 a kilogram, the South African government could net half a billion dollars or more from the proposed sale. Private ranchers, who own much of South Africa’s rhino population, would also benefit from this windfall. In fact, many ranchers have been pushing for a sale like this.
South Africa’s deputy director general for biodiversity, Fundisile Mketeni, said monies from the one-off sale “should go to conservation”—note that he didn’t say it would—but experts and conservation organizations say the sale would do little more than feed the growing desire for rhino horns and make the situation much, much worse in the long run.
History backs them up on this point. Similar one-off sales of ivory to Japan in 1999 and China in 2008 have been linked to the resultant increased demand for ivory in Asia, which has driven elephant poaching across Africa to crisis proportions in the past decade. At the time, proponents of those sales said flooding the market with stockpiled ivory would lower prices and therefore eliminate the incentive to poach more elephants. The opposite happened and prices soared. South Africa now argues that putting more than 18,000 kilograms of rhino horn up for sale would glut the market, lower prices and save more rhinos. This is an argument we have heard before. [More]
The wild rhino population is hard to nail down, with mixed prospects. Some subspecies have disappeared although there are some successes.
While most subspecies of Africa’s two rhinos, the black and white rhino, continue on the road to recovery, this is not true for two of Africa’s most threatened rhino subspecies: the West African black (Diceros bicornis longipes) and the Northern white (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). The West African black rhino is now feared extinct and numbers of the northern white rhino have reached an all time low in the wild. In both cases, poaching for rhino horn is the main cause of their demise.
This is according to new estimates announced by the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. A recent survey of the West African black rhino by a French-based survey group has failed to locate any sign of their continued presence, despite an intensive survey earlier this year throughout its last refuges in northern Cameroon.
“As a result this subspecies has been tentatively declared as extinctm,” says Dr. Martin Brooks, AfRSG chairman. “Also the northern white rhino is on the very brink of being lost. Restricted in the wild to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, recent ground and aerial surveys conducted under the direction of African Parks Foundation and the AfRSG have only found four animals. Efforts to locate further animals continue, but we must now face the possibility that the subspecies may not recover to a viable level,” he continued
On a more positive note, continental black rhino numbers of the remaining three subspecies have increased to 3,725 as a whole, a rise of 3.2% over the last two years: this from an all time low of 2,410 in 1995. The ultimate conservation success story continues for the other white rhino subspecies, the southern white. Down to less than 50 animals a hundred or so years ago, numbers have increased to 14,540. [More]
I wondered if there was some bizarre preference for horns from the species under strongest poaching pressure, but it demand does not appear to be species-dependent but rather linked to horn size.  This burgeoning demand is the result of rapid income growth in areas where traditional (and totally unscientific) medicine sill holds sway. Thus curbing demand could be a generational challenge, not an education process, I would think.

Maybe the first thing poor people want to buy as they get more income isn't better food, but a cure.

1 comment:

Bill Harshaw said...

Why can't we grow horn in a test tube--surely that's easier than meat? Then we could flood the market with imitation horn, just as the market for Gucci, etc. is flooded with imitation goods.