Shenton Safaris

Rhino horn trade = extinction in the wild

It is now legal in South Africa to trade domestically in rhino horn, after this country’s Constitutional Court recently overturned an eight-year ban on domestic trade, based on a technicality. This will surely help drive rhinos to extinction in the wild.

rhino

The author somewhere in Africa

The barn door is now wide open for the legal siphoning of horns out of the country and into the bottomless pit that is the Asian markets, because of new loosely worded regulations with holes large enough to drive a tractor through. For details on how easy it is now to syphon horns out of the country read Rhino Bombshell. Juxtapose that information with South Africa’s growing reputation for fraud and corruption at the highest levels, and ask yourself how confident you feel that regulations will be respected.

Some would argue that the demand for rhino horn in South Africa is very low and that local trade won’t be strong. Fear not, because human nature is such that a resource sitting in one country will soon find itself in another country if the incentive is strong enough. And we all know that international borders are notoriously porous when it comes to illicit goods. And in any case, local rhino owners can now legally send two horns out for every willing foreign national they can find to carry them out of the country for them (only for their personal use, of course).

And of course, feedlot rhino farmers like John Hume (who according to BBC News owns about 1,400 rhinos) are laughing all the way to the bank. Don’t for one minute confuse rhino feedlot farming with conservation of wild rhinos – the two have nothing  to do with one another, despite what the intensive pro-trade PR campaign may have told you. BBC News also claims that Hume has five tons of rhino horn in his vaults from the regular dehorning of his private herd. They also suggest that horn is priced at about $90,000 per kilogram. Even the calculator on my phone can work out that his stock is worth $450 million.

Plans by South African private rhino owners to set up a central selling organisation (like De Beers did, to manipulate diamond prices) and encourage commodity speculators to buy and sell horn puts smiles on private rhino owner faces, and drives terror into the hearts of those who understand how financial instruments disconnect from the underlying commodity and drive processes that cannot be understood or controlled. Let’s roll the dice with wild rhinos then.

Hume’s feedlot farming aside, my concern is this: Selling farmed horn will not reduce demand for wild rhino horn. It’s no secret that the Asian market prefers wild product to farmed product, and so there will be no let-up on the pressures that our conservation teams across the country face from the international criminal gangs that are stripping our wild areas of rhinos. And it’s also no secret that creating legal channels will help stimulate demand, and provide a convenient channel through which to launder illegal horn.

I believe in sustainable utilisation that is well-regulated and ethical, when the model holds up to stress testing and will ultimately benefit populations of animals in the wild (as opposed to in feedlots). Rhinos in feedlots are easy to protect, those in the wild are not. Ask any SANParks game ranger.

It boils down to this: Permitting trade in rhino horn will generate extraordinary wealth for a select few private rhino owners who are already rolling in cash. It will also increase poaching of our wild rhinos and hasten this wonderful creature towards extinction in the wild.

Simon Espley

Simon Espley is an African of the digital tribe, a chartered accountant and CEO of Africa Geographic. His travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. He lives in Cape Town with his wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells, and when not travelling or working he will be on his mountain bike somewhere out there. His motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". The views expressed in his posts are his own. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

  • Benjamin Warr

    Conjecture and unqualified assumptions. Just one example: how do “we all know that Asians prefer wild product to farm product” ? Can you provide me a source reference for that info ?

  • Tanya Jacobsen

    Mr Espley, as the CEO of a prominent environmental journal, I would expect you to employ exemplary levels of integrity, minimal prejudice and most importantly, appreciable accuracy. Your blog article disappoints in every regard and appears to be more of an attack on private rhino owners:

    On accuracy:
    1. The provision for export of rhino horn from South Africa is not in place. The DEA recently called for public comment on draft regulations for the potential purchase of two horns per buyer. Calling for comments on draft regulations does not mean that the regulation now exists – some research on this point would have clarified this.
    2. The international trade in rhino horn remains illegal so nobody may ‘carry them out of the country’. Again, research.
    3. Referring to Mr. John Hume’s rhinos as ‘feedlot’ animals is not only inaccurate but also a clear indication of your ignorance of his operation. Of all people, you should know that not everything you read on the internet is true. Again, some research and perhaps an actual visit or discussion with the man who is currently keeping 1500 rhinos safe during a poaching onslaught, would have stood you in good stead.
    4. Any conservationist or rhino expert will tell you that every rhino on a private reserve, zoo or in any kind of intensive breeding operation is a candidate for reintroduction into more extensive wilderness areas due to their naturally placid natures (particularly White rhino), their ability to adapt to new suitable environments and the fact that their horn regrows. Dismissing these animals as unimportant or worthless is not only ignorant, it is also tragic.
    5. Claiming that there are only a ‘select few’ private rhino owners that would sell horn is also wrong. In a Rhino Management Group/PROA survey, approximately 400 private rhino owners were surveyed in this country and over 85% indicated support for international legal trade in horn and for the lifting of the domestic moratorium.

    On prejudice:
    You seem to have a personal vendetta against Mr John Hume and private rhino owners in general, despite not seeming to know or understand much about them. Perhaps the adage that ‘we fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them’ applies.
    You say you support “sustainable utilisation that is well-regulated and ethical” but I don’t believe you.
    Private rhino owners in this country are currently protecting more than 35% of the national rhino population on their own dime. Collectively, the private sector has more land under conservation use than all our national parks combined. The history of rhino conservation in this country is built on the principles of sustainable utilisation and private ownership. Private rhino owners are doing an exemplary job at protecting their rhinos (of the 1054 rhinos that were poached last year, only 15% were on private land), not because it is easy (their teams and rhinos are in as much danger as any other population) but because they are emotionally, financially and bravely invested in their animals. You speak of all the money they stand to make but you neglect to mention that since 2009, the private sector has spent over 2 billion rand on rhino security and management.
    By minimising the vital role the private sector plays in rhino and general conservation, you display not only further ignorance but also a distinct lack of compassion for them, their rhinos and their conservation teams. By telling the world that their rhinos are worthless, you are signing rhino death warrants faster than the poachers. Rhinos everywhere need protection and concern – not only the ones in the Kruger National Park.

    All rhino populations in extensive (eg. our national parks) and intensive management areas stand to benefit from a legal trade in ethically-sourced horn. This trade will bring in desperately-needed funds for rhino protection and will relieve pressure on wilder populations of rhino. It will also increase the value of a live rhino over a poached one. Local communities who are currently directly involved in anti-poaching activities can now be incentivised to protect rhinos instead, by allowing them to derive direct benefits from live, healthy rhinos.

    On integrity:
    It is very sad to know that the CEO of Africa Geographic is blatantly biased against the private rhino sector and naturally, I wonder whether this bias filters through to the magazine, bringing questions of credibility to mind.

    Some years ago, I worked for Mr. John Hume and we repeatedly invited your predecessors to visit Mr Hume’s extensive game reserve on the border of the Kruger Park. They continuously came up with various excuses not to visit, over a period of more than a year. We wanted to engage with them, show them Mr Hume’s operation and discuss our opposing views (even back then, the editors of Africa Geographic were anti-trade and felt that rhinos on private reserves had no value) but they had no similar inclinations. I no longer work for Mr Hume but am very certain that if you wanted to produce an accurate and fair report of some of the work that he and all the other private rhino owners are doing for rhinos, he would happily welcome you to his current breeding operation.

    I do encourage you to go; visit the private rhino owners; have your mind opened; find all the common ground that exists between rhino conservationists, instead of just the divisive points of the trade debate; and contribute towards keeping all rhinos in the country safe and protected, instead of just the ones you like.

    Sincerely,
    Tanya Jacobsen
    RhinoAlive Campaign

  • Note that content from a troll intent on disruption has been deleted and the relevant person banned. All opinions are welcome but fake news and personal attacks are not.

    • So anyone who disagrees with you, and raises substantive criticism, is simply dismissed as a “troll”? That is not what the word” troll” means, and it doesn’t say much for your confidence in your position.

      The simple fact is that prohibition has failed the rhino. Business as usual is leading to rhino extinction, despite billions being poured into military-style anti-poaching efforts. It’s time to ditch our failed policies, and try a policy that has a chance of success.

      • Good afternoon Ivo. Your interpretation is incorrect. As you can see there are plenty of differing opinions and criticisms being raised. We use the same definition of a troll as all other media platforms. As you know, the platform that you post frequently into does not permit any comments because of troll disruption. So enjoy the freedom of expression that we foster.

      • Keith Somerville

        Quite agree, Ivo.

  • Keith Somerville

    This is a very poor piece that doesn’t get much beyond the level of conjecture and abusevofvthose with whom the author doesn’t agree. The usevof phrases like “it’s no secret” without any supporting evidence is a cheap way of arguing. Hume’s huge operation cannot be written off with a pejorative term like feedlot – that is just silly. The man has kept rhinos for decades and his animals have produced over 1,000 young. Why? You suggest for profit – but where is this profit? But even if, with a legal trade, he made a profit while helping rhinos survive through breeding programmes why is that wrong? Better to breed rhinos and make money to continue breeding more rhinos, than claim some spurious moral high ground while watching rhinos being exterminated. A legal trade would not end poaching, but it would cut demand for poached horn by supplying non-lethal horn. If thatbreduces the level of powching to below the rhino population’s annual reproduction rate, that would be a big advance in conservation. Firing ill-suppirted salvoes from entrenched positions preventscreal, constructive debate on the way forward.

    • Jamie Smith

      … and yet here you are debating. How very ironic…

      • Keith Somerville

        Yes. Because debate is important. Not ironic, just hopeful that pointing out shortcomings might lead to a more informed debate.

        • Jamie Smith

          So the author’s article is stimulating debate – so your parting sentence is not accurate. Right? And by “Firing ill-supported salvoes” as you do above, perhaps you should drink your own medicine and be more constructive? Just saying.

          • Keith Somerville

            Not what I said – try reading the words. It is stimulating reaction from people like me appealing for a more constructive debate rather than just unsuppprted opinion that attacks those the author doesn’t like. Look up irony in a dictionary and engage brain before commenting. Which of my salvoes are ill-supported?

          • Jamie Smith

            LOL, you are such a classic grumpy old man :-). Will leave you to your mumblings

          • Keith Somerville

            What a very adult way of arguing. “Just saying”, “LOL”, “mumblings” – you’d better go as you’ve probably got homework to do. No attempt to engage with topics just infantile comments.

          • Jamie Smith

            ROFL 🙂

          • Jake

            Jamie, I don’t agree with trade, but sadly you’ve been made to look rather foolish here. Why not attempt to objectively debate with Mr. Somerville in lieu of throwing insults at him? Yours is exactly the type of mentality that makes many animal activists look bad. Sorry to say, but ad hominem attacks have no place in trying to resolve important issues. And if you want to respond by insulting me too, please know that any silly response you have will not elicit a counter response.

          • Jamie Smith

            Yeah, he certainly looks like he is keen for debate. Grumpy old bugger is dishing out the helpful advice.

          • Keith Somerville

            What a crime, being helpful instead of infantile.

    • Mike Sebastian

      Look what the cat dragged in. The book-selling pro trade travelling professor from Kent has popped his head up to defend his position. First plan is to attack the author – see if you can rattle him, hey Prof? What’s next?

      • Keith Somerville

        Any sensible comments to make? Write your own book if your so clever.

    • Simon Espley

      Thanks for the feedback Keith – although if you wish to engage me, perhaps try to wind your horns in and tone down the frothy stuff? Perhaps present facts so that we can learn from you?

      • Keith Somerville

        Then you should have done the same in the original article, which is nothing but unsupported froth. I’ve presented my view essentially in my comments.

        • Simon Espley

          O K, go well Keith

          • Keith Somerville

            And you Simon. We have our different approaches but debate is very necessary without it developing into trench warfare.

        • Jamie Smith

          Wow you really are the proverbial Mr Grumpy !

    • Kim Da Ribeira

      Hi Keith

      There is absolutely no evidence to support the theory that ‘legal’ trade will reduce poaching of rhino.

      Do you not have a moral issue with the idea that someone is profiting from selling a product that has no medicinal value to someone who believes it could cure them?

      Regards

      Kim

      • Keith Somerville

        Hi Kim, I disagree. There is contrariwise no evidence to suggest that a legal trade, with regular sales at a cost below the price of poached horn, would not displace the illegal trade. Why would a final buyer (whatever his or her motives for buying) risk prosecution and pay a premium price when they could buy legal horn at a lower price? Economics suggests that legal horn would take up a large part of the demand – especially as rhino horn experts like Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne believe that a large part of demand is from speculators buying horn in the confident expectation that prices will continually rise as rhinos become ever rarer. If you have a regular legal trade, then you immediately cut out the speculators. People choose to buy tobacco which is bad for them, to take recreational drugs that can kill them, to use very questionable homeopathic medicines and Chinese traditional medicine that has no proven efficacy. Demand reduction techniques have tried to convince people that horn – as compacted hair – is of no medical value and this doesn’t work. The aim should be to eradicate the illegal trade and end poaching. Nothing tried so far has even started working. Poaching may be down in Kruger but it is up in Hluhluwe and private reserves in KZN and in Namibia and Zimbabwe. Stringent anti-poaching and demand reduction combined with bans has not worked. It is time for a new approach – and one that involves non-harmful removal of horn from captive animals to save the species as a whole. The same goes for ivory – as I argue in Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa. Ultimately the choice is between a Kantian Categorical Imperative (ban) that is not working and Benthamite Utilitarianism, I would choose the latter if it saves rhinos and elephants.

        • Kim Da Ribeira

          Hi Keith, there are several issues, the ‘middle’ man will surely pay a lesser price to a poacher that he would someone who has a stockpile of horn? We have no idea of the size of the market, so we cannot assume that we can meet demand. Which then puts paid to the idea of a regular ‘legal’ supply that can meet demand and cut out the speculators. Demand reduction campaigns aim to reduce demand to the point where poaching reduces as well. As far as ‘nothing tried so far has worked’ statement, our government and others have not shown the political will to end this crisis. Corruption probably plays a big role here. As far as bans have not worked, what then about Yemen?

          • Keith Somerville

            True we have no clear idea of the extent of the market – certainly of the market for use in some form as opposed to what we do know – that over 1,000 rhinos are being killed annually to feed a combination of end use and speculation. There is no way of accurately measuring this illegal market because it is a hidden one. All we can do is see how many rhinos are dying. If there was a legal market and method suggested by many pro-trade economists and some conservationists is a Central selling Organisation that would sell to registered dealers (as with the old De Beers diamond model) who would sell on to the carvers and retailers. They would be buying legal horn from a legal source not from poachers.Demand reduction certainly aims to cut poaching but it is not working. The slight fall in SA rhino poaching in 2016 was, as Nicholus Funda, the chief of anti-poaching in Kruger, told me last year a result of the intensive protection zone established in Kruger. The downside was that elephant poaching rose in the unprotected areas and poaching also increased dramatically, as the director of Hluhluwe and his anti-poaching head told me, in KZN as poachers shifted their area of operation. Demand is so high that we recently had a rhino killed inside a zoo in Europe. Yemen is now a tiny market, partly due to increasing poverty and war but also a gradual fall in popularity of rhino-horn dagger handles. Corruption is a major problem in South Africa and in the destination states. But as with the drug, gun and human traffickingt trades, illegality breeds corruption and the trades all mix together. A legal trade won’t end poaching but it could reduce it to a level where rhino numbers increase annually. From that point of view it is worth trying as there seems to be no alternative as a ban and militarised anti-poaching is just not working. The huge rise in poaching in SA came when the domestic trade was banned, which coincided (as with ivory) with a massive growth in buying power in east Asia. the traditional east Asian appetite for animal parts of all kinds (Rhino, elephant, lion, tiger, pangolin, bear etc) is such that demand reduction will only have a very limited effect.

          • Olga

            Dear Keith,

            What about recent study of Hsiang/Sekar about legalisation of ivory black market … as the illicit networks and markets for these commodities are more than similar, perhaps this should be considered in making decision on rhino horn trade:

            http://www.nber.org/papers/w22314

          • Keith Somerville

            Fiona Underwood, who works with Ztom Milliken on the MIKE/ETIS technical group on elephants and ivory, has systematically decobstructed the catalogue of errors in their analysis; their chief errors being they do not realse PIME, which they yse, us a proportion with a value between 0 and 1. They give it higher values, which is wrong and means their whole mathematical midel is incorrect. http://www.fmunderwood.com/2016/08/30/understanding-hsiang-sekars-analysis/
            The ivory trade expert Dan Stiles has also rebutted their claims noting that they fail tomtest anynother variables or hypotheses. It is a poor study and very clear that this is whybit did not appear in a peer-reviewed publication as it would not get past peer review. http://theconservationimperative.com/?p=275

  • Jamie Smith

    Enjoyed this post – to the point and not trying to suck up to the money guys. Looks like it is rattling a few cages 🙂

  • Mike Sebastian

    Very interesting read. Will be interesting to see how long it does take for local stocks to appear in the East. One question – are the private rhino owners prepared to donate any of their revenue to wild rhino conservation – say to SA National Parks?

    • Simon Espley

      Thanks Mike, good question. I have asked on a few occasions but no luck.

    • Rich Pearce

      I agree Mike. To me it seems like this would be the fine boundary that would simply need to be traversed by the pro traders in order to gain support for their model from the activists. It doesn’t seem that hard? If the model exists as a conservation method to preserve wild rhinos, then simply work with National Parks and Reserves and donate the proceeds of a well-working, profitable model to on-the-ground conservation efforts to preserve wild rhinos.
      Often I think that pro-traders get their backs up very quickly and think that all activists are there to destroy or degrade their model. I’m not against a profitable model – one could even argue that we profit off wildlife simply by containing their natural habitats in the first place (but that’s a philosophical conversation on human nature for another day). I would just like to see the traders who ‘fight so hard to save a species’ donate their profits to the cause of wild rhino preservation – which as you rightly point out happens in National Parks. National Parks and reserves need tens of millions of Rand a year to fund their anti-poaching efforts – the profit from stock operations could help, a lot. That is if there was a genuine interest in wild rhino conservation. And to be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t – what I’m saying is that all that is needed to bridge the gap between ‘trader’ and ‘activist’, and to dissolve the entire argument and hoo-haa around why stock operations exist, is now for there to be evidence of stock profits going to national parks for their efforts in wild rhino conservation. That’s it. Simple.
      It is unfortunately as has been the case with canned lions – the animals (in this case farmed rhinos) are used as a selling point to generate ‘conservation’ funds. Thereafter, they are secluded and bred entirely out of wild populations, rendering them useless to the value of wild population conservation – unless the profits made from their lives are returned to areas where wild populations exist, are valued and conserved.
      Unfortunately, conservation is a blanket term that is often too easily bought into on an emotional level – and if in 10 years from now all that’s left are some hornless rhinos on a feedlot farm, that will not be the succesfull preservation of a wild species – which is ultimately what we should all be focusing on here.
      It seems like a small bridge to cross to me – hopefully the two ‘sides’ will learn to work together so that we use all resources at hand in the fight (saving wild rhinos) before its too late.

  • Jane Wiltshire

    “It is no secret that creating legal channels will help stimulate demand..” Simon, even the most cursory research will reveal that this is certainly NOT proved to be the case! In fact, the reverse seems to hold; BANNING increases consumption as can be seen in Thornton’s 1991 study of the effect on consumption of alcohol with the introduction of prohibition. Per Capita alcohol consumption had been decreasing at 9% p.a. INCREASED by 7% p.a. once the ban came in. Greenwald’s 2009 study showed that drug use in Portugal DECREASED on legalisation.

    • Simon Espley

      Thanks Jane, I note your position as team member of a pro rhino horn trade lobby.

      AG is always happy to publish content that adds value to our audience. Perhaps you would like to send us your view on why trading in horn will save wild rhinos? Our audience would love to engage you on that matter.

  • Jane Wiltshire

    “Selling farmed horn will not reduce demand for wild rhino horn. It’s no secret that the Asian market prefers wild product to farmed product.” This is true but trite – just as many men would prefer a Ferrari to a Ford but do not drive a Ferrari because of PRICE. This was shown to be true about wild animal parts used in traditional medicine in the 2016 study published by Liu, Jiang, Fang, et. al. ; where they state ‘Binary logistic regression demonstrated that both curative effect and price had significant impacts on respondent choice.’ The question really is, “What price premium is the consumer prepared to pay for ‘wild’ horn?” Michael Eustace has long contended that price would balance the market forces. This research supports his contention.

    Furthermore, South and southern Africa have two thirds of their rhino in National and Provincial Parks and the horns from these rhino from natural mortalities and stockpiles would, most likely, be unambiguously classed as ‘wild’ so would satisfy the demand for ‘wild’ horn partially or completely.
    Therefore, Simon it seems that your bald, unsubstantiated statement does not stand up to even the most superficial of testing against freely available, credible research.

    • Simon Espley

      Thanks Jane.

      I note your position as team member of a pro rhino horn trade lobby.

      AG is always happy to publish content that adds value to our audience. Perhaps you would like to send us your view on why trading in horn will save wild rhinos? Our audience would love to engage you on that matter.

    • Kim Da Ribeira

      Hi Jane
      There are other economists and other research that does not support Michael Eustace’s research/theory.
      The current stockpile of wild rhino horn you refer to is finite the market isn’t, yet you say that it “would satisfy the demand for ‘wild’ horn partially or completely.” We have no idea of the extent of this market.
      Regards

      Kim

      • Jane Wiltshire

        HI Kim
        We won’t know the extent of the market until we engage with it – that is how market size is determined. Am I understanding you correctly that you think the market for rhino horn is INFINITE? That’ll be the first infinite market ever discovered; economists will be amazed!
        I’d like to see the research that says that price is not a significant factor, can you please quote me the citation/s? I’ve been searching for credible data for that argument (and any other relevant ones).
        Regards
        Jane

        • Kim Da Ribeira

          Hi Jane

          I did not say that the market for rhino horn is infinite, you must have misread. I was referring to the quantity/ number of horns in the current stockpile which is a finite number. Using caps is probably unnecessary.
          I believe you are aware of Dr Nadal’s work?

          Regards

          Kim

          • Jane Wiltshire

            Yes Kim – a badly constructed, semi-incoherent polemic railing against the partial equilibrium model using rhino horn trade. Here is my analysis of the piece. http://theconservationimperative.com/?p=136

          • Kim Da Ribeira

            I’ve read your piece and you and I obviously have a different opinion of Dr Nadal’s work. Did you read his submission to the COI?

          • Jane Wiltshire

            I was there for every speaker.

  • Jane Wiltshire

    This blog has just been brought to my notice and I am disappointed that someone whom I’ve regarded as a credible journalist (you Simon) should make such sweeping statements without a scintilla of substantiation on such an important topic. it is even more concerning that it is done under the banner of Africa Geographic, that has an aura of legitimacy. It seems that the editor needs an editor!

    • Simon Espley

      Thanks Jane. AG is always happy to publish content that adds value to our audience. Perhaps you would like to send us your view on why trading in horn will save wild rhinos?

      • Jane Wiltshire

        Thank you Simon.
        Firstly, let’s get the record straight – I am PRO rhinos’ continued existence as the magnificent, iconic African animal that it is.
        My 4 years’ of research that I did to try to determine what would be the best way to do that forced me to reluctantly change from a fiercely anti-trade stance as unworkable – 40 years’ of ban has not had the desired effect. It is enough. We shouldn’t continue gambling with the rhinos’ future using failed and failing policies! The results of this research were presented to the Committee of Enquiry into legalisation and can be easily accessed on the DEA website.
        However, as it such an important question and there is such a dearth of solid research and so much emotion and rancour, I have decided to do my doctoral thesis on the economic impact of ban or legalisation on the viability of rhinos’ continued existence in the wild. To this end, I have been conducting interviews with people knowledgeable on the economics of owning, caring for or protecting rhinos. I’m interviewing people from across the legalisation spectrum from ‘Over my dead body’ through ‘No, but…’ and ‘Yes, but…’ to ‘It’s the only hope.’
        I would welcome the chance, through this medium, to invite people who feel they have ‘earned the right to speak’ in economic terms to contact me if I haven’t yet contacted them. I can conduct interviews via Skype so distance is not a problem.
        This is too important for us not to take every opportunity to find out what facts we can and interrogate any theories vigorously. I am gathering arguments and what people base these on from as wide a spectrum of ‘qualified’ interviewees as possible to ensure that I’m not being biased in what my research so far has indicated.

        • Simon Espley

          Thanks Jane, perhaps write a brief intro and we will ask our audience for input? My team will contextualise to reduce the emotional kickback likelihood.

      • Keith Somerville

        Usual ad hominem attack, Simon. Cheap tactic of someone who cannot cope with structured criticism of his position. “I note your position as team member of a pro rhino horn trade lobby.” this comment in several of your replies serves no purpose other than to try to signal to your acolytes that the following argument has no validity because they are pro-trade. Yt to engage with the issues.

        • Simon Espley

          Hmmm, not sure you’re applying that phrase ad hominem correctly Keith. Either way I am glad that you are engaging now. Keep the passion.

          • Keith Somerville

            Replied in a superficial way after deploying you catchphrase – I note your position as team member of a pro rhino horn trade lobby. That is exactly what ad hominem is about. Try buying a dictionary. It is cheap and tries to distort how people will read the comment. Comments and criticisms should be treated on their merits, not through the prism of how you present your critics.

          • Simon Espley

            Oh good heavens Keith.

          • Keith Somerville

            Good heavens, indeed. Why do you do it continually? Very unnecessary divetsion. But as you do it repeatedly obviously a we-used if very deficient.

          • Good evening Keith. Your ongoing baiting of participants in this discussion tags you as a troll. Please desist and remain on topic. Thanks.

  • Tanya Jacobsen

    Mr Espley, as the CEO of a prominent environmental journal, I would expect you to employ exemplary levels of integrity, minimal prejudice and most importantly, appreciable accuracy. Your blog article disappoints in every regard and appears to be more of an attack on private rhino owners:

    On accuracy:
    1. The provision for export of rhino horn from South Africa is not in place. The DEA recently called for public comment on draft regulations for the potential purchase of two horns per buyer. Calling for comments on draft regulations does not mean that the regulation now exists – some research on this point would have clarified this.
    2. The international trade in rhino horn remains illegal so nobody may ‘carry them out of the country’. Again, research.
    3. Referring to Mr. John Hume’s rhinos as ‘feedlot’ animals is not only inaccurate but also a clear indication of your ignorance of his operation. Of all people, you should know that not everything you read on the internet is true. Again, some research and perhaps an actual visit or discussion with the man who is currently keeping 1500 rhinos safe during a poaching onslaught, would have stood you in good stead.
    4. Any conservationist or rhino expert will tell you that every rhino on a private reserve, zoo or in any kind of intensive breeding operation is a candidate for reintroduction into more extensive wilderness areas due to their naturally placid natures (particularly White rhino), their ability to adapt to new suitable environments and the fact that their horn regrows. Dismissing these animals as unimportant or worthless is not only ignorant, it is also tragic.
    5. Claiming that there are only a ‘select few’ private rhino owners that would sell horn is also wrong. In a Rhino Management Group/PROA survey, approximately 400 private rhino owners were surveyed in this country and over 85% indicated support for international legal trade in horn and for the lifting of the domestic moratorium.

    On prejudice:
    You seem to have a personal vendetta against Mr John Hume and private rhino owners in general, despite not seeming to know or understand much about them. Perhaps the adage that ‘we fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them’ applies.
    You say you support “sustainable utilisation that is well-regulated and ethical” but I don’t believe you.
    Private rhino owners in this country are currently protecting more than 35% of the national rhino population on their own dime. Collectively, the private sector has more land under conservation use than all our national parks combined. The history of rhino conservation in this country is built on the principles of sustainable utilisation and private ownership. Private rhino owners are doing an exemplary job at protecting their rhinos (of the 1054 rhinos that were poached last year, only 15% were on private land), not because it is easy (their teams and rhinos are in as much danger as any other population) but because they are emotionally, financially and bravely invested in their animals. You speak of all the money that they will make with a legal trade in rhino horn but you neglect to mention that since 2009, the private sector has spent more than two billion rand on rhino security and management.

    By minimising the vital role the private sector plays in rhino and general conservation, you display not only further ignorance but also a distinct lack of compassion for them, their rhinos and their conservation teams. By telling the world that their rhinos are worthless, you are signing rhino death warrants faster than the poachers. Rhinos everywhere need protection and concern – not only the ones in the Kruger National Park.
    All rhino populations in extensive (eg. our national parks) and intensive management areas stand to benefit from a legal trade in ethically-sourced horn. This trade will bring in desperately-needed funds for rhino protection and will relieve pressure on wilder populations of rhino. It will also increase the value of a live rhino over a poached one. Local communities who are currently directly involved in anti-poaching activities can now be incentivised to protect rhinos instead, by allowing them to derive direct benefits from live, healthy rhinos.

    On integrity:
    It is very sad to know that the CEO of Africa Geographic is blatantly biased against the private rhino sector and naturally, I wonder whether this bias filters through to the magazine, bringing questions of credibility to mind.

    Some years ago, I worked for Mr. John Hume and we repeatedly invited your predecessors to visit Mr Hume’s extensive game reserve on the border of the Kruger Park. They continuously came up with various excuses not to visit, over a period of more than a year. We wanted to engage with them, show them Mr Hume’s operation and discuss our opposing views (even back then, the editors of Africa Geographic were anti-trade and felt that rhinos on private reserves had no value) but they had no similar inclinations. I no longer work for Mr Hume but am very certain that if you wanted to produce an accurate and fair report of some of the work that he and all the other private rhino owners are doing for rhinos, he would happily welcome you to his current breeding operation.

    I do encourage you to go; visit the private rhino owners; have your mind opened; find all the common ground that exists between rhino conservationists, instead of just the divisive points of the trade debate; and contribute towards keeping all rhinos in the country safe and protected, instead of just the ones you like.

    Sincerely,
    Tanya Jacobsen
    RhinoAlive Campaign

    • Simon Espley

      Good afternoon Tanya, thanks for the notes

      In the interest of efficiency, I will reply to your main questions. I won’t reply to your references to my integrity and ignorance (really, you went there?), or your attempt to make this a rallying cry to all private rhino owners. Surely you have moved beyond those tactics?

      1. Your suggestion that you “repeatedly invited your predecessors to visit Mr Hume..” and suggestions that Africa Geographic “came up with various excuses not to visit” refers:
      In fact you and I have had dealings before. I had agreed, and you were going to arrange, a visit to Mr Hume’s farm in 2013. You then failed to do so, and I now know that you left his employ and so dropped that ball. Check your emails.

      2. Your objection with my use of the term “feedlot” to describe Hume’s setup refers: In my view (and this is an opinion piece) hundreds of rhinos in a field being fed lucerne bails from the back of a tractor and pellets out of a tub – is a feedlot environment. You call it what you choose. Note that my use of the term ‘feedlot’ is to distinguish from ‘wild’ rhinos, which would occur in natural private game reserve environments or in national parks.

      3. You opine that rhinos in a zoo are not “worthless”, and thereby imply that I feel that they are indeed worthless – is just emotional linkbait and does not deserve further comment, other than to note with interest your use of the word ‘zoo’

      4. You say you don’t believe me when I write that I believe in “sustainable utilisation that is well-regulated and ethical”. Possibly your personal beliefs in this regard prevent you from reading my post with an open mind?

      5. Your notes about the benefits of sustainable practices and how tough things are for private rhino owners who have to bear the brunt of this poaching are well made – and I am in absolute agreement. Nothing in my post suggests otherwise.

      My suggestion is that you read my post again, understand my concerns and address them. Or don’t. Keep the passion.

    • Kim Da Ribeira

      Hi Tanya

      The DEA has been clear on the fact that the regulations were drafted and gazetted with the view too the regulation of domestic trade, in the event that the Moratorium was lifted. So I’m unsure as to why you want to exclude the drafts reference to export of horn for ‘personal use’.
      There have been poaching incidents on John Hume’s farm.
      Were all private rhino owner members polled in the survey you cite? I have heard to the contrary.
      Surely the domestic market cannot be that large that it will provide you with the funds you imagine?
      Have local communities been approached about programs where they would stand to benefit from domestic trade, or would these communities still need to be consulted?
      There are differing opinions out there, if we get personal, then the argument you are putting forward loses credibility.
      Regards

      Kim

  • Micheline Logan

    I find it incredible that people who are literate are so innumerate as to think that a few thousand of an animal species can satisfy the demand of two nations with populations of about 90 million and 1,35 billion. Do the math, please. Legalizing rhino trade probably has more to do with the high levels of corruption in our government than any desire for survival of the species.

  • Sharon van Wyk

    It’s the same cages being rattled, with the same “auto” responses. Some people just don’t understand plain and simple maths, and the findings of respected global economists who have nothing to do with the conservation arena. That the South African government is in cahoots with people like John Hume, and taking advice from people like Michael t’sad-Rolfes, should come as no surprise, given what our current political landscape looks like! The sad thing is that facts don’t seem to matter in this case. It’s the hidden agendas and political affiliations that drive this, along with the saddest factor of all – human greed.

  • Mike Sebastian

    Very interesting observing the pro-trade tactics of personal attacks – lots of smoke and mirrors but not much else. And it looks like Africa Geographic and Epsley in particular are not falling for the nonsense. Great to see a strong brand backing itself and not cowed by the profit jackals.

    • T. Ferguson

      Please tell me if the following is smoke and mirrors”

      “Trade will stimulate demand”

      The “Smart Trade” model of a monopoly selling to a cartel of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hospitals will be able to adjust the price of horn so as to bring the level of demand into balance with a sustainable level of supply. Also, Smart Trade is designed to reduce the appetite speculators now have for buying horn, an appetite that is based on the prospect of the value of horn increasing because of the declining numbers of rhino. Trade should lead to less speculation in horn which will reduce poaching.

      “Trade cannot satisfy the ‘insatiable’ demand”

      Actual consumer demand is limited by high prices and is estimated at a total of 1,100 horn-sets p.a. South Africa can sustainably supply 1,300 horn-sets from stocks (400), natural deaths (400) and farmed horn (500). There are said to be a large number of “intenders” who would buy horn if the price was lower but that is the case with most products. (There is no intention in the model to reduce prices and “flood” the market with horn so as to reduce the poacher’s profit. Reducing the poacher’s profit would be good but flooding the market would be unsustainable and invite speculation. There are other ways of reducing the poacher’s profit).

      “More law enforcement is the solution.”

      Law enforcement is essential but difficult over vast areas and it is expensive. Greatly increased expenditure has not been able to reduce the numbers poached. There are high rewards to poaching and the risks are low. Corruption undermines the process. There are budget constraints. On its own, law enforcement is not working and may never work.

      “Demand reduction is the solution”

      Only about 0.1% of the Chinese population consumes the entire supply of 1,100 horn-sets so a demand reduction strategy is going to have to persuade more than 99.9% of the population or it will not be effective.

      “If South Africa sells horn, it will jeopardize rhino populations in other range states such as Namibia, India and Java”

      The intention of a Smart Trade is to satisfy demand with legal horn which should result in a reduced poaching threat for all rhino populations.

      “The ivory auction in 2008 was said to have increased the amount of poaching of elephant”

      There are some 20,000 elephant being poached every year in Africa which would produce 100 tons of ivory at, say, 5 kg per elephant. Most of that goes to China. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) has said that there is no evidence of the auction having increased or decreased poaching. 62 tons were sold to China and 46 tons to Japan. The 2008 auction was allowed by CITES on the basis that there would not be another sale for 9 years so the 62 tons sold to China was minimal, is being rationed, and represents a fraction of Chinese demand for the 9 year period. By comparison, the proposed horn trade should satisfy the full annual demand at current high prices.

      “Illegal horn will find its way on to the legal market”

      The proposed model has been structured to prevent that. There will be a clear legal channel and the only place to buy legal horn will be from the cartel of licensed TCM state hospitals. Keeping their retail licenses will depend upon their respecting a “Best Practice” set of rules and they will lose their licenses and a very profitable business if they trade in illegal horn.

      “Poaching will still be profitable given a legal trade and poaching will continue”

      Yes, but it will be much less profitable to the criminals than now and carry higher risks and the market for poached horn will be much smaller. Illegal goods typically trade at a 30% discount if there is a legal market. This relates to the risk of being caught and punished. In addition there will be the risk of buying fake or poisoned horn in the illegal market which will increase the discount to, say, 40%. The Chinese government, being invested in the legal trade, is likely to clamp down on the criminal trade. The expectation is that a legal trade will substantially reduce poaching levels.

      “The trade proposal’s main aim is to enrich a few farmers and some corrupt individuals in government”

      Private ranchers own 25% of rhino in South Africa and have a right to profit from any trade, proportionately. To the extent that they make profits on trade they will pay taxes to the state in the normal way. The other 75% is owned by SANParks and provincial parks; hence 75% of the income from horn sales will go directly to those parks with no middlemen and no corruption possible.

      “More data is needed before embarking on trade”

      It is not possible to collect data when there is no legal trade. The Smart Trade model is based on the De Beers Central Selling Organization (CSO) which worked well for over 50 years. It is a tried and tested model. The CSO was closed because the competition authorities opposed a near monopoly selling to a cartel. With both the rhino horn selling monopoly and the retail (TCM) cartel belonging to governments, competition authorities should have no interest in the horn trade.

      “CITES will never accept the trade proposal”

      CITES was established to regulate trade in endangered species. Unfortunately the organization has become highly politicized, encouraged by donor agencies who influence votes, although they have no vote themselves. These agents, of which there are scores, are universally opposed to horn trade because, perhaps, a rhino crisis makes donor funding easy and the agents live off donor funds. But, are they the saviors they profess to be? The case for trade is compelling and if it is not accepted by CITES for rhino horn it is difficult to see in what circumstances and for which species trade will be acceptable.

      The arguments against trade seem weak and contrived.

      • Simon Espley

        Some interesting points you raise here, thanks. Pity you end it with that throw-away comment at the end – not really necessary to dismiss the input of many experienced people with a wave of the hand. That said, I don’t share your faith in the theoretical assumptions underlying the so-called ‘Smart Trade’ model. My background is in finance, and I have never seen any market obey enforced structure beyond short periods. The term ‘irrational exuberance’ has been applied before, and will apply to rhino horn – because there is no genuine intrinsic value in keratin. Rhino horn prices would most certainly be subject to massive speculation and resultant fluctuations. The De Beers cartel never could control blood diamonds, and neither will your model control the poaching of wild rhinos. Thanks though, good to see constructive engagement on this feed.

      • Olga

        SA couldn’t enforce law while the ban was on, so please talk me through how exactly will the govt keep the ‘legal channel’ clear from corruption …?

  • Mario Saincic

    This is shocking.

    Not the article, but the responses.
    Some are pro and others anti, so let’s agree to disagree – in a civil way.

    Putting my feelings of cruelty and a total disregard for the precious animals entrusted into our care aside, it is actually quite simple if you take your head out of the sand of debate and look upon the issue with perspective.

    Legalising trade is doing what, exactly?
    Some say it will regulate and control. This is utter nonsense.
    Legalising trade in a ‘supposed’ product that has no medicinal or any other value is telling the world that it in fact does. It is creating a market, and a market that will not be satisfied until every rhino on the planet is spent.
    When you plan on supplying a global trend, you need to ensure that you have enough stock available. This is basic economics.
    The horn grows back, so it is okay.
    No, it is not.
    The current horn will satisfy the market for a short period of time…then what?

    Further, the precedent that legal trade is setting is that it is perfectly fine to pick whatever animal you want and exploit it for the right price. Pangolin, donkey skins… There is an endless list of species going from wonderful hero to absolute zero, and this because of human greed.

    The same as legalising cocaine will not stop drug addiction, open rhino trade will not prevent extinction.

    This is my view, and if you don’t like it…I actually don’t care.

    Simon, thank you for your article.

    • Herbert J. Farnsworth

      You could have written all that without the second to last sentence. It only shows that you do, in fact, care.

    • Simon Espley

      Thanks Mario. Sadly many people have no tolerance of those with different views –
      and they resort to attacking on a personal level and other distraction tactics. Those who really do know and care soon rise to the surface and the rest leave to exorcise their personal demons elsewhere. Water off a duck’s back to me ;-). Keep the passion.

  • Olga

    a bit of science from ivory black market: http://www.nber.org/papers/w22314

    No, it is not the same, but similar enough to conclude that market will react similarly; Please share if there are any studies on rhino horn trade per se.

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