Rhinos are not seahorses

I have spent most of my life involved in wildlife and have owned a number of game farms.

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I read with interest your article ‘Game industry wants legal rhino horn trade’ (20 April, pg 22) written by Herman Els in his capacity as manager of Hunting and Conservation at the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association.
In the same issue is a letter written by John Hume entitled ‘Seven good reasons to legalise rhino horn trade’ (pg 12).

This article I have read before, as being on the opposing side of this debate, I have been in communication with Hume for some time. So in regard to Hume’s letter, I would like to expound my reasons as to why I vehemently oppose the legalisation.Els conservatively states that at R228 000/ kg for rhino horn, the rhino poached last year could have benefited the conservation of our rhino by R408 million.

The fact is that the poachers currently get paid considerably more than this per kilo. Els also asks, “Why is the Cites ban on international trade in rhino horn and ivory upheld so vigorously when reality shows that sustainable use is the real driver for conservation?“.

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Perhaps it works for seahorses that lay between 80 and 100 eggs frequently throughout the year and leather backed turtles that lay about 100 eggs and can breed annually. These two species were used as examples by Els claiming that they probably would have become extinct if the trade in them had not been made legal. Perhaps so, but given the rhino crisis, I do not believe that comparisons can be made with the examples given.

White rhino cows are only sexually mature at between six and seven years of age and breed one calf on average every three years with a gestation period of 16 months. Given these facts and that a dehorned rhino only grows its horn back at about 2cm a year, the annual harvest, if all the stockpiled horn were sold, would never meet the demand, even if we had five times as many rhino than we do.

I believe that if the trade were to be legalised it would instantly result in a dramatic increase in poaching for the following reasons: Firstly, given that the auction price of legal horn would far exceed the current price paid to poachers and given the mismanagement and corruption in the country, how would it be possible to keep the illegal horn out of the legal market?
Secondly, if ways were found to keep illegal horn out of the legal trade and given the increased price due to legalisation, why would the buyers not find a middle figure and continue buying cheaper illegal horn.

Thirdly, I believe that the buyers would stockpile their horns and never flood the market, thus reducing prices and halting the reason to continue killing our rhino. Fourthly, dehorning has been shown to decrease poaching on game farms, but in the wild, rhino need their horns. I believe a massive education drive can save our rhino rather than feeding the myths around rhino horn as a legal trade.

I wholeheartedly agree with Els with regard the invaluable contribution game farming and the hunting industry have made to the revitalisation of wildlife numbers, but in terms of saving our rhino I believe that Hume and Els are on the wrong track.