North-West University – NWU (South Africa)


NWU researcher says legal rhino horns hold great benefits

Communities in South Africa can benefit from the implementation of legalised trade in rhino horn. So says Mr Michael Murphree, a researcher at the African Centre for Disaster Studies on the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University (NWU).

“Legalised trade in rhino horn will not only significantly improve these communities’ quality of life, but will also lessen the pressure on the government to combat illegal poaching,” says Michael.

Michael is of the opinion that the South African government’s view point of establishing limited trade in white rhino horn is a huge economic opportunity. “When a rhino is dehorned in a responsible manner, it grows back to its original length within two years.”

“Currently South Africa has approximately 75% of the world’s rhino population – just more than 24 000 rhinos. One rhino can generate millions of Rands’ income if taken into account that these animals’ life expectancy is between 35 and 50 years. In order to save the rhino we need to be resourceful and creative rather than sticking to old approaches such as blanket trade bans that have clearly failed to protect the rhino.”

His suggestion is that communities that were successful in land claims, or have land at their disposal, should be given the oportunity to participate in a rhino farming project. He says no form of agriculture will produce the same yield per hectare as rhino farming.

One rhino needs approximately 10 hectares of grazing if the farmer also uses supplementary, artificial animal fodder. According to Ms Bettie Swart from the North West Department of Economic development, Environmental Affairs, Conservation and Tourism, their guideline is about 200 hectares natural grazing for every rhino cow and her calf.

Currently the market value of rhino horn is between R200 000 and R300 000 per kilogram. Three rhinos with average length horns can, on 600 hectares natural grazing, still produce a yield of more than a million rand per year.

What also counts in favour of private ownership is the fact that these rhinos are poached considerably less than those kept in large national parks, since safeguarding measures can be better applied in a smaller area than thousands of hectares that cannot be patrolled properly.

Michael supports a proposal that San Parks “loan” rhinos to these communities so that they can benefit from the legal harvesting and trade in the horns. However, the rhinos must remain the property of SanParks, who in turn with other private rhino breeders can offer technical and scientific assistance to farmers so that the animals stay in a good condition.

“This is a huge opportunity for communities to be self-sustaining,” says Michael. During a research visit to Namibia he found that communities build and maintain their own schools, churches, clinics, etc. with funds that they generate from the sustainable use of wildlife.

However, rhino horn trade has been banned internationally since the 1970’s. Michael argues that the ban has done nothing to reduce either the demand or the supply of rhino horn, and this market is now controlled by criminal syndicates.

“The current alarming wave of illegal poaching is rapidly getting out of hand as a result of the high demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is used in traditional medicine and also as a status symbol by the increasingly wealthy Asian elite.”

“This is especially a cause of concern for the national parks’ rhino population because their thousands of hectares are so difficult to safeguard effectively. There is no one single solution that will solve this problem.”

Michael is of the opinion that the government must focus on a combination of initiatives, including better law enforcement and intelligence, as well as community support and involvement and a well regulated legal market for rhino horn.

A concerted effort must be made at local and international level to tackle criminal syndicates, and more well-trained rangers are needed.

The use of ink on or in rhino horn is also a failed effort, since rhino horn consists of keratin which is so hard and dense that the ink cannot penetrate the entire horn.

“The suggestion of dehorning rhinos by state veterinarians would seem a better idea. Research in 2012 has proved that dehorning does not have a long-term negative impact on rhinos – as long as all rhino bulls in a particular park or area are dehorned at the same time to prevent some rhinos having the advantage in a fight.”

Unfortunately dehorning is a very expensive process. According to the National Department of Environmental Affairs, it costs R8 000 to dehorn one rhino. Therefore, to dehorn 10 000 rhinos at eight per day would take approximately a 1 000 days and would cost R84 million. The department reckons this might rather be a solution for smaller nature reserves and private owners, where it seems to be very successful.