iol News (South Africa)
But what if the trade of rhino horn was legalised, the animals weren’t butchered and the money from the sales of the horns was pumped back into the reserves and pockets of the custodians who dedicate their lives to saving them from extinction?
A fresh outlook on legalising the trade of rhino horn was discussed at a high-level conference in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, south of the capital Mbabane, in Swaziland last weekend.
According to the icon of conservation in Swaziland and chief executive of Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Ted Reilly, there were 100,00 black rhinos in Africa in 1960.
But despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) ban on the trade of horn, there are only about 5000 left in Africa.
Reilly and non-profit organisation Legal Trade For Rhino Survival hosted the first of many conventions which looked at whether a legal captive-bred rhino industry could be sustainable, and whether it could save the species from extinction.
The get-together was attended by Swazi ministers and government officials, scientists, businessmen and leading conservationists.
The trade proposal discussed is intended to be tabled at Cites Conference of the Parties (CoP) 18 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from May 23 to June 3 next year.
Reilly said it was inarguably true that protecting rhinos was prohibitively expensive and risky.
He said that rhino horn could be harvested sustainably without killing the animals because the horn keeps growing after harvesting and its removal is painless.
According to Reilly, rhino horn is worth $60000 (R840000) a kilogram on the black market, “where the cost to the rhino is death” and the average horn weighed around 4kg, he said.
He said horns had no commercial value because legal horn trade is banned, despite the fact that the animal did not have to die to legally and repeatedly yield its horn as a self-renewing, natural resource.
The call for the legal trade of rhino horn was also supported by King Mswati III.
Minister for Tourism and Environmental Affairs Moses Vilakati spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who also pledged the government’s support for the legal trade proposal.
“The plight of the rhino has given rise to a raging debate with conservationists advocating for the continued ban on the legal trade of the rhino horn.
“Eswatini (Swaziland) is of the mind that opening up the legal trade of its own horn can help in meeting the rapidly escalating costs of protecting rhinos and the proceeds from the horn sales will provide for a host of other important conservation and community needs, while benefiting a wide diversity of other wildlife species as well,” the minister said.
He lambasted the “doubting Thomases” who continue to call for the ban to stay in place, saying they had failed dismally to conserve the rhino.
“It is important for conservation agencies to be allowed to explore the use of the proceeds to be gained from the tradeine existing stockpiles that can be injected in further security measures for the sake of the rhino’s survival,” Vilakati said.
He said that the survival of the remaining rhino was dependent on the decisions made and policies put in place.
He called for the burning of harvested horns in the name of conservation to be stopped because it was a “waste of valuable African natural resources”.
Reilly also called for donors who support NGOs set up to save endangered species to become more informed.
He said that there was no shortage of propaganda and advocacy to ban all wildlife trade.
“This is deliberately skewed information provided to the media by donor-dependent organisations which thrive off wildlife in crisis,” Reilly said.
The conference comes shortly after China lifted its ban on the domestic trade of rhino horns and tiger bones for scientific, medical and cultural purposes.
The Chinese State Council announced that “under special circumstances regulation on the sales and use of these products will be strengthened and any related actions will be authorised, and the trade volume will be strictly controlled.”
This will include the use of powdered rhino horn, and bones from tigers, to be allowed in hospitals recognised by the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.