Save Rhinos by Selling Their Horns


Jennifer Abbasi in Discover:

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Because rhinoceroses are endangered, buying and selling their horns should be banned.

CONTRARY VIEW: Legalizing the trade in rhino horns is our best chance to save the species.

Purported to treat a variety of ailments, from fevers to measles to epilepsy, rhinoceros horns have been prized ingredients in Chinese medicines for thousands of years. Sought after for their horns, white rhinos saw their population fall to 100 animals in South Africa by 1910, and only 2,410 black rhinos remained there in 1995.

In South Africa and Namibia, a strong conservation ethic — coupled with financial incentives for ownership, management and protection of rhinos for tourism and legal trophy hunting — gradually helped to reduce poaching and restore rhino numbers. But today, Africa’s rhinos once again are facing extinction, despite a 1977 ban on the selling of rhino parts by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ironically, legalizing a highly regulated trade in rhino horns might actually end up saving the animals. “The trade ban is failing because of persistent and growing demand for horn,” says Duan Biggs, a conservation biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who argued for lifting the ban earlier this year in the journal Science. “The ban artificially restricts supply in the face of this demand growth, which pushes up the price for horn and the incentives for poachers.”