Editor's note: On 22 April 2019 we published an article titled "South Africa’s first online rhino horn auction", the author mentioned that "Groups such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust, for example, are against trade mainly on ethical grounds." Below is a statement by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) in response.

The EWT firmly supports the ecological sustainable use of wildlife when it leads to the improved conservation of wild and free living species in their habitats. Any use of a species and/or its components must benefit the persistence of that species in the wild, which must be supported by evidence in order for a trade-related decision to be rational and meaningful for conservation. Wildlife trade Β is sustainable only when it positively contributes to the security of wild and free populations and when benefits accrued are shared fairly and equitably.

The EWT would support a legal trade in rhino horn, under the following conditions.

  1. Horn from a legal trade must lead to a reduction in poaching by replacing a large amount of the horn obtained illegally. We are not aware of any evidence that suggests that legally sourced horn will replace horn from poaching. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that the market for rhino horn is biased towards horn sourced from wild rhino and not farmed rhino. There is also concern that a legal trade may stimulate poaching if horn from both sources can be moved more easily under the guise of a legally obtained permit.
  2. The volume of legal production must meet any changes in demand for horn as a result of legal trade. If a legal trade changes the number of consumers of horn, this change is likely to be upwards, as law-abiding potential buyers are released from the stigma of buying an illegal product. Furthermore, as we do not know what the price of horn would do under legal trade and we do not know how many potential legal consumers there are, there is a risk that demand will exceed the legal supply.
  3. Revenues from the legal trade must be used to protect wild rhino populations primarily, Β and not only farmed populations. Proponents of a legal trade claim that financial returns from selling horn will be channelled back into increased security funding to protect rhinos. This may be feasible for intensive operations [where rhinos can be kept under tight security]. but is far less achievable for wild rhinos roaming large open areas. This is both because a significant portion of tradable horn will be generated from intensive operations and there is no guarantee that adequate revenue flows will extend to wild populations, and also because wild populations are inherently harder to protect. Additionally, a tightening of security on intensive operations might have the effect of displacing poachers to less secure wild populations, thereby increasing the risk in the latter. Moreover, an increased promise Β of revenues might also encourage some rhino owners to move rhinos that are currently free ranging, into intensive conditions, thus reducing the wild herd further. If a legal trade leads to a greater demand for horn [see points 1 and 2 above], or a freer flow of rhino horn to demand countries, wild rhinos will be at even higher risk.
  4. Institutional capacity to regulate trade must be increased in both source and consumer countries to avoid laundering. There is concern that it is not possible to keep track of all legally supplied rhino horn and to distinguish it from illegal horn due to capacity constraints, resource shortages and corrupt practices. As rhino horn is also mostly a consumed product, traceability once acquired by a consumer is even more challenging than may be the case for ivory or other wildlife products. This presents opportunities for the laundering of illegal horn through the legal supply chain, which may further incentivise poaching and put increased pressure on the already-strained law enforcement and compliance sectors. To reduce poaching, trade legalisation must restrict opportunities for illegal horn to reach buyers and enforcement capacity must be significantly bolstered to address this need.

More information on this is available here.

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