How Legalising the Rhino Horn Trade helps People

by - August 11, 2016

"If you are against a legal trade, you are for illegal trade." This is something I see written or heard said all the time and of course, it is not as black and white as that. However there is a lot to be said for this argument. If you are against a legal trade in rhino horn, you are probably not pro-poaching (unless you are a poacher/involved in poaching activity of course), but by preventing a legal trade, we are giving the monopoly on trade in rhino horn to criminals
As a general rule, people want to help people. I've been speaking to a lot of people since the debate who are pro-trade and I've learnt even more about the work being done in South Africa to help move the discussions along. What I want to talk about in this post is who benefits from illegal trade and who would benefit from a legal trade in rhino horn. This post is about people
In a nutshell, the only people who benefit from illegal trade are people who benefit from the plight of rhinos. This is anyone who makes money from rhinos being endangered. The obvious ones are the poachers and criminal syndicates; the people in Africa who poach the rhinos and sell the horn overseas for lots of money. But it's not just them who benefit. Without being too cynical, some charities and NGOs could be benefitting from the endangered status of rhinos. If rhinos weren't endangered, their existence would be unnecessary. Now I'm not saying that some organisations don't want to help rhinos, because I believe they all do. I'm also not saying that anyone who doesn't support legal trade doesn't want to help rhinos, because again, I'm sure they do. But wanting to help rhinos, and helping rhinos, are two different things. The rhino situation is complex, and too many people are looking for a quick fix, or one sole solution. There isn't one. As I said in my previous post, if the ban on trade in rhino horn is lifted, this is not the end. This is really just the beginning of a long journey to increase rhino numbers. That's just the reality of it; you cannot save an entire species over night. Another thing people seem to do is compare other animals in similar situations, and try and find one solution that can cater to all. This is also not feasible. Every animal and every situation is different and should be treated as such. With rhinos, a legal trade has the potential to allow rhinos to save themselves. That's why, to me, not supporting legal trade is controversial. 
The only other group that benefit from illegal trade, are the people in China and Vietnam who are selling rhino horn products. They are able to sell them at extortionately high prices for the sole reason that they contain rhino horn. Therefore, they are making more money than they would, by exploiting people's beliefs. They even put rhino horn in everyday medicines, such as paracetamol, and up the price, charging people extremely high prices for something no better than your standard pain relief. The governments in these countries, and countries in Africa, are doing little to nothing to improve this situation. Either they don't care about losing rhinos or scamming people, or they have something to gain (probably money) from this too. 
Therefore, my rather short list of those who benefit from illegal trade in rhino horn includes criminals, corrupt governments and salesmen, and perhaps some corrupt charities and NGOs.

On a lighter note, I want to talk about who would benefit from a legal trade. As I said at the beginning, people want to help people. I think by knowing more about what a legal trade in rhino horn can do for people, more people will support it. 
John Hume's model for legal trade encourages rural communities to get involved in the breeding and care of rhinos. By giving rural communities rhinos to look after, they can make money from selling the horns. It also gives them work, and is self-sufficient.  There are organisations in place, ready to do this, but they need a legal trade for it to work. For animals in Africa to survive, the local people need to be involved. There are areas identified for rhino breeding projects to begin, and donors ready to supply the rhinos. A legal trade can instantly begin make a difference, and will help rural communities in Africa. 
Legal trade will also massively help the current rhino owners. Rhinos have the means to protect themselves, but under the current laws they are unable to do this. With a legal trade, rhino owners will be able to sell off the stockpiles they have of horn, and use the money to continue to protect their rhino. The money they make from selling the horn can help fund APUs (anti-poaching units), fund further de-horning, which needs to be done every couple of years (rhino horn grows back!!!) and everything else they are currently struggling to pay for to keep their rhinos healthy, safe and alive.
The last group of people I'm going to talk about, even though there are many more (all good things come in 3s), are the people in Asia who are buying rhino horn products. I'm not talking about the rich, who buy rhino horn as elaborate gifts and a sign of wealth and power (although a legal trade would benefit them too). I'm talking about the poor, who spend ridiculous amounts of money on medicine that doesn't work, because they've been told it'll cure their loved ones. In my previous post I talked about how some people say it's unethical to legally sell this. If it's unethical to legally sell it, it's certainly unethical to continue allowing it to be illegally sold. No one is denying this trade exists. Even the people who don't support legal trade are fully aware that illegal trade exists and on a large scale. If the selling of rhino horn medicines was legal, there would be regulations on it. Again, in my previous post I posed the idea of warnings on the packet, as we have with cigarettes in the UK, to tell people there is no evidence that rhino horn possesses medicinal value. With a legal and regulated trade, we can help to educate people that this medicine is not going to do what they believe it will do; it cannot cure cancer and it's not an aphrodisiac. Education is so important, but with an illegal trade, we cannot control what people are promised and ideas they are sold. With a legal trade, we can try. A legal trade can also regulate the price. By providing competition with the black market, the price will drop and the black markets will crumble. Even if poaching doesn't stop completely, as it probably won't, it will dramatically decrease. Why risk your life to poach a rhino for less money? Why buy a black market product when you can buy the same thing legally? 

A legal trade makes sense. What doesn't make sense, is acknowledging that there is a trade in rhino horn, and allowing the criminals to be the only people to profit from it. 
A lot of people who are against legal trade believe that educating the people in China, Vietnam and elsewhere, that they shouldn't buy rhino horn is a far better solution. If we went down this route and convinced people not to buy it, by the time we got anywhere we would all be dead and rhinos would be extinct in the wild. It's not sustainable or realistic. I'm a strong believer in the power of education and awareness, and believe we should never stop promoting the truth, but this will be so much easier and more successful when partnered with a legal trade. 
Save the rhino, not its horn. 

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