Outside The Box: Rhino Horn Farming

When rhino horn has increased in value from $4700 a kilo twenty years ago, to $65,000 a kilo today, radical strategies are needed to address the poaching that is driving the rhino rapidly toward extinction. Kevin Charles Redmon takes a look at the possibility of rhino farming:

As parties to the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meet in Bangkok this week, a team of Australian conservationists are presenting an unusual—and controversial—proposal: in order to save the remaining African rhinos, farm them for their horns.

The economic logic goes like this: demand for horn is inelastic and growing, so a trade ban (which restricts supply) only drives up prices, making the illicit good more valuable—and giving poachers greater incentive to slaughter the animal.

“Rhino horn is used for dagger handles in Yemen and has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for millennia as a presumed cure for a wide range of ailments,” explains Duan Biggs, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland, in a March issue of Science. “Rapid economic growth in east and southeast Asia is assumed to be the primary factor driving the increased demand for horn.” Conservation managers have even tried preempting poachers by de-horning animals in their care, to no avail; the stubs are simply too valuable to pass up. (As documented in the 2012National Geographic article, “Rhino Wars,” African wildlife conservation has become as militarized as America’s “war on drugs,” with the same miserable failures.)

But horn harvesting need not be an all-or-nothing proposition.

“Rhino horn is composed entirely of keratin and regrows when cut,” writes Biggs. “Sedating a rhino to shave its horn can be done for as little as $20.” A white rhino produces about a kilo of horn per year, and the current global demand could be met by “farming” as few as 5,000 animals on a private, well-guarded preserve. (Natural rhino death “would also provide hundreds of horns annually,” even as the herd continues to grow at a rate near 10 percent.) The millions of dollars generated by the legal enterprise could be used to fund further conservation efforts, such as wildland preservation, sustainable rural development, and field research.

It’s not a solution that feels good. But it is a practical proposal that might actually make a difference, and the times we are in demand progress more than philosophical purity.

Mountain Gorillas vs. Poachers

Dian Fossey Trust Rwanda Gorrila

Nat Geo reports that mountain gorilla youngsters have been seen dismantling and destroying poachers’ snares:

On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away, Vecellio said.

Suddenly two juveniles—Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old—ran toward the trap.

As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.

The pair then spied another snare nearby—one the tracker himself had missed—and raced for it. Joined by a third gorilla, a teenager named Tetero, Rwema and Dukore destroyed that trap as well.

That’s an amazing insight into gorilla intelligence and awareness, and it makes it all the more horrific and tragic that wild gorillas are being driven by humans toward extinction. The gorillas apparently are doing what they can to preserve their young from poachers. But they will need a lot more help to have any hope of surviving.

(via @sam10k)