Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Why the rhino horn trade ban needs to stay

L to R  John Hume. The World’s Most Successful Rhino Breeder. Moderator: Professor Craig Packer and Will Travers OBE. President & CEO of The Born Free Foundation.
L to R John Hume. The World’s Most Successful Rhino Breeder. Moderator: Professor Craig Packer and Will Travers OBE. President & CEO of The Born Free Foundation.

Since 2007, more than 5,000 rhino have been brutally slaughtered by poachers in South Africa alone to supply rhino horn for illegal markets in Asia, where it sells for tens of thousands of dollars per kilo. Originally used in traditional Asian medicines, rhino horn has become a high-end gift, a must-have status symbol for the emerging wealthy elite, and an investment commodity for speculators.

Some argue that the ban on international trade in rhino horn should be lifted. However, Born Free believes that allowing legal trade would send the wrong message to potential consumers, increasing demand and opening up new markets. Since legally-obtained horn could never hope to fulfil this demand, poaching would escalate and the legal trade would provide a route by which poached horn could be laundered into trade. This would have disastrous consequences for rhinos throughout their remaining range.

Born Free’s President and CEO Will Travers OBE emphasised these very points in an impassioned public debate with South African rancher John Hume, private owner of 1400 rhino and a strong advocate of trade, at the Royal Institution in London on 3rd August.  Mr Hume, who claims he wants to sell his considerable stockpiles of rhino horn to fund the protection of his rhinos, failed to convince the audience that legalising trade would reduce poaching. At the end of the debate, 60% of the audience agreed with Will and rejected the motion that international trade in rhino horn should be legalised.

During the debate, Will Travers said: “I do not doubt Mr Hume’s genuine desire to save rhino but Mr Hume’s desire to open up trade is based on a series of dangerous assumptions about markets and prices and demand which will, in my view, put living rhino, not just in South Africa but wherever they are found across the Continent, and indeed Asia, at greater risk.

“The debate about whether to legalise the trade in rhino horn, whether to ranch rhino (to the exclusion of other species), whether to use market forces to determine the financial value of a species rather than appreciating the intrinsic worth of nature, will lead us down a path to a world of impoverishment and destitution, a world where zoos and game ranches become the last physical reminders of what life on Earth once looked like and what we have squandered and destroyed in pursuit of mammon rather than conserved and protected as part of our stewardship responsibilities towards the natural world.”

Born Free will be pushing for greater protection for rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins, and other wildlife species against the threats they face from commercial trade in their body parts, at the upcoming meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), due to take place in Johannesburg in September-October.

Download Will's opening and closing remarks against the motion

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