The Unsustainable Excuse

Stephen Wiggins Article 8 Comments

Petition – “Stop South Africa’s attempts to legalize trade in rhino horn“- Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

The “sustainable use of our natural resources” – Opinion

After posting the Don Pinnock article (“Rhino sale bombshell hidden in new raft regulations,” Daily Maverick, 27 February 2017) the feedback received was ‘interesting’ – explaining the South African’s right to make “sustainable use of our natural resources” and “environmental right is primarily a human right whose purpose is the protection of human health and well-being….

So, let’s take a look at that and how it’s applied specifically for rhino (but with read across to all other species so “sustainably” used/utilised).

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (As adopted on 8 May 1996 and amended on 11 October 1996 by the Constitutional Assembly) – “The Constitution

South African’s constitutional rights on the issue of ‘sustainable’ wildlife utilisation are enshrined at Section 24, “Chapter 2, Bill of Rights, Environment:”

Everyone has the right:

  • (a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing; 
  • (b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that –

(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;

(ii) promote conservation; and

(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.”

The Constitution is also embodied within the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA); specifically Chapter 4 (“THREATENED OR PROTECTED ECOSYSTEMS AND SPECIES“), Part 2 (“Protection of threatened or protected species”) and Part 3 (“Trade in listed threatened or protected species“).

“… environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing

It is not exactly clear to me how it could be argued that Section 24, (a) is applicable to the harvesting, trading and profiting from rhino horn farming, or rhino trophy hunting (or canned lion hunting/farming, bone/skeleton trade)?

  • Perhaps the $$$$ income so derived is deemed as likely to make a few people better off and therefore, a logical extension that such wealth is more likely to promote their individual health;
  • Plus some potential trickle-down economics;
  • However, income does not guarantee human health for those that profit (wealthy people still die prematurely).

“Reasonable legislative and other measures

The Constitution, Section 24, (b) suggests “reasonable” measures can be taken to “promote conservation” and “sustainable…..use of natural resources.

What is “reasonable” (a subjective term) when applied then to two “sustainable” rhino related scenarios?:

  • Scenario 1 – rhino trophy hunting; and
  • Scenario 2 – rhino horn trading;
Scenario 1 – rhino trophy hunting


Canned Rhino

As a working example, I am reminded of the “Kuruman canned rhino hunt” (as described in “Kalahari Dream”) [1] and the apparently ‘legal’ “reasonable, sustainable…..use of natural [rhino] resources.

Note: A summary of this ‘hunt’ was published in a “BBC Wildlife” article (April 2007), “Tales from the bush,” “It won’t do what is says on the tin” –  authored by Chris Mercer (CACH) [2].

Basically, what happens when an adult, female (cow), White rhino is not sufficiently aware, or absently forgets that it has been deemed a “sustainable resource” earmarked to be executed by a fun-loving trophy hunter?

David Erwee in this case, was just out for kicks and a bit of “sport” (sic) after legally buying said rhino at a game auction in 2001. Of course, somewhere the delusion is conjured, that this particular female rhino’s killing somehow positively contributed to conservation of the wild species (i.a.w. NEMA, the Constitution and Threatened and Protected Species (TOPS) regulations).

Regardless, the account of this rhino’s killing in a fenced-off Kuruman industrial park started at 9am the same day of said purchase at a nearby game auction:

  1. Rather than ‘risk’ darting the rhino for transportation (rhino health/survival is at risk under anaesthetic), why not just move the rhino into a nearby fenced area and let the hunt/fun begin there and then?
  2. The ‘hunter’ first approached towards the “sustainable” female rhino on foot (i.a.w regulations), but the hunting party’s initial shots (taken from approved calibre rifles of course, i.a.w. regulations), did not do sufficient harm;
  3. The rhino refused to be so easily ‘sustainably utilised’ it would seem, or perhaps she wanted to dutifully provide ‘value’ for the hunter’s outlay of cash (thereby, providing the hunting party with a feeling of ‘euphoria’ perhaps and some beneficial “health or wellbeing” i.a.w the Constitution);
  4. Over a period of some 8 hours of being shot at, marshalled from her cover within a thicket by the hunting party from their ‘safari’ vehicle, flushed out of a thicket using a helicopter, eventually this unruly, but stubborn female rhino succumbed to her wounds;
  5. The female rhino knelt down to slowly (and presumably, painfully) expire i.a.w. regulations – her “sustainable” contribution to South Africa’s benefit dutifully complete (bless her);
  6. Her tormenters drank beers in celebration of their fun, within the fenced-off industrial park enclosure  – which must have somehow been transformed with no effort whatsoever into an approved ‘wildlife enclosure’ suitable for such hunting of a mercifully ‘re-wilded’ rhino (for a half-day’s torture) and the rhino’s ”active management” i.a.w regulations;
  7. However, a troublesome resulting court case ensued for Erwee et al. as some accusations were levelled by a bunch of “antis”/”greenies”/conservationists “with fundamentalist tendencies” that in fact this female rhino’s hunt had not been conducted completely i.a.w regulations after all;
  8. Luckily the prosecutor (allegedly, a rabid hunter) was not fooled for one minute – case dismissed as it was impossible to ‘prove’ the target rhino had actually suffered (presumably, because no such animal is a sentient being, capable of suffering pain when sustainably utilised i.a.w the South African  Constitution).

It sounds made up doesn’t it? The dedication and lengths some will go to sustainably utilise natural resources (in the name of conservation) and thereby protect their human health and well-being as an added bonus/necessity.

I am not sure about you, but the above “sustainable use of our natural resources” does not appear “reasonable” when considering ethics, morals, the suffering/exploitation and dubious contribution of  anything meaningful to conservation.

Scenario 2 – rhino horn trading


The weight of independent academic/science evidence suggests that any proposed ‘legal’ rhino horn trading system is (on the balance of probabilities) likely to stimulate market demand.

But rather than stymie the currently incumbent criminal syndicates illicitly profiting from trafficking poached/stolen rhino horn, such ‘legal’ trade is likely to escalate illicit rhino poaching activity and other illicit behaviour, hence why  the 2009 rhino horn trading moratorium was instigated.

The “Facts

Some suggest that such negative ‘evidence’ is of course just ‘opinion’ (never mind the academic credibility behind some referenced sources). Therefore, it has no legal relevance, which must be based on proven “facts:

  1. I am not sure if the suggested dismissive treatment should be applicable to the Republic of South Africa, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) own Scientific Authority, the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI’s) output?
  2. All science/evidence on such issues are based on a mix of extrapolated data, statistical treatment, mathematical models, economic theory, ecology, assumptions and theories…;
  3. Where should the line be drawn as to what outcomes/reports/studies are deemed “facts” to be considered and which are mere “opinion” to be dismissed?
  4. At some level, all such work is a matter of interpretation/opinion;
  5. Facts” when predicting/modelling future outcomes remain unproven and statistically subject to confidence levels;
  6. How can an assessment of “reasonable legislative and other measures” be made without considering all such reports/studies/opinion?

Who needs wild rhino anyway?

If one takes ‘legal’ “sustainable…..use of natural [rhino] resources” to its logical conclusion (ignoring any negative ‘scaremongering’ of course), then the likely, inherent risk to wild rhino is a regrettable casualty:

  1. The argument can be logically extended that as long as farmed rhino get to proliferate in their fortresses reserves (living a synthetic, unnatural existence, churning out rhino horn and baby rhino, making their owners rich etc.), then so what if the wild rhino are wiped out?
  2. “We” can still have ‘legal’ “sustainable…..use of [farmed rhino] resources” and keep the $$$ coming in regardless;
  3. “We” can also keep wheeling out farmed rhino into the wild to keep the photographic tourists happy (never mind if these rhino get mowed down by poachers, “we” are sure farmed production can simultaneously satisfy re-supply);
  4. We” can wheel out farmed rhino to be used as targets for sportsman to enjoy for added income……

Protecting Wild Rhino

However, NEMBA thankfully (if “national protection” is actually/fully applied) perhaps comes to the wild rhino’s aid/rescue – South Africa’s Black rhino (“Endangered”) and White rhino (“Protected”) are encompassed as:

Critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, or protected “species, being any indigenous species facing a high risk of extinction in the wild……

Hence, South Africa’s wild rhino are prime candidates for “national protection” – NEMBA, Chapter 4, Part 2 (“Listing of species that are threatened or in need of national protection”) section 56.(1)

Long-term sustainability

The DEA claims that the Notice 74 draft Regulations for ‘domestic’ (and export) of rhino horn as a “Long-term Sustainability Intervention” – so where’s the proof the draft Regulation’s consequences are a long-term sustainability intervention and a “secure ecologically sustainable development” for the “national protection” of wild rhino (i.a.w The Constitution/NEMBA)? Where is the science to back the claim?

Criminal Activity

It was also suggested that “The quickest way to encourage the proliferation of criminal syndicates is to criminalize trade which people do not regard as criminal” – ie. “the proliferation of criminal syndicates” is due to the lack of legal trading mechanisms:

The notion of “contested legality” was introduced as a legitimation strategy of important actors who justify their participation in illegal or grey flows of rhino horn based on the perceived illegitimacy of the rhino horn prohibition” – Hübschle (2016) , p. 366 [3].

  1. So, it would seem ‘some people’ find the lack of legal mechanisms too restrictive and do not see such trade as criminal (ie. so these same people should have some kind of opt out, immunity for any activities they personally do not see as criminal!?);
  2. I would suggest ‘sustainable’ “utilisation” theory is the “quickest way to encourage the proliferation of criminal syndicates:”
I am not sure where it is written in any country’s constitution that ‘some people’ should be able to opt out from restrictions on “trade which people do not regard as criminal,” but I would be interested to see a public vote on whether rhino horn trading should be a legal mechanism, or not.



  1. ’Legal’ is not a defence when applied within a vacuum detached from the realistic outcomes of its application, social acceptance and likely negative consequences;
  2. Simplistic economic ‘thinking’ when applied to ‘legal’ wildlife trade and ‘legal’ wildlife exploited for execution in the name of “sport” (sic) is wilfully detached from realistic, negative outcomes and any assessment of society’s acceptance as “reasonable;
  3. The same sustainable wildlife utilisation ‘thinking’ is repeated again and again, as if the outcomes are likely to be only positive next time around (when past history/evidence says otherwise);
  4. The use of “sustainable” wildlife utilisation is banded about within a blinkered view/model/vision – seemingly wilfully oblivious even in theory to the negative consequences and the messages it sends:
    • ‘legal’ utilisation (“sustainable” of course) for $$$ encourages illicit utilisation of the same “natural resource;
    • Pretending otherwise and/or the delusion that a lack of ‘enough legal’ wildlife trade/utilisation will always crush illicit behaviour is a gamble not borne out by past history.

Conservation is given cursory lip-service when over-ridden by the rush to ‘legally,’ ‘sustainably,’ ‘reasonablyutilise natural wildlife resources….…but of course all such ‘legal,’ “sustainable” wildlife utilisation is above reproach, with the bonus of being good for human “health or wellbeing” isn’t it?

Of course you are welcome to express an opinion that anyone that does not share the wildlife utilisation vision is a “conservationist with fundamentalist tendencies” for daring to suggest “sustainable use of our natural resources” should only be applied when it is proven as likely to be “reasonable” (in every sense of the word and not just as an exploitative endeavour for “reasonable” income for the chosen few).


[1] “Kalahari Dream,” C Mercer and B Pevan, 2011, pp 80-91

[2] “It won’t do what it says on the tin – Tales from the bush,” BBC Wildlife, April 2007, p.106

[3] “A Game of Horns – Transnational Flows of Rhino Horn,” Annette Michaela Hübschle, 2016, International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy

Further Reading


Did wildlife conservation fall victim to an anti-science countermovement?,” Wild Things Initiative, 6 December 2021

Trade Legalisation – A Greedy Person Is The Poorest Person In The World,” Breaking the brand – stop the demand, 5 March 2017



Addendum – ‘Game Farmers/Trophy Hunting Saved the Rhino’

Let’s look at the “we saved the rhino” argument….Project ‘Operation Rhino’ from the 1960s.

So, which wildlife utilisation caused the 1950s rhinos’ plight in the first place? Hunting and poaching, or just poaching? Hunting was a significant factor, so when hunters say they saved the species, they basically want to be congratulated for helping to save the species from their fellow hunters’ own abuse:

In the year 1800 about 1 million rhinos lived on earth…..Rapid human population growth and more efficient hunting methods greatly accelerated the decline of rhinos during the 1800s and 1900s” – M. ‘t Sas-Rolfes, “Saving Rhinos: Success versus Failure,” Rhino Economics, 2011.

The game farmers did a great job, but fell back onto rhino utilisation for trophy hunting for income (part of the problem with the species’ decline in the first place).

If you prefer the stance that poaching of rhino for horn was the main issue with the rhinos’ demise upto the 1950s, then why wasn’t rhino horn harvesting proposed then (not killing the rhino) for the benefit of the species? Instead of the action that was taken, to kill rhino for hunting trophies again was therefore misplaced. As always, it seems that the desire to kill is the compelling factor that overrides any other thinking/logic. By the way, this does not make me an advocate for rhino horn harvesting and trading either, far from it.

Why has there been a rhino horn trading moratorium in South Africa since 2009? 

TRAFFIC reported in 2008 that “some hunters have been abusing permits to shoot rhinos and export illegally obtained rhino horns – probably poached and directly linked to organised crime – as “hunting trophies.””

In a 2012 report by TRAFFIC on the global rhino trade found that when South Africa did allow domestic horn trade, before 2009, much of the privately owned horn went unaccounted for and may have ended up in illegal hands, trafficked outside the country. It found that abuses and poor compliance in managing horn stockpiles in government and private hands had helped create a “perfect storm,” attracting criminal networks into lucrative rhino poaching.

It has been suggested that the ‘upswing’ in the poaching of rhino in South Africa since 2009 coincided with a 2009 South African moratorium on ‘legal’ trade in rhino horn being initiated by the then DEA authority.

However, this 2009 ‘upswing’ in rhino poaching in South Africa could be attributed to an exponential rise in demand for rhino horn in a newly wealthy Asian middle class and the misguided ‘belief’ perpetuated around 2005/06 in Vietnam that rhino horn could be a “cure for cancer.” Regardless of the origin, or reason, the ‘upswing’ has been sharp and sustained.

This rhino horn trade moratorium is of course being successfully challenged by John Hume et al as I write, and with the current DEA on the pro-trade side, there is little doubt that the current moratorium will be lifted sometime soon, not in name of rhino conservation however (because the science to back the likelihood of any positive outcomes, and/or consideration of the likely market dynamics/criminal activity that will ensue has been conveniently overlooked),  but the moratorium will be lifted in the name of $$$ income (and everybody involved gets to profit, but probably not the rhino).

So, when it comes to the rhino, you will not mind I am sure if I don’t trust (based on historical wrong-doing) the hunters’ ethics, rhino horn farmers’ motives, DEA’s motives and any tacit support for the rhino horn trade (domestic/export/international) and its likely negative/catastrophic  impacts.  Independent academic study/research says wildlife trade (other than to profit) it is a mistake.

Comments 8

  1. Share Lomas

    I can’t believe that the people/person who shot this beautiful, female, White Rhino many times for no good reason can say that this animal did not feel any pain! These types of people are truly vicious and sick – minded individuals. All animals feel pain when hurt!! I don’t think that any normal person could possibly feel euphoric and happy while committing such a vile and cruel act. These people must be psychopaths. Truly Disgusting! May they get what they deserve in the end.

    How sad to hear of your agonizing death/ slaughter. Many people feel the same way.

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