Rhino – Living and Dying by Numbers

Stephen Wiggins Article 11 Comments

As soon as a wildlife species becomes a commodity to be utilised, it’s all about the numbers – farmed and wild populations, market value, death rates and projections – the nonsensical demand curve, the eagerness to supply, the species’ likelihood of survival in the wild…….these ‘numbers’ become more stark when the species in question is in perilous decline.

On Monday, 24 July 2017, Minister Molewa, The Republic of South Africa, Department: Environmental Affairs (DEA) presented a statement (video link here) regarding South Africa’s on-going rhino strategy and the state of the wild populations within South Africa. Attendees included South Africa’s Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo (implicated last year in alleged links to rhino traffickers). The DEA’s ‘position’ being ‘informed’ by a month-long Rhino Laboratory held last year.

Rhino Poaching

In terms of rhino poaching in 2017 – “There has been a slight decrease in the number of rhino poached nationally. A total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos” – DEA, 24 July 2017

But if one excludes the poaching statistcs reported from the Kruger National Park (KNP), rhino poaching has so far risen by 52% nationally in 2017 compared with 2016 – giving cause for considerable concern:

  • Between Jan-Jun 2017: 529 poached, 243 from KNP (so 286 nationally);
  • Between Jan-Jun 2016: 542 poached, 354 from KNP (so 188 nationally);

The projections suggest that again, over 1,000 rhino will be poached in South Africa by year end, with the targeting spreading away from the Kruger National Park.

Internationally renowned rhino expert Dr Richard Emslie said that the latest poaching statistics were disappointing and indicative of continued strong demand for black-market rhino horns…….Emslie, a member of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), noted that the latest statistics were likely to reflect minimum poaching rates “ since not all carcasses were likely to be found immediately in vast landscapes such as Kruger“” – Source: Daily Maverick, 24 July 2017

Traffic_Rhino Poaching_2016 

The DEA also reported an alarming increase in elephant poaching within the KNP, which suggests the criminal networks are expanding and diversifying their activities, not diminishing:

“It is with concern that we also report that in 2017, 30 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park. The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat.”

Domestic Rhino Horn Trade

The DEA’s draft regulations for ‘domestic’ trade in rhinoceros horn are progressing – noting that all public “inputs are being considered as part of the current approval process” – DEA, 24 July 2017

But the risks of the loopholes and the negative consequences of such ‘domestic’ regulations are presumably being ignored as the DEA robustly defends the provision for export (with all permits necessary) for ‘personal use’ and states emphatically that:

the commercial international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited” [apart from the obvious loopholes that can be exploited for export for ‘personal use’ of course] “in terms of CITES. That is correct, Ladies and Gentlemen, prohibited. South Africa is a signatory to CITES. The aforementioned draft regulations published for public comment relate to a proposed domestic trade.”

There was no mention in Minister Molewa’s presentation of the proposed rhino horn auction to be held in August by rhino breeder, John Hume. It has been reported that Minster Molewa was unaware of any such auction:

One rhino farmer, John Hume, is already broadcasting an on-line horn auction with websites in English, Chinese and Vietnamese, although Molewea said she had not heard of this” – eTurbo News, 25  July 2017.

However, Minister Molewea’s own department, the DEA issued a statement raising concerns about these auctions on 17 July 2017 – Department Environmental Affairs concerned about false impression created about domestic trade in rhino horn,” 17 July 2017.


So, does the DEA’s rhino strategy and latest statistics give cause for hope? Well, without increased levels of swift and harsh prosecutions for illicit behaviour at all levels, then ‘hope’ is muted:

Of the South Africans from the gaming industry arrested for rhino-related offences only “two were sentenced to jail time, while more than 93% were granted bail. Shockingly, seventeen of them were repeat offenders, and more than 20% worked in the veterinary field.” This analysis included the notorious Groenewald Gang, still to face justice for their rhino-related crimes from 2010 – IWB, 19 July 2017

If one intends to profit from the commercial exploitation of rhino for their horn, by pseudo-legal and/or illicit means, then yes, hope is given. In the meantime, the survival of the species in the wild looks less certain.

When one reads that the State has a reported stockpile of some 45 tonnes of rhino horn (conservatively estimated as worth some $1.3bn), then the incentive to export rhino horn stockpiles out of South Africa at some point becomes crystal clear – of course, the DEA is keen to point out that “….the commercial international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited in terms of CITES” but of course, the DEA have clearly promoted (within its ‘domestic’ regulations) loop-holes to exploit:

export of rhino horn for non-commercial purposes, such as personal use, hunting trophies, research or education and training as provided for by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)” DEA, 24 July 2017

The DEA’s draft regulations for ‘domestic’ trade in rhinoceros horn were indeed “published for public comment in February this year. All inputs are being considered as part of the current approval process” – but negative inputs are being duly ignored by the DEA it would seem.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the numbers – but the rhino’s numbers are being driven by the $$$s to be made by the rhino’s ‘utilisation’ by all parties concerned.

Comments 11

  1. Gustav Venter

    The ban is clearly a huge failure. The rhinos are dying in unsustainable numbers. If there had been a ban on beef, cattle would have been extinct by now.

    1. Post
      Stephen Wiggins

      Thanks for sharing your ‘theory’ – of course, cattle are also utilised for milk, leather etc., so you might want to reconsider the hypothetical impact of “a ban on beef” alone leading to your “cattle would have been extinct by now” to support your theory.

      The enforcement of the “ban” (CITES 1977 ban on international trade in rhino horn) has failed, due to lack of prosecution for wrong-doing, complicity, corruption, greed, ignorance…..all for rhino horn to be used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – a fraudulent products with no proven efficacy – or rhino horn is prized as a symbol of status and wealth in ornaments and jewellery. None of the rhino horn’s ‘value’ and use is of any proven practicable use to anybody.

      Legal wildlife trade markets always present opportunity for illicit behaviour to flourish. Because of the lack of enforcement of the “ban,” the rhino horn market is dominated by criminal networks that do not follow conventional thinking/market dynamics, predictability – there is a high likelihood that ‘legal’ routes will legitimise demand, stimulate demand and hence fuel the incumbent criminal networks (to the detriment of wild rhino). There is only a minimal percentile upside risk that ‘legal’ rhino horn trading will improve the situation – but most likely, it will make a bad situation much, much worse. Are the risks worth taking to ‘try’ legal mechanisms? On the balance of the likely negative outcomes, I think not.

      Here are links to some of the academic reports and studies that suggest ‘legal’ trade mechanisms are unlikely to have a positive impact for the survival of the rhino species in the wild (where the survival of the species in the wild is the true, altruistic intent of everyone concerned, isn’t it?):

      “The Horn of Contention,” Economists at Large & International Fund for Animal Welfare, November 2013 – http://www.ecolarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Ecolarge-2013-Horn-of-Contention-IFAW.pdf

      “A Game of Horns,” Annette Michaela Hübschle, International Marx Plank Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy (IMPRS SPCE), Köln, Germany, 2016 – http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de/pubman/faces/viewItemFullPage.jsp?itemId=escidoc:2218357

      “Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand,” D. J. Crooks and J. N. Bilgnault, Journal for Nature Conservation, Elsevier, Pretoria, 2015 – http://www.saeon.ac.za/enewsletter/archives/2015/october2015/images/0300.pdf

      “Leonardo’s Sailors: A Review of the Economic Analysis of Wildlife Trade,” A. Nadal and F. Aguayo, The Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value, Manchester, 2014 – http://thestudyofvalue.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/WP5-Nadal-and-Aguayo-Leonardos-Sailors-2014.pdf

      “A quantitative assessment of supply and demand in rhino horn and a case against trade,” NABU International, Berlin, 2016 – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308677581_Pointless_A_quantitative_assessment_of_supply_and_demand_in_rhino_horn_and_a_case_against_trade

      “Legalizing Rhino Horn Trade Won’t Save Species, Ecologist Argues,” K. Nowak, National Geographic, 8 January 2015 – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150106-rhino-poaching-south-africa-animals-conservation/

      1. Gustav Venter

        So, if the use of beef and milk and leather and hooves were banned, then cattle would have been extinct by now? There, I fixed it for you. It is also to be inferred, then, that you support the principle of sustainable use…. until, that is, it gets to a select few animal species. The ban is a patent and ridiculous failure. Lifting it will very soon show all the desired results: more rhinos will be bred and the overall population will increase, in spite of the spectres of corruption and laundering you continually raise. Poaching incidents will decrease because there will be so much more money to bolster the protection efforts you in which you put so much trust. As for all these “studies” you show, (there, you see, I can also use quotation marks) they amount to nothing. They come from people deeply invested in maintaining the ban, not for the sake of the rhino, but for their own benefit. Can the Ban, while the rhino can still be saved!

        1. Post
          Stephen Wiggins

          “So, if the use of beef and milk and leather and hooves were banned, then cattle would have been extinct by now? There, I fixed it for you.” No, too many other variable to know if cattle would be extinct, or not based on your outline theory. I have no idea what correlation (if any) you think you are making between your ‘cattle theory’ and rhino horn trading – perhaps you are suggesting that without the ‘blessing’ of mankind’s utilisation of a given species, then that species is doomed to extinction (which is clearly not true)? The variables, merits, detriments are unique to each species and mankind’s utilisation (or otherwise); the widespread moral/ethical acceptance, or otherwise is based on a wide range of variables and one’s own opinions etc. If you want to defend rhino horn trading, then defend it on your knowledge of its perceived merits (backed by independent science if/where available), not by trying to offset with a meaningless comparison with another species and a theory you have conjured up that has no direct correlation.

          “It is also to be inferred, then, that you support the principle of sustainable use…. until, that is, it gets to a select few animal species.“ Your inference is based upon unfounded assumptions – ‘legal’ sustainability by some encourages others seeking to also gain access to the cash flow from utilisation of wildlife resources. The nonsensical value of rhino horn (that has no actual worth, medical efficacy etc.) makes the rhino a highly vulnerable, priority species. Seeking to legitimise the demand and sustain the value of rhino horn is unlikely to help the species, but will help those that wish to profit – eg. “we find that a legal trade [in rhino horn] will increase profitability, but not the conservation of rhino populations” – Department of Economics, University of Pretoria.

          “The ban is a patent and ridiculous failure.” The enforcement of the ban is a failure and has needed addressing for decades. Unfortunately, human nature is driven by profiteering and greed, hence why ways to circumvent and corrupt the ban have flourished and enforcement has lacked teeth/funding and commitment by all relevant parties.

          “Lifting it [the ban] will very soon show all the desired results: more rhinos will be bred and the overall population will increase, in spite of the spectres of corruption and laundering you continually raise.” Your stated outcomes are based upon assumptions that you have no way of guaranteeing. There are numerous scenarios that might play out; academic studies suggest the likelihood/predominance of those potential scenarios are negative in terms of detriment to the species. You are biased to only potentially positive outcomes, perhaps because of your association with the key pro-trade proponents perhaps?

          “Poaching incidents will decrease because there will be so much more money to bolster the protection efforts you in which you put so much trust.” Unless of course, the demand is stimulated exponentially, poaching increases exponentially and funding invested in protecting wild rhino proves insufficient for the increased onslaught (and is already insufficient for current poaching levels, let alone increased poaching levels). That then leaves just privately owned rhino; so a cynical person might say, either way, the private rhino breeders get to benefit from the wild rhino’s demise as these private rhino breeders become the key source of supply to meet the nonsensical demand for rhino horn.

          “As for all these “studies” you show, (there, you see, I can also use quotation marks) they amount to nothing. They come from people deeply invested in maintaining the ban, not for the sake of the rhino, but for their own benefit.” I await your independently verified proof where the referenced studies’ authors are proven beyond doubt as “deeply invested in maintaining the ban.”

          1. Post
            Stephen Wiggins

            The cited studies are from recognised (bona fides) university sources and institutes. You made the allegation “They come from people deeply invested in maintaining the ban, not for the sake of the rhino, but for their own benefit.” The onus is on you (not me) to provide proof to back your unfounded (potentially libellous) claim.

          2. Post
            Stephen Wiggins

            I saw John Hume last year, at a debate in London – he was not convincing in his arguments and lacked supporting evidence to back-up the ‘only positive’ claims he made for legalising trade.


            I do believe John Hume is (perhaps) convinced by his ‘faith’ in there being only potentially positive outcomes for ‘legal’ rhino horn trading, but he lacked supporting evidence and seemed wilfully blinded to the potential negative outcomes (which raises the question of the true motivations, purely altruistic, or blinded by commercial returns regardless?).

            As an advocate for rhino horn trading, perhaps you can cite a past example of a species sustainably traded/utilised (that has direct comparison to rhino horn harvesting/trading) that has independently been scientifically proven as directly, positively contributing to the enhancement of the species in the wild, where:

            • The harvested product has no proven medical efficacy, so its supply is basically perpetuating a fraud based upon historical deceit and deception ( rhino horn is keratin, the same as one’s own nails, so why not bite them instead?);

            • The harvested product has no other practicable purpose whatsoever – ie. it’s used for displays of status/wealth (sic) in ornaments and jewellery etc. ;

            • The welfare of the captive, harvested members of the given species has not deteriorated as other ‘breeders’ emerge and seek to cash in (at lowest cost possible) on the ‘legal’ commercial profits to be made (with no interest in the wild species’ conservation, or welfare of their own private stock);

            • The poaching of the wild/captive species has declined in response to the ‘legal’ mechanism’s introduction, where there is an established, incumbent criminal network already operating;

            • The ‘legal’ mechanism has not been infiltrated and used to launder illicit trade.

  2. Dominique

    “Conservation” methods by “Hunters” are specifically manipulated to have enough numbers to ensure that they have their “toys” in their deranged psychopathic games. There is no exaggeration that these people are psychopathic killers with zero empathy or respect for any and all life.

  3. Dominique Osh

    The question being that legalizing the Rhino Horn trade will save the species, but at what costs, turning a genocide into a farming opportunity, either way for the benefit of the corrupt deranged humans. The legalized trade of exploitation, will not stop the poaching illegal trade, only sustain the species into a life of torture and abuse. I don’t understand why instead of creating this barbaric industry, why can we not organize to protect the remaining Rhinos in an armed sanctuary’s until these humans learn to survive without killing everything that moves, and their country’s structure provides their people with a civilized bloodless industry so they don’t have to work for the wealthy Asian psychos.

    1. Post
      Stephen Wiggins

      Dominique, Like your comments – the whole ethos of ‘sustainable utilisation’ is driven by the $$$ and not by other principles. It’s also highly questionable that legalising the rhino horn trade will have any positive benefits that will save the species in the wild. Any ‘legal’ trade mechanism must compete with incumbent, criminal networks – there is no way to predict how the criminal networks will react. The market dynamics for illicit rhino horn are non-conventional (normal economic/market principles do not apply), so no one can guarantee only positive results from trying to compete. The answer has to be better understanding of the illicit market flows and enforcement of the law at all levels of the incumbent criminal networks. This recent paper should help that understanding – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17440572.2017.1345680?scroll=top&needAccess=true

  4. Pingback: Rhino Horn Trade in South Africa – International Wildlife Bond

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