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Legalising trade of rhino horn would be a reckless path to take to try to end the rhino poaching crisis. The estimated level of demand for rhino horn is based on illegal trade – ignoring millions of potential consumers from countries that have implemented the CITES international trade ban – who would be eager to buy rhino horn products if it was legal to do so, as demand would be encouraged. Sales via the internet and TCM outlets worldwide would increase demand vastly too.

Rhino horn products would be marketed as a cure for cancer as well as many other ailments such as impotence, hangovers, fevers, etc. There are many new uses invented – as a fashionable ingredient in designer cocktails, beers, creams, made into jewelry – and many old uses that would be revived – rhino horn libation cups, chalices, janbiya, khanjar, (now made from other materials like bone), ornamental carvings or whole rhino horns mounted as status symbols to own or give away as prestigious gifts. If the international ban was lifted and trade was legalised, demand would skyrocket!

The demand for such rhino horn products reduced the number of rhinos across Africa and Asia from around 500,000 at the beginning of last century to 70,000 in the 1970’s when CITES enacted an international ban on all trade in rhino horn to try to save wild rhino from extinction. By the early 1990’s all consumer states had enforced the ban, demand was drastically reduced and poaching had become negligible. Around 2002 the ban was broken and demand for rhino horn was re stimulated – mainly in Vietnam and China – but that trade is limited by the international ban. If trade in rhino horn was to be legalised demand for rhino horn would grow rapidly.

Image by Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation.  Click image to view website

There are millions more potential consumers in China, Japan, Vietnam, North and South Korea, Taiwan, Oman – and many other Asian and Middle Eastern Countries now – who would return if it was legal to use and own rhino horn products and display status symbols openly. For example:

In China there are around 1.4 billion people, 400 billionaires and 4 million millionaires.

In Japan there are around 128 million people, 24 billionaires and 1.1 million millionaires.

In Vietnam there are around 93 million people, 2 billionaires and well over 208 millionaires

In North and South Korea there are around 75 million people – 35 billionaires and 500 millionaires in South Korea (North Korea not available)

In Taiwan there are around 25 million people and 280,000 millionaires

In Oman there are around 2.8 million people and 12,000 millionaires

“While the khanjar is most prevalent in Oman given its symbolic status there, it is also worn by men in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, forming an integral

component of “traditional dress” in those countries. It can also be found and is sold in other Gulf Arab states, such as the Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar. The khanjar is a popular keepsake among tourists, and is the Sultanate’s best-selling memento.”

There are many other Asian and Middle Eastern countries where demand for rhino horn products and artefacts will grow if legally marketed as a powerful cure for ailments, a status symbol which bestows good fortune and good health on the owner, for use as dagger handles, for use in religious ceremonies and for detecting poison.

There will also be a high level of demand from Internet Sales (already widely used for illegal sales), TCM outlets on High Streets and wealthy individuals, worldwide. This level of demand would not be sustainable from farmed rhinos once stockpiles are depleted – and stockpiles will not last as long as expected if a lot disappears via the back door and ‘theft’ – as always.

The demand for wild rhino horn will not go away either as it is believed to contain the powerful, natural life force of the wild animal and is more highly valued than farmed rhino horn. All intact rhino horns from farmed rhino will be a lot shorter in length than the horns of wild rhino, which could be delivered by traffickers with the base intact to prove that it was obtained from the wild. Wealthy clients who demand only the best quality would order wild rhino horn, permits are easily forged and few follow-up checks will be made. So legalising trade will not stop poaching – it will simply increase demand for rhino horn to unsustainable levels, worldwide, and wild rhinos, across their range, will be wiped out by the powerful trafficking syndicates in the long run.

The best long term solution to saving wild rhinos from extinction would be to eliminate all demand for rhino horn and close down the markets. Anyone who sells or buys rhino horn is adding to the poaching crisis because there is too much corruption, too many powerful syndicates, too many potential consumers, and too few rhinos left to ever control regulated trade in such a vast market. Farmed rhino would not breed or grow horns fast enough to keep up with demand growth. Rhinos are not herd animals and should not be farmed in hundreds!

Encouraging demand for rhino horn is immoral and senseless since that demand is based on a myth about its medicinal and spiritual powers.  It is also reckless and proposed economic models suggested that further research is needed to  understand the markets involved. Once stockpiles are depleted, demand would have grown to unsustainable levels and wild rhinos could be wiped out within a decade.