Rhino deaths at all time highBy Graham Land Oct 02, 2013 5:54AM UTC
Poachers have killed 704 rhinos in South Africa this year, a new record according to the country’s environment ministry. Though it’s only now October, more rhinos have already been killed than last year, which held the previous record. At this rate over 1,000 rhinos deaths are expected for 2014.
South Africa is home to 83% of the continent’s Rhinos and 73% of the world’s wild population. Indian rhinos number just over two and half thousand, while less than 100 Javan rhinos remain in the wild. Though the Javan variety has been a casualty of hunting for thousands of years, the Vietnam War and a recent increased demand for rhino horn have nearly wiped it out. How can African rhinos avoid a similar fate?
The greatest threat to the estimated 22,000 rhinos in South Africa comes from those trying to cash in on the black market value of their horn, which sells at prices higher than gold. Many of the poachers come from neighbouring Mozambique and sell the horn to crime syndicates to feed rapidly rising demand in South-east Asia, where the horn is thought by some to cure cancer and tame hangovers.
The Economist magazine argues that flooding the market with a legal supply of rhino horn would be a solution if only the horn grew faster, which it doesn’t.
The remaining option, since law enforcement doesn’t seem to be working, is somehow convincing consumers not to buy it. One way might be through appealing to their compassionate, environmentally concerned side. Another, probably more effective tactic would be to convince users that this expensive illegal product they are wasting their hope and money on is not only failing to cure them, but actually killing them. If they’d just use a medicine that works they might get better.
From The Economist:
In South Korea demand was reduced by removing rhino horn from the official Korean pharmacopoeia; in Taiwan the ministry of health commissioned double-blind randomised clinical trials to study the efficacy of rhino horn and recommend it was not worth using; and in Yemen a public awareness campaign, combined with economic hardship, killed the trade.
Still another option is to poison the horn and then let everyone know that they might be poisoning themselves if they ingest it.
The black market in rhino horns is more or less ensuring the global extinction of the wild rhino. Like shark fin soup, rhino horn is considered by some to be a luxury product, denoting prestige or wealth. But the real demand has its roots in the belief that the horn has medicinal properties. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) holds that rhino horn can cure a variety of ailments from snakebites to headaches to possession by evil spirits. However, the makeup of the horn is mostly keratin, similar to a horse’s hooves. According to this report, you’d treat your headache just as effectively by chewing your own fingernails. It’d be a lot cheaper too and no rhinos would have to die, not to mention poachers and game wardens. A win-win, I’d say. You might even save money on nail clippers.
In Vietnam rhino horn is simultaneously medicine and status symbol. In powdered form, it’s mixed with water and imbibed at business meetings as some kind of cure-all health tonic. Surely the so-called benefits of that practice shouldn’t be too hard to disprove.