Save the Rhino International is generally in favour of sustainable use, believing that conservation efforts must, as far as possible, be income-generating in order to avoid over-reliance on international donor support (and any undue strings attached to funding support by those donors). In reality, we recognise that some rhino conservation field programmes have very few options for income generation (unlike, for example, government wildlife departments that derive income from National Park fees), so we accept that there will continue to be a need for donor funding in many cases. However, we have not yet reached a position on the debate over a (semi) permanent legalisation of the trade in rhino horn.
On the supply side, we are concerned that occasional, one-off sales of elephant ivory have not reduced poaching for ivory. We would like to see more detail on how a trade in rhino horn will be regulated and how the proponents would ensure that income generated goes back into rhino conservation efforts. Other pre-conditions include getting a better grip on the abuse and corruption that are contributing to the present high levels of illegal trade, auditing horn stockpiles and increasing the database of horn DNA samples, so that – if trade is approved – legal horns can be distinguished from illegal horns. Without stringent monitoring, there are risks that a legal trade could serve as a route for the illicit tracking of rhino horns.
On the demand side, South Africa (if it is to propose a legal trade at the next CITES CoP in 2016) still needs to establish a credible trading partner. Neither Vietnam nor China nor any other country has yet come forward. Being a credible trading partner will entail a much higher level of law enforcement and political will to combat the illegal trade in rhino horn than has been evidenced so far. Who knows how rising affluence in other Asian countries will affect the demand for rhino horn? And who knows how many more Vietnamese or Chinese will want to buy rhino horn once the stigma of buying illegal products is removed,
There will always be criminals who will try to undercut the ‘official price’ of rhino horn, by continuing to illegally kill rhinos in Africa. Rigorous anti-poaching and monitoring activities will still be needed to protect wild rhino populations, as will environmental education and community conservation programmes in key rhino areas. There is no single silver bullet that is going to solve the rhino poaching crisis.