The additive theory of rhino horn trade

Image of a white rhino family captured in sunset in Southern Africa


In July 2012, Simon Barnes wrote in The Times about Save the Rhino’s decline of a donation generated by the sale of an antique rhino horn at auction in the UK. We posted this on our blog and invited responses. One commentator, Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, who has written extensively on the potential legalisation of the trade in rhino horn and who supports such a move, argued that “Something I simply do not understand – and would love you to explain – is how preventing the sale and export of rhino horn artefacts from rhinos that are long dead helps protect existing live rhinos. Whenever a rhino trophy gets stolen from a museum, surely that saves the life of an existing live rhino in Africa? I really don’t understand this ‘additive’ theory of rhino horn trade: i.e. the more rhino horn that reaches consumers the more it threatens live rhinos: to me, that flies in the face of economic logic and downward sloping demand curves.” Michael asked us to “back up [our] claim with both solid theoretical economic arguments and empirical evidence”.

While we can’t offer empirical evidence (but challenge Michael to provide evidence that “Whenever a rhino trophy gets stolen from a museum, surely that saves the life of an existing live rhino in Africa”), we can offer a reply in economic terms. We are very grateful to Albert Küller and Maria Nazarova-Doyle for their work on this paper.

Click here to read the paper on ‘Rhinonomics’

5 thoughts on “The additive theory of rhino horn trade

  1. With the advent of email, Facebook, Twitter etc, is it not possible to send messages to ordinary citizens, students and children (in their own languages) in the Asian countries that believe in the medicinal properties of rhino horn? Anyone who knows a Chinese, Thai, Indian person who would be willing to post photos, evidence of the uselessness of the horn to cure disease etc on their Social media sites could help slowly to inform that sector which might eventually filter through to the population as a whole and at least get ordinary people there asking questions.

  2. The paper Rhinoeconomics misses some concepts.
    1)Rhino can be dehorned, horns grow back and there is supply from natural deceased rhinos.
    2)Demand has increased with accompanying increase in poaching due to rising wealth in Asia.
    3)income from sale of horns can be used to pay for anti poaching
    4)game ranches can be induced to increase rhino stock due to potential profits.
    5)legal sale can be tied to warning labels on products about rhino population extermination.

  3. Emerging China and Asian middle classes will all understand the English language, so twitter etc. will certainly have an impact.
    Perhaps we should go one step further and claim that consuming rhino horn is ‘detrimental’ even ‘dangerous’ to their health. Fear is a strong human emotion!

  4. I am an expat living in Thailand and there is no sale of rhino horns over here, although the country is on the smuggling path. Several horns and ivory are seized every year on the airports and the laws are in place. However, the big problem in the whole region is the outrageous corruption. Wealthy people run the game and get away with ANYTHING by paying bribes. There are, though, illegal hidden restaurants serving exotic animals meat. If I was in charge I would take advantage of the existing death penalty and apply it for all those involved.
    You can’t expect them to be really serious about animal life and poaching when this same thing is happening in their own country, with animals like the tigers, and the ones in power just don’t care or are involved in one way or another.

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