OPINION: To End Rhino Poaching We Must Revisit 1994 Not 2008
The following Op/Ed is by Peter Knights, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WildAid.
If South Africa is looking to stop rhino poaching beyond improving the protection of Kruger National Park,where the majority of the problem is occurring, then it should revisit the successful 1990s crackdown on rhino horn markets rather than the disastrous "one off sale" model used in 2008 for ivory, which created the current poaching crisis for elephants across West, Central and Eastern Africa.
In 1994 Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and mainland China introduced new laws actually banning rhino horn sales, an enforcement crackdown, and public awareness of the rhino's plight became widespread. For the first time rhino horn was truly banned. Consequently demand was reduced and rhino poaching remained low for 14 years, until 2008 when new markets in Vietnam and China evolved. Around this time, the “legal" supply was coming from fake trophy hunting of rhinos in South Africa.
In 2008, the one-off trade in ivory to China and Japan was legalized by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the governing body that had banned legal sales nearly two decades earlier, because the "legal" trade had been used to launder illegal ivory causing the halving of elephant populations. Since the sale, rather than reducing the pressure, poaching re-emerged, now to epidemic levels. Ironically then, the Southern African argument was: "Poaching is under control in our countries, we should be allowed to trade ivory." Now for rhinos it is, "Poaching is out of control we must trade."
South Africa's proposal is more likely to lead to inaction than inspire the much-needed crackdown in Vietnam and China. Legitimizing and promoting demand for rhino horn would inevitably create a far larger consumer base and once this genie is out we could never re-cork the bottle if the experiment went wrong.
We should follow the proven success rather than the abject failure.