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Rhino Horn Ashes Float Skyward as Prices Fall

Over the past decade, nearly 6,000 rhinos have been killed for their horns — primarily in South Africa, where 5,098 were poached between 2005 and 2015 to supply a lucrative black market. Yet this week at the world’s largest-ever wildlife trade conference, some officials continue to advocate for legalizing the rhino horn trade. 

A ban on international trade of the horn has been in place since 1997, but that hasn’t stopped the killing and poaching. However, there’s some good news: Wholesale and retail prices for rhino horn fell to half of their 2013 prices, due to growing awareness of the devastating impacts to the endangered and threatened species.

In April, the tiny African nation of Swaziland submitted a proposal to legalize limited trade of the horn, which some are calling one of the most pressing issues at the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

But that isn’t the only proposal threatening the iconic rhino. The misguided idea of bio-engineering a synthetic rhino horn is also on the table. While the U.S. government is calling for review of rules governing trade of genetically-engineered animal products, advocates are advising against the manufacture and selling of the products. A parallel market could increase demand and force the price skyward for the real deal. (Read our policy paper on this issue, co-authored with the Center for Biological Diversity.)

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) turned $1 million black market value of confiscated rhino horns and related products into ash in a bonfire that smelled like burning hair. At the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, the USFWS partnered with the San Diego Zoo Global and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to stage the symbolic event — the first of its kind in the US. 

“The transience of the smoke we see today from the burning rhino horn reminds us of the fragility of the planet’s most imperiled species,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Their survival hangs in the balance and will continue to do so as long as people are buying and selling illegal wildlife products. Only a rhino needs a rhino horn, and it’s time we all understood that.”

As the delegates decide the fate of the remaining rhinos, WildAid, partnered with the USFWS and others, will be working to reduce demand of illegal wildlife products around the world and in the US.  For more information on the recently launched U.S. campaign, visit StopWildlifeTrafficking.org.