Lessons The Rhino Trade Lobby Cannot Ignore
Sharon Van Wyk
10 April, 2014

Ignoring the hard lessons learned by the global conservation community in its battle against ivory poaching will effectively sign a death warrant for Africa’s rhinos. This according to experts at this year’s international conference organised by Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP) who believe rhinos could be extinct by 2020 if South Africa succeeds in its plans to legalise the trade in rhino horn.

One of the issues under discussion in the conference was government’s proposal to lobby the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to lift its global ban on trade in horn at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) which takes place in South Africa in 2016.

During the course of the day a number of speakers drew attention to the fact that in the past four decades of their battle against ivory poaching, attempts by African nations, including South Africa, to legally trade in ivory through CITES-approved “once-off” sales of stockpiles only fuelled demand, causing drastic increases in poaching in every single elephant range state.

Africa is currently losing four elephants an hour to poachers and Asia’s appetite for ivory is at a all-time high.

A number of experts fear the same pattern will emerge if rhino horn is legalized.

Director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, Mary Rice, which has undertaken in-depth undercover investigations into the markets in Asian demand states like China, maintained that supply of rhino horn will never meet demand. In her presentation Rice presented a video clip of an interview with an illegal ivory trader. The man, filmed by a concealed camera, was holding a pair of ivory chopsticks and told an undercover investigator:

“All the elephants in Africa aren’t enough to supply the Chinese market with ivory chopsticks alone…”

Watch an EIA video showing the impacts of the ivory trade on elephant populations. (WARNING CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES)


Founder of the Born Free Foundation Will Travers echoed these sentiments, telling delegates conservation is nothing more than risk analysis and that history is littered with examples of where that analysis has been wrong.

“We are supposed to learn from past mistakes so that we do not repeat them,” said Travers in his address to the conference. “It was Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The plan to legalise trade in rhino horn is therefore complete insanity.”

But it was left to Dr Ben Okita-Ouma, Rhino Co-Ordinator of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, to drive home the message in his presentation highlighting the unintended consequences South Africa’s plans would have on remaining rhino populations.

“Exponential expansion of demand will see rhino extinct in the wild by 2020,” Okita-Ouma told a stunned audience. “This makes a “Big Four” scenario a very real possibility. Moreover, with 100 elephants a day being decimated for their ivory and fewer than 20,000 lion left in the wild across the continent, could it be that Africa is facing a future where all there is left to entice tourists is the Tragic Two?”

Photo credit EarthTouch via photopin

For the article on SA Breaking News click here.