WWF-SA's position on the legalisation of commercial international trade in rhino horn | WWF South Africa

WWF-SA's position on the legalisation of commercial international trade in rhino horn

Posted on 07 April 2014
Illegal killing of rhinos in South Africa is occurring at an unacceptable and increasing rate of extreme concern to WWF. We fully appreciate the need to consider all feasible options to address this severe threat, particularly given that approaches taken to date have not yet brought the situation under control. We also understand the challenges associated with meeting the rapidly growing security costs to protect rhinos, which are current distracting resources away from other conservation priorities. As a science-based conservation organization, we support the principles of sustainable use and remain committed to exploring all ethical options to enable rhino conservation. As such we are not fundamentally opposed to the concept of legalised international trade in rhino horns as a conservation tool.

However, we remain unconvinced that legal international trade in rhino horn is a feasible approach for rhino conservation at this time and until at least the following concerns have been addressed. Legal trade in itself will not remove the need for ongoing investment in the protection of rhinos. In fact, greater investments would likely be required for security and protection of rhinos, should trade in rhino horn be legalized, else priority populations in large landscapes could potentially be under increased threat. Significant investment would be required to establish the necessary regulatory mechanisms, not only in South Africa as the source country, but right along the trade chain to the consumer to prevent laundering of “illegal” horns into the “legal” market. Furthermore, we are not aware of any potential consumer state indicating an interest in making the required investments into managing a legal trade. In addition, recent research on consumer behaviour suggests that there is a significant latent demand for rhino horn in Viet Nam and it is unclear whether a sustainable legal supply would be able to satisfy it. Uncertainty about how legal trade may in turn influence demand adds to the challenging complexity of the proposition.

In practise, there seems to be a lack of coherence with regard to the strategy of a legal trade. Proponents of legalization currently have opposing strategies divided between flooding the market with horn to keep prices low versus restricting supply to keep trade manageable and prices high. Much more strategic thinking is required before a convincing proposal could be made at CITES. In addition, if the planned outcome of legalizing international trade in rhino horn is to keep wild rhinos alive it will require collaboration at a global scale. To protect wild rhinos throughout Africa and Asia, cross-subsidization will be required between private and state populations, across countries and between continents. In fact, the current focus on the legalization of trade is in danger of deviating attention from other vital actions including co-ordinated anti-poaching efforts, targeted attacks on the transnational criminal syndicates involved in trafficking of illegal rhino horn, and demand reduction campaigns on the new and growing markets and user groups in Asia. Right now, we urge ongoing commitment to these actions.

Dr Jo Shaw, Manager: Rhino Programme, WWF South Africa