Huge benefits from legal horns

Rhino. (Supplied)

Rhino. (Supplied)

Should this be implemented, not only will these communities’ quality of life improve significantly, but the pressure on the government to combat illegal poaching will also decline.  This is according to Michael Murphree, a researcher at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University’s African Centre for Disaster Studies. 

Murphree is of the opinion that the South African government’s position of seeking a limited trade in white rhino horn is a huge economic opportunity. “When a rhino is dehorned in a responsible manner, the horn grows back to its original length within two years.” His suggestion is that communities that were successful in land claims, or have land at their disposal, should be given the opportunity to participate in a rhino farming project. 

He says no form of agriculture will produce the same yield per hectare as rhino farming will produce. In the North West there is an example of a farmer who farms with about 700 rhinos on 5 000ha. In other words, one rhino needs approximately 10ha of grazing if the farmer also uses supplementary, artificial animal fodder. 

A rhino needs about 23kg of food a day, and if supplementary feed is not used, the desired hectare per rhino is much more. Currently the market value of rhino horn is between R200 000 and R300 000 a kilogram. Some horns can weigh up to 5kg, which has a potential value of R1-million. According to Bettie Swart from the North West department of economic development, environmental affairs, conservation and tourism, their guideline is about 200ha natural grazing for every rhino cow and her calf. Three rhinos with average length horns can, on 600ha natural grazing, still produce a yield of more than R1-million a year. 

What also counts in favour of private ownership is that these rhinos are poached considerably less than those kept in large national parks. The reason is that safeguarding measures can be better applied in a smaller area than in thousands of hectares that cannot be manned properly. 

Murphree is in support of a proposal that SanParks “lends” rhinos to these communities so that they can benefit from the legal harvesting and trade in the horns. However, the rhinos must remain the property of SanParks who, with other private rhino breeders, can offer technical and scientific assistance to farmers so that the animals stay in a good condition.

This is a huge opportunity for communities to be self-sustaining. He uses Namibia as an example. During a research visit to this neighbouring state he found that communities build and maintain their own schools, churches and clinics — all with funds that they generate from the sustainable use of wildlife.

Banning does not reduce demand

The problem with trading rhino horn is that it has been banned internationally since the 1970s. Murphree argues that the ban has done nothing to reduce either the demand or the supply of horn to the market, which is now controlled by criminal syndicates. 

He says the current alarming wave of illegal poaching is rapidly getting out of hand as a result of the high demand for horn in Asia, where it is used in traditional medicine and as a status symbol by the increasingly wealthy Asian elite. It is alleged that the rhino horn has medicinal value and serves as a sexual stimulant, but there is no scientific evidence to support this. 

Although the birth rate of rhinos still exceeds the mortality rate — which includes poaching — the South African poaching figure is rapidly nearing the 1 000 mark. This is especially a cause of concern for the national parks’ rhino population because their thousands of hectares are so difficult to safeguard effectively. 

“There is no one single solution that will snub this problem. The government must focus on a combination of initiatives that include better law enforcement and intelligence, community support and involvement and a well regulated legal market for rhino horn. At a local and international level a concerted effort must be made to tackle the criminal syndicates, in the field more rangers must be trained and properly housed and equipped. The number of rangers in national parks is not nearly enough. 

“To deploy the police and the army here is also not a solution because they do not have the necessary veldt experience. The expertise in tracking, for example, is also lacking in army and police members. To use ink on or in rhino horn is also a failed effort. The rhino horn consists of keratin, the same substance that is responsible for the formation of nails and hair. The texture is so hard and dense that the ink cannot penetrate the entire horn. However, the suggestion of dehorning by state veterinarians would seem a better idea, because research in 2012 has proved that dehorning does not have a long-term negative impact on rhinos — as long as all rhino bulls in a particular park or area are dehorned at the same time to prevent some rhinos having the advantage in a fight.” 

Unfortunately dehorning is an expensive process. According to the national department of environmental affairs, it costs R8000 to dehorn one rhino. Therefore, to dehorn 10000 rhinos at eight a day would take approximately 1000 days and would cost R84-million. The department believes dehorning is, rather, a solution for smaller nature reserves and private owners, where it seems to be successful. 

Currently South Africa has approximately 75% of the world’s rhino population, which consists of just over 24 000 rhinos. One rhino can generate millions of rands’ income based on their life expectancy of between 35 and 50 years. According to Murphree, to save the rhino “we need to be resourceful and creative rather than sticking to old approaches such as blanket trade bans that have clearly failed to protect the rhino”. 

There is still an opportunity to have a thriving rhino population in southern Africa, but to achieve this South Africa will need international support and co-operation and this sadly is unlikely to happen in the near future, he says.

This supplement has been paid for by the North-West University Potchefstroom Campus. Contents and pictures were supplied and signed of by the NWU