Whether or not it would be sensible and wise to open a legal trade in rhino horn is one of the most debated and divisive subjects in today’s conservation circles. Influential opinion leaders, organizations, governments, and academics argue the case on both sides of the divide, and tempers frequently become frayed. On occasion, the debate has, regrettably and to the advantage of neither side, turned nasty and personal.
NO TRADE—PRO TRADE
The Great Debate
SETTING THE SCENE
Before addressing the pros and cons of a legal trade in rhino horn, it is important to understand some of the background issues around wildlife crime, international and state laws, horn stockpiles and what to do with them, and the value of horn.
A LEGAL TRADE - THE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST
It is sometimes difficult to see how the pro- and anti-legal trade factions could ever be reconciled so entrenched are their positions.
Hardcore pro-traders view the opening up of a legal, regulated trade in rhino horn as the message of hope. Although they do not contend that trade alone is a “silver bullet” solution, they do see it as a practical response that could go a long way towards saving rhinos from extinction. In their eyes, those opposed to it are at best well intentioned but essentially idealistic, naïve and impractical. Those against trade are seen as being aligned with animal welfare and animal rights movements, which are an anathema to pro-traders who, in turn, see themselves as rational pragmatists whose solutions, though unpalatable to some, are the only way forward.
Protagonists of no trade, on the other hand, argue that a legal trade could lead to an even greater demand for horn and open a veritable Pandora’s Box of unforeseen circumstances. They contend that that we have no real knowledge of the extent of the potential market and that we don’t understand how the dynamics of supply and demand in a market with legal and illegal components might operate. Pro-traders are also seen as well meaning at best, but perhaps tainted by their commercial obsession. Some might ask: “Why should any creature have to pay to stay?”, arguing that wildlife has been paying for centuries, such has been our relentless exploitation of so many species.
The distressing thing is that as long as this impasse exists, the conservation movement as a whole is weakened, precisely at the time when, faced with the great challenges of our age, it should stand united.