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. This is particularly regrettable given that now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for a united, global environmental/conservation front.
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 opening a legal, regulated trade in rhino horn as the way to go. Although they don’t see trade alone as a “silver bullet” solution, it is viewed 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.
On the other hand, protagonists of no trade argue that a legal market could lead to an even greater demand for horn, thereby opening a veritable Pandora’s Box of unforeseen circumstances. They contend we have no fundamental knowledge of the potential market’s extent and don’t understand how the dynamics of supply and demand in a market with legal and illegal components might operate.
The distressing thing is that as long as this impasse exists, the conservation movement as a whole is weakened; precisely, when faced with the significant challenges of our age, it should stand united.