If a legal trade in rhino horn was introduced, would the ongoing amount of horn produced from natural mortalities, dehorning, trophy hunting, and stockpiles be sufficient to supply the demand? Although stockpile audits are incomplete and inconsistently reported, the (mostly legal) African stockpile total some 96.23 tons (87.3 tonnes) and is likely to rise in coming years, given the number of privately owned rhinos and the increasing practice of dehorning. It is estimated that South Africa alone could produce between 5.84 and 14.77 tons (5.3 and 13.4 tonnes) of legal horn a year.

Photo credit: Robin Moore


At first glance, South Africa alone could supply enough legally-sourced horn for sale in a legally controlled market. However, given the probability of a continuing illegal market, combined legal and illegal sales could severely test any sustainable supply. (Bear in mind that during the 1970s some 8.8 tons (8 tonnes) of Black Rhino horn alone were entering the illegal market annually.)

Also, we certainly have no idea how many people in end-user countries such as China and Vietnam might be drawn into using legally-available horn. Economic growth in parts of Asia since 2008 has given rise to an increasingly wealthy, urban middle class, one of the enablers of status-driven horn consumption. Couple this with the fact that by 2025 there are likely to be upwards of 1.5 billion citizens in the significant horn-consuming countries of Asia, and supply could become an issue. It has been suggested that even if one percent of these people consumed a few grams, the demand could be as much as 19 tons (17 tonnes) a year.

The increased supply from legal sales could well stimulate a demand that could not be met, especially if the consumer price were to drop—a possible outcome of increased availability.

Ultimately, we don’t know enough about the supply and demand dynamic to predict the outcome. Even if consumer governments agreed to limit legal supplies entering the market, it would be naïve and foolish to expect black-market purveyors to respect such constrictions.


It is estimated that annually around 1,832 horns or 5.6 tons (5.1 tonnes)currently enter the illegal trade. In a legal trade scenario, a dehorning program in South Africa could deliver legally-produced horn way above this level even if such demand increased significantly. 

Add to this the potential additional supply from the regulated sale of horn from legal stockpiles, and it’s hard to imagine any situation in which overall demand could not be met. In the improbable event that supply could not meet demand, a safeguard could be introduced by supplier governments to limit, or even halt, the amount of legal trade. This would, of course, need to be respected by consumer governments.