In the event of a legal trade in rhino horn being introduced, would the amount of ongoing horn from natural mortalities, dehorning, trophy hunting and stockpiles be sufficient to supply the demand? Although audits of stockpiles are incomplete and inconsistently produced, the (mostly legal) African stockpile totals 57.49 tons (52.16 tonnes) and is likely to rise in the future 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. Would this be enough?

Photo credit: Robin Moore


At first glance it seems that South Africa alone would be able to more than match the amount of horn entering the legal trade from legal sources. However, the gap between demand and availability might well not be so comfortable given the probability of a continuing illegal market alongside any legal sales. 

In such a scenario legal and illegal sales together 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 of the number of potential law-abiding citizens who might be drawn into using horn if it were legally available. 

Consider that sustained 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 major horn-consuming countries of Asia and supply could become an issue. It has been suggested that even if one per cent of these people were to consume a few grams a year, 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 quite possible outcome of increased availability.

We simply do not know enough about the supply and demand dynamic to predict the outcome with any certainty. And, even if consumer governments were to play ball on this issue, it would be naïve and foolish to expect black market purveyors to respect any limits.


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, as suggested in the opening statement above, a dehorning progam in South Africa alone could deliver way above this level even if such demand were to increase significantly. 

Add to this the potential additional supply from the regulated sale of horn from legal stockpiles and it is hard to imagine any situation in which overall demand could not be met. 

In the highly unlikely 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.