How farming rhino will save them
by Michael Eustace
There were 60000 rhino in Africa in 1970. That number should have grown to 600000 by today but we only have 25000, or 4% of what we should have had. Poachers are likely to kill 438 rhino in southern Africa this year. Add another 150 to be killed in pseudo trophy hunts and the total becomes 588.
In order to calculate the total supply of horn, illegal sales by farmers of 100 horns, and 200 horns from natural deaths that are collected and sold illegally , need to be included. This adds up to a total market size in 2011 of 888 horns. These figures are, of course, an approximation.
The wholesale value of the horns from 888 animals at R140000/kg ( $20000/kg), at an average weight of 4kg per horn, amounts to R497m. Most of this money goes to criminals as there is a long-standing ban on trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), to which SA is a party.
If there was a regulated legal trade, through a single channel to Chinese state pharmaceutical companies, southern Africa could make R497m a year for parks and conservation. Importantly, there would be no need for the killing of even one rhino, given a legal trade.
SA alone could easily supply 400 horns a year from natural deaths, 400 from stocks and 600 from farmers cropping half their horn (the horn re- grows). That increased volume of 1400 horns would raise R784m a year for parks and wildlife.
But there is much more potential: say the World Bank bought the annual increment of SA’s rhino and lent them to parks in other parts of Africa, where new populations could be established. This loan would be on the basis that a competent entity, either private or public, looked after them.
Rhino populations grow at 6% a year so SA would receive R300m a year from the sale of 1200 animals at R250000 each from its population of 20000 rhino. Combined with the sale of horns, SA would then be earning more than R1bn a year .
In 12 years’ time there would be 20000 rhino on loan from the World Bank to parks in the rest of Africa. Rhino produce 0,8kg of horn a year so if these parks sold half their horn production they would generate 8000kg of horn, which at a wholesale price of R140000/kg would have a value of R1,12bn — mostly profit. This would be enough to finance the annual anti- poaching and operational costs of 160 parks. There are 134 national parks in southern Africa.
At present, most parks in Africa are in decline. If poaching is controlled, these parks will thrive and tourism will increase. Rhino, instead of being a conservation tragedy, could be the catalyst.
There were 46-million tourists in Africa in 2009, less than the number of visitors to Spain. If improved performance of the parks attracted an additional 1-million visitors, who stayed for an average of 10 days at R1400 ($200) a day, that would generate income of R14bn a year for parks and Africa. Parks could make a profit of 8% on this amount — or R1,1bn.
How can the world, as represented by Cites, continue with a failed strategy (the ban on trade), sacrifice 588 rhino a year and fund criminals at the rate of R455m a year, when there is the potential from a regulated trade to produce annual profit of billions for conservation and secure 160 parks, all without one rhino being killed?
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