Then there is hypocrisy. Paradoxically, the act of surgically harvesting rhino horns from privately owned rhino for sale through a professionally managed legal market, allowing the animal to continue living a normal life, is regarded as a heinous act of greedy exploitation at the hands of white farmers, corrupt and cruelly devoid of any principled attention to ethically based management practices. But at the same time those opposing legal trade do not hesitate to condone dehorning of wild rhino to deter poaching as if that is the proverbial answer to the maidens prayer – which of course it is not. But it is interesting to note that commercial opportunism was not altogether absent from many dehorning sessions ; invitations to corporate enterprises and sports celebrities to attend ( for a price naturally) and “ be part of an immobilising/dehorning operation to “help to save the rhino “ suddenly became very popular.
Interestingly, a private rhino owner confided to me that he has taken steps to dehorn his rhino to deter poaching. Asked whether he had conducted a little ceremony and burnt the severed horns, his answer was an incredulous “are you crazy – the stuff is worth a fortune”.Hypocrisy knows no bounds!
Opponents of commercial trade in legal horn use the assumption that legal trade will spur the laundering of illegal horn into the market and cause the whole situation to deteriorate further without giving thought to the fact that no empirical data on a legal regulated trade of horn is available to support that assumption! Legal trade has never been put to the test so how can we judge the outcome? Theory is no match for hard data – and there is none. Popular also among the naysayers is the reference to the 2008 CITES approved sales of ivory. Well let’s be clear ;there is no incontrovertible proof at all that the one- off sales of ivory had any bearing on the now decade long uptick in elephant poaching.
And here’s an interesting aside. In the direction we are headed at some not too distant date, a new, enlightened generation may well press for a commission of enquiry ( popular these days, note ) into this poaching debacle. Sifting through the wreckage of rhino conservation policy these past 10 years , a formal commission may well ask the inevitable question; how could this have been allowed to happen? Who must be held to account? In a recurring nightmare of repeated failures, in an era of enlightened scientific knowledge how did Africa – no, let’s make that the rhino powerhouse, South Africa- allow a snobby, western based ideology driven by biblically righteous AR organisations pursuing daft, unrealistic dreams, hijack (with the active participation of an international bureaucracy ) our sovereign right to independently protect and manage our wildlife estate based on the most successful track record in wildlife conservation history?
How is it that a well researched, regulated legal trade option was not at least put to the test to compete with an illegal market controlled by criminals? After all it was not a case of substituting a legal trade for conventional defensive programmes – more to the point it is a case of applying a new weapon to the existing range of what is currently being employed. And what kind of ignominious politics was at play which caused South Africa ,with 86% of the continents rhino, to decide not to submit a legal trade proposal to the last CITES conference held in JHB last year? Who was responsible ?
If we truly value our wildlife, if we want to preserve the great wildernesses it lives in we have to be honest with ourselves. Emotionally based ethics aside, a policy that has failed for over ten years needs drastic revision – now! We must be prepared to change our whole approach to wildlife conservation management policy and exploit the very real opportunity that exists for the private sector to play a full, meaningful part in shoring up our protected area network.
Reflecting on ten years of dismal failure is it not high time to invoke the command “if you can’t pee then kindly get off the pot” and give an alternative ideology based on sustainable use its chance to salvage what remains.
We do not have the luxury of time to continue repeating failures.