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To save rhinos, sell their horns, scientists argue
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 28, 2013

South Africa to explore legal rhino horn trade: minister
Cape Town (AFP) Feb 28, 2013 - South Africa is exploring the legal trade of rhino horn to counter a poaching bloodbath that has surged despite tighter security controls, the environment minister said Thursday.

"We are investigating," minister Edna Molewa told AFP, saying cabinet had mandated the ministry to look into the matter.

The trade is banned internationally but it has been punted as a possible tool against the insatiable Asian demand for horn that is fuelling the slaughter.

So far this year, 128 rhinos have been lost after a record 668 animals were killed last year.

No proposal has been introduced by South Africa to lift the ban at next month's meeting of the UN wildlife trade regulator CITES in Bangkok.

But Molewa said the discussions at the meeting will help guide South Africa's position.

"The reality of the matter is rhino horn is being poached in South Africa right now," she told a media briefing.

"There's a moratorium on trade in South Africa but they still get it out of South Africa. So we are saying let's look at other mechanisms."

Rhino horn brought in about $60,000 (46,000 euro) per kilogramme, while a live animal cost just over half of that.

A study into rhino management had raised the unbanning of the trade and the commercial farming of rhinos, as a possibility.

With the world's biggest rhino population of around 20,500 animals, officials fear that the poaching kill-rate will one day outpace the number of baby rhinos being born.

"So far the mortality rate has not yet surpassed the maternity rate or the birth rate, but we are watching that," said Fundisile Mketani, a senior official in the department.

South Africa has beefed up security controls, including sending an unmanned drone and soldiers into the world famous Kruger National Park.

In order to save the perilously endangered rhinoceros, sales of its horns should be legalized, four leading environmental scientists said Thursday in the influential journal "Science."

"As committed environmentalists we don't like the idea of a legal trade any more than does the average member of the concerned public," wrote lead author Duan Biggs of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and University of Queensland.

"But we can see that we need to do something radically different to conserve Africa's rhino," he said.

Although there is a global ban on killing rhinoceroses and selling their horns, there is a fierce demand, mainly attributed to Asian consumers who use the ground up horn for traditional Chinese medicines.

Attempts to discourage the use of rhino horn have failed, the scientists said, and, without a legal avenue to obtain the ingredient, the black market has stepped in.

"Rhino horn is now worth more than gold," the scientists noted, saying that a kilogram that cost $4,700 in 1993 would fetch around $65,000 in 2012.

Poachers, enticed by the high price tag, have swarmed, and "poaching in South Africa has, on average, more than doubled each year over the past 5 years."

That has had a devastating impact on the already endangered species: the Western Black Rhino went extinct in 2011, and just 5,000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos remain.

But the scientists said the demand for rhino horn could be satisfied while keeping rhinoceros populations safe -- by harvesting horns from rhinos who have died of natural causes or humanely shaving the horns of living animals.

In addition, "rhino farms" would require setting aside more savannah land, which would help conserve other species, and would provide a legal source of revenue for impoverished rural communities in southern Africa.

They liken their proposal to the legal trade in farmed crocodile skins, which has saved the endangered reptiles from over-hunting.

A similar proposal for the rhinoceros was rejected 20 years ago, but the scientists said now is the time to reconsider, at an upcoming conference on the convention that governs the international trade of endangered species (CITES).


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