New bid to grow legal value of rhino horn

Wessa thinks out of box to boost funds for anti-poaching battle

Rhino-horn-infused wine, rhino horn massages, additional hunts, and rhino horn mouldings for trophies. Those are just some of the left-field suggestions the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) has come up with in its new drive to grow the legal value of rhino horn in the country.

If the initiative is successful, the society argues, it could provide crucial funding for anti-poaching work – the present cost of which is forcing many protected areas to sell their rhino, steadily shrinking the wild range of the species.

Bay-based Wessa environmental governance manager Morgan Griffiths said while the government had reported a recent decline in rhino poaching, the cost of keeping the poachers at bay could not be sustained and urgent innovative thinking was needed.

“The government budget for this work is diminishing and international money is propping it up,” he said.

“But there are also signs of donor fatigue. So how do we protect the conservation estate and the jobs it supports?”

Wessa’s first suggestion rethought trophy hunting, Griffiths said.

“We should encourage additional hunts, generating legal, taxable value, with the money going into conservation enforcement instead of the black market.”

In terms of this model, the horn would be destroyed to ensure it was not laundered into the illegal market, he said.

“Instead of taking the horn home as a trophy the hunter would make a mould of it and take it to the taxidermist to make a bust for him to take home.

“Alternatively, photographs and 3D printing could be used to create a replica,” Griffiths said.

“It will take a change in mindset – but so did tag-and-release fishing.”

Wessa’s two other suggestions could be marketed as high-end novelty products for spas or reserves, he said.

“Instead of hot rock massage why not rhino horn massage? “A limited number of registered horns could be made available to certain spas,” Griffiths said.

“Likewise certain reserves could be licensed to harvest, produce and sell rhino-horn-infused wine, whisky or tea.”

Ways would have to be found to ensure no unintended loopholes for criminals were created, he said.

“In the end, the best place for a rhino horn is on the animal itself, but we have to find ways to achieve this end.”

Asked his opinion on the initiative, Wilderness Foundation chief operations officer Matthew Normal said while he understood what the society was looking to achieve, it was at odds with the foundation’s efforts in Vietnam to reduce demand for rhino horn.

“We wouldn’t support any initiative that created perceived value for a wildlife product, in particular rhino horn, based on our belief in demand reduction,” he said.

“The reduced state budgets Wessa refers to mirror the lack of political will to solve the issue.”

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