A leading wildlife conservationist says China’s bid to legalise the trade of rhino horn could in fact benefit conservation of the iconic animal.
Dr Duan Biggs, a senior research fellow with Griffith’s Environmental Futures Research Institute, said the uplift of the rhino horn trade ban by the Chinese Government represented an opportunity for real dialogue between China and countries that are home to rhinos to discuss the issues facing conservation efforts and the potential benefits and harm that legalisation without consultation could bring.
“There is a lot of concern around domestic legalisation because if it’s not done properly with careful consideration it could lead to laundering of poached rhino horn, and increase rhino poaching,” Dr Biggs said.
“It could also lead to confusion among consumers around what’s legal and what isn’t. There are many environmental organisations, stakeholders and conservationists around the world that have spoken out on this. The implementation of this renewed legalisation needs to be done with deep and extensive consultation with African and Asian countries with rhino (range states).
“Importantly, we haven’t seen much talk about the potential benefits. If the trade commences with thorough and adequate evaluation, enforcement and regulation, this could actually be a good thing. Potentially a legal trade done well could provide an important source of revenue to fund rhino conservation, and not only that, it could fund rural development where there are high levels of poverty, rather than funding criminals.”
Rhino horns can be reharvested and done humanely, unlike ivory. From that perspective, Dr Biggs said a carefully evaluated legal trade in rhino horn is potentially workable in the sense that poaching is less alluring and horn trade would come under closer scrutiny.
The uplift of the ban is currently on hold after copping global backlash. If instituted, the legalisation would require rhino horn be sourced sustainably and humanely from farmed animals.
Its use would then be limited for traditional Chinese medicine, scientific and medical research, preserving cultural artefacts, and as educational materials.
“Rhinos are iconic animals and a global asset, and there are very different perspectives on whether the use and consumption of horn, even if sustainably and conservation benefit, is morally acceptable or not,” Dr Biggs said.
“These perspectives differ between rural and urban people and also between western societies and African and Asian countries. So we have to look at how we make a decision on this – do we ask people who are looking after rhinos in the wild, the people that want to consume rhino horn?
“They’re difficult discussions that we need to have, and we need to recognise that there are different values and attitudes surrounding these animals. And that needs to be incorporated with the scientific evidence and careful evaluation.
“That’s what we need to push for, more dialogue and consultation. If the Chinese Government just goes ahead with it, it will be a real disaster. Liaising with the African range states and international stakeholders will ensure that this is implemented in a way that works for rhino conservation.
Dr Biggs works with policy-makers and international NGOs on the response to Africa’s Illegal Wildlife Trade crisis. He contributes to international policy discussions on the illegal wildlife trade, and other conservation issues, through his work with the International Institute for Environment and Development and the IUCN’s Sustainable Use and Livelihood’s Specialist Group.”