A worldwide ban on the trade in rhino horns has been
ineffective and a regulated market should be set up as part of
a last-ditch attempt to save the endangered animals from
extinction, four leading environmental scientists say.
"Rhino horn is now worth more than gold," the scientists
wrote in the journal Science, mainly because of soaring
demand in Asia for an ingredient that is used in Chinese
The Western Black Rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011,
and there are only 5000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos
left, the vast majority of which are in South Africa and
Namibia, the researchers said.
Illegal killing of rhinos in South Africa has more than
doubled annually over the last five years, driven by the
rising retail price of rhino horn from around $US4700 per
kilogram ($US2132 per pound) in 1993 to around $US65,000 per
kilogram ($US29,485 per pound) now, the scientists said.
"If poaching continues to accelerate, Africa's remaining
rhino populations may become extinct in the wild within 20
years," they said.
World trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977 under
CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species - but this has only restricted supplies, generating
huge rewards for illegal high-tech poaching operations.
Attempts to educate Asian consumers about the impact of using
rhino horn on the survival of the species have failed to curb
demand, according to the scientists.
"Current strategies have clearly failed to conserve these
magnificent animals and the time has come for a highly
regulated legal trade in horn," lead author Duan Biggs of the
ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and
University of Queensland said in a statement.
At least 745 rhinos were poached last year, and more than two
a day have been shot by poachers in 2013, the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported.
"Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are feeding
the growing black market for rhino horn," Mike Knight, who
leads a team of experts within the IUCN Species Survival
Commission, said in a statement.
World demand for rhino horn could be met legally by humanely
shaving the horns of live rhinos and from animals that die of
natural causes, instead of illegally taking horns in ways
that kill or maim the animal, the researchers said.
They point to the legal trade in crocodile skins as a model
of an industry where legalisation saved a species that had
been hunted to near-extinction, and said that if rhinos were
farmed legally, more land would be set aside for them. That
would in turn help conserve other endangered savannah
A central selling organization could supervise the legal
harvest and sale of rhino horn, attracting buyers because its
products would be legal and less expensive than those
available on the black market, the scientists said. Horn sold
this way could be DNA-fingerprinted and traceable worldwide.
They urged discussions on this topic at a CITES conference
starting on Sunday in Bangkok.