Although the sale of rhinoceros horns is illegal worldwide, rhinoceroses (Rhinos) are commonly poached (hunted illegally) for their horns, which can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. Rhino horns are so valuable that one type of rhino is already extinct because poachers killed too many of them. All rhinos may soon become extinct unless something is done to help save them. Several ideas have been suggested.
The first idea is for wildlife experts to “dehorn” rhinos living in the wild. Dehorning means removing the horns of living rhinos to make them less attractive to poachers. Horns can be removed without hurting the animals if medical equipment and drugs to calm the animals are used. When this strategy was tried on a small scale in the early 1990s, none of the rhinos dehorned at the time were killed by poachers.
The second possibility is to educate consumers. The majority of rhino horn sold is used in medicines. Although rhino horn is believed to have health benefits, this belief has no scientific foundation. Rhino horn consists almost entirely of keratin, the same material found in human hair and nails. Keratin has no known health value. Educating consumers about keratin could greatly decrease the demand for rhino horn.
The third possibility is to legalize government sales of rhino horn. Some governments have large amounts of horn, taken from poachers they have arrested. This horn is often kept in storage. However, if government sales were legal, large quantities of horn that governments already have could be sold at very low prices. Poachers kill rhinos because consumers pay high prices for their horns. If governments started selling cheap rhino horn, rhino poaching would no longer be profitable and would probably stop, at least for a while. That might help endangered rhino populations to recover.
Sponsoring certainly must be done to save the rhinoceros from extinction. However, the solutions proposed in the reading have significant weaknesses.
First, the idea of dehorning rhinos is neither practical nor good for rhino survival. To dehorn rhinos, you have to find them in the wild, prepare them for surgery, and then remove their horns. But even we have time and money to do all these, we’d likely be deducing rhino’s chances for survival. Rhinos have horns for good reasons. They use them to dig for water, to break branches when looking for food, to guide and protect their young, and to protect their territory. So while dehorn rhinos may be unattractive to poachers, there’re also really disadvantages in the wild.
Second, educating consumers is unlikely to be effective. Many people have strong cultural beliefs about the healing powers, the health benefits, of rhino horn. These beliefs are very ancient. They go back thousands of years. Educating consumers works best when consumers don’t already have strong ideas about something, but when consumers have very old and very strong beliefs, new scientific evidence is unlikely to easily change their minds.
Third, the effect of governments selling rhino horns legally could actually be unpredictable. Currently, many people who want rhino horn may not buy it because it is illegal. But if governments start selling rhino horns, buying rhino horns would become acceptable, and many more people might start buying it. In other words, the demand for rhino horn might grow dramatically, creating a much larger market for the horn. The laws of economics suggest that the larger demand would increase prices, and high prices would in turn attract poachers, so poaching might not stop. Instead, poachers might continue killing rhinos and selling their horns because the government’s sales may create a large and lucrative market.