Legal Horn Trade: a Reckless Gamble?

THE LEVEL OF DEMAND FOR RHINO HORN WOULD GROW IF TRADE WAS LEGALISED.
 

Trade 1

Photo: Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation

Legalising trade of rhino horn would be a reckless path to take to try to end the rhino poaching crisis. The estimated level of demand for rhino horn is based on illegal trade – ignoring millions of potential consumers from countries that have implemented the CITES international trade ban – who would be eager to buy rhino horn products if it was legal to do so, as demand would be encouraged. Sales via the internet and TCM outlets worldwide would increase demand vastly too.
 
Rhino horn products would be marketed as a cure for cancer as well as many other ailments such as impotence, hangovers, fevers, etc. There are many new uses invented – as a fashionable ingredient in designer cocktails, beers, creams, made into jewelry – and many old uses that would be revived – rhino horn libation cups, chalices, janbiya, khanjar, (now made from other materials like bone), ornamental carvings or whole rhino horns mounted as status symbols to own or give away as prestigious gifts. If the international ban was lifted and trade was legalised, demand would skyrocket!

The demand for such rhino horn products reduced the number of rhinos across Africa and Asia from around 500,000 at the beginning of last century to 70,000 in the 1970’s when CITES enacted an international ban on all trade in rhino horn to try to save wild rhino from extinction. By the early 1990’s all consumer states had enforced the ban, demand was drastically reduced and poaching had become negligible. Around 2002 the ban was broken and demand for rhino horn was re stimulated – mainly in Vietnam and China – but that trade is limited by the international ban. If trade in rhino horn was to be legalised demand for rhino horn would grow rapidly.

Wealth
 
There are millions more potential consumers in China, Japan, Vietnam, North and South Korea, Taiwan, Oman – and many other Asian and Middle Eastern Countries now – who would return if it was legal to use and own rhino horn products and display status symbols openly. For example:
 
In China there are around 1.4 billion people, 400 billionaires and 4 million millionaires.

In Japan there are around 128 million people, 24 billionaires and 1.1 million millionaires.

In Vietnam there are around 93 million people, 2 billionaires and well over 208 millionaires

In North and South Korea there are around 75 million people – 35 billionaires and 500 millionaires in South Korea (North Korea not available)

In Taiwan there are around 25 million people and 280,000 millionaires
 
In Oman there are around 2.8 million people and 12,000 millionaires 
“While the khanjar is most prevalent in Oman given its symbolic status there, it is also worn by men in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, forming an integral 
component of “traditional dress” in those countries. It can also be found and is sold in other Gulf Arab states, such as the Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar. The khanjar is a popular keepsake among tourists, and is the Sultanate’s best-selling memento.”
 
There are many other Asian and Middle Eastern countries where demand for rhino horn products and artefacts will grow if legally marketed as a powerful cure for ailments, a status symbol which bestows good fortune and good health on the owner, for use as dagger handles, for use in religious ceremonies and for detecting poison.

There will also be a high level of demand from Internet Sales (already widely used for illegal sales), TCM outlets on High Streets and wealthy individuals, worldwide. This level of demand would not be sustainable from farmed rhinos once stockpiles are depleted – and stockpiles will not last as long as expected if a lot disappears via the back door and ‘theft’ – as always. 
 
The demand for wild rhino horn will not go away either as it is believed to contain the powerful, natural life force of the wild animal and is more highly valued than farmed rhino horn. All intact rhino horns from farmed rhino will be a lot shorter in length than the horns of wild rhino, which could be delivered by traffickers with the base intact to prove that it was obtained from the wild. Wealthy clients who demand only the best quality would order wild rhino horn, permits are easily forged and few follow-up checks will be made. So legalising trade will not stop poaching – it will simply increase demand for rhino horn to unsustainable levels, worldwide, and wild rhinos, across their range, will be wiped out by the powerful trafficking syndicates in the long run.

The best long term solution to saving wild rhinos from extinction would be to eliminate all demand for rhino horn and close down the markets. Anyone who sells or buys rhino horn is adding to the poaching crisis because there is too much corruption, too many powerful syndicates, too many potential consumers, and too few rhinos left to ever control regulated trade in such a vast market. Farmed rhino would not breed or grow horns fast enough to keep up with demand growth. Rhinos are not herd animals and should not be farmed in hundreds!
 
Encouraging demand for rhino horn is immoral and senseless since that demand is based on a myth about its medicinal and spiritual powers.  It is also reckless and proposed economic models suggested that further research is needed to  understand the markets involved. Once stockpiles are depleted, demand would have grown to unsustainable levels and wild rhinos could be wiped out within a decade. 

Syndicates, Poaching and Regulated Trade

REGULATED TRADE OF RHINO HORN WILL NOT STOP POACHING AND TRAFFICKING AS LONG AS POWERFUL SYNDICATES OPERATE ABOVE THE LAW

There are many powerful Syndicates and Triads operating in Africa and Asia that take advantage of the weak wildlife laws and high levels of corruption. They trade endangered species products that are trafficked from Africa, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to supply ever growing demand in insatiable markets across Asia.
Lawless hubs, where illegal wildlife trade is carried out openly, such as the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, allow illegal trade of endangered species to continue unchecked. Casino based towns, set up on the borders of China (to cater to Chinese visitors and traders) by the Kings Roman Group (with investment from Governments and reportedly, Drug Cartels), act as conduits for illegal trade. Wildlife MarketsIn these towns (eg. Boten and Ton Pheung in Laos; Mong La and Tachileik in Myanmar), a blind eye is turned to the trade of endangered species products such as tiger skins, tiger wine, rhino horn, pangolin scales and meat and poached ivory. In fact, the markets are always heaving with illegal wildlife products being sold openly in these centres. As demand increases new centres open.
 
International/trans-national organised crime is estimated to generate US$1.3 trillion per annum. Illegal Wildlife Trade is estimated to contribute US$17 billion and Environmental Crime as a whole, between US$72-213 billion as estimated by Interpol. These Criminal Syndicates deal in so many commodities that they are able to stockpile and withhold products and – in the case of rhino horn – bank on extinction in the wild to increase the value of poached wild rhino horn. Rhino horn is now one of the most valuable commodities on earth – and wild rhino horn is even more highly valued than farmed rhino horn. There is no reason why these powerful Syndicates and Triads would walk away from such a highly profitable market when the product (rhino horn) can be obtained and trafficked so easily through bribery and corruption. The sooner rhinos become extinct in the wild – across their range – the more valuable wild rhino horn stockpiles will become.The Chinese Triads of Hong Kong are moving into mainland China in a big way. They are now established in most major countries too – including South Africa. There are believed to be about 50 Triads based in Hong Kong alone. Their membership, many years ago, was approximately 300,000. Today who knows?

The most powerful of the Hong Kong triads are:


  • 14K

  • Sun Yee On

  • Tai Huen Chai

  • Wo Shing Wo

  • Shui Fong

  • Wo Hop To
 (prominent in Australia)
  • Luen Group

  • Rung Group

  • Tung Group

  • Chuen Group

  • Shing Group


Then there are the big Triads based in foreign countries:


  • Bamboo Union, Taiwan

  • Four Seas Gang, Taiwan

  • Lo Fu-chu, Taiwan

  • Sio Sam Ong, Malasia

  • Ang Soon Tong, Singapore

  • Wah Kee, Singapore

  • Salakau, Singapore

  • Ghee Hin Kongsi, Singapore

  • Wah Ching, San Fransisco

  • Black Dragons, Los Angeles

  • Flying Dragons, New York City

  • Ah Kong, Amsterdam

  • Black Jade, Texas

And this is just the Triads. Then there are the Tongs (expat Chinese Gangs), various Italian and Russian Mafia, the Eastern European Block Syndicates, the Middle Eastern Syndicates, the Xaysavang Syndicate (Vixay Keosavang seemingly untouchable!) and theIllegal Ivory Trafficking African Syndicates and Terrorist Groups: Lords Resistance Army, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, Mungiki, poaching ringleader Boniface Matthew Mariango (arrested), Janjaweed, etc. 
With such sophisticated and powerful International and local Syndicates, Triads, Warlords and Gangs operating, regulated trade of rhino horn would be impossible to control. The black market in firearms, diamonds, oil and cigarettes has never been closed down. In Triad raids in Hong Kong, police seized $76 million worth of black market cigarettes.

 
It would be far faster and easier to eliminate all demand for rhino horn than it would be to try to close down the Trafficking Syndicates and Triads or to stop Warlords and Gangs operating. If all talk of trade ended, and there was global backing for programs such as RRP and Demand Reduction Campaigns, people could easily be persuaded to stop using and buying rhino horn – a bogus product that costs a fortune and has no power to heal or bestow good fortune on the owner.