A controversial law proposed to stop rhino poaching could prevent the species becoming extinct, say conservationists.
A 9000% rise in rhino poaching over a period of seven years has left all five species of rhino in danger of extinction within the next ten years.
The increase has been fuelled by demands for rhino horn in China and Vietnam, where the horn is used in medicine. But research shows rhino horn has no medical benefits as it is made of compressed keratin, similar to human hair or fingernails.
By weight, rhino horn is worth more than gold, diamonds or cocaine.
Video: Dehorning (above) is a painless poaching deterrent and Professor Keith Somerville wants the horn that is sawn off sold to fund rhino protection.
The Northern White rhino subspecies is soon to be extinct as only three rhinos remain alive – all of which cannot breed. Whilst the Western Black rhino subspecies was declared extinct in 2011.
The most endangered rhino species, the Javan rhino, is extinct in Vietnam and is now only found in the Ujung Kulon peninsular, Indonesia.
Professor Keith Somerville, an African affairs expert, says the current legislation is not working and a legal international horn trade could halt poaching.
He adds money made from the trade could be reinvested in a bid to protect the animal.
“Legalising the trade in rhino horn and selling rhino horn obtained from dehorning rhinos without harming them, through an international, regulated body will supply demand without poaching.
“In South Africa, stockpiles of rhino horn, in the hands of both the Government and private owners, weighs over 30 tons.
“Given the horn costs $65,000 per kilogram, over 30 tons would bring in a huge amount of money.
“It will undercut the poaching market and supply the demand,” said Professor Somerville.
Will Travers OBE, President of the Born Free Foundation, does not think an international horn trade will stop poaching.
“I would not ever advocate the commercial trade in rhino horn as it’s a huge step into the unknown.
“I think it will stimulate poaching, stimulate a demand that’s badly understood and I think it might even open dormant markets that have long gone under like the dagger handle market in Yemen.
“I think if you legalise the rhino horn trade, the poaching community will have a legal benchmark, a legal price against what you can manage of your own supply.
“If tons of rhino horn is put into the market at $45,000 a kilo – the poachers will then say to the customers ‘you can go to John Hume (rhino farmer) or buy it off me for $30,000, your choice’,” Mr Travers OBE explained.
Video: Will Travers OBE discusses how a legal ivory trade did not stop demand, casting doubts over Professor Somerville’s theory.
Professor Somerville says rhino horn sold legally would be priced below the cost it commands on the black market.
“Even if you dropped it to $30,000 a kilogram, it’s still going to be an expensive and profitable industry,” said Professor Somerville.
South Africa recently lifted the ban on the domestic horn trade, meaning rhino horn can now be traded legally within the country but the global trade of rhino horn remains illegal.
It is expected that a legalised international horn trade will be discussed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) later this year, which will decide if the trade is legalised.