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Can Rhinos Be Farmed for Their Horns?

Rhino farming and legislating the Big 5 top the latest wildlife news.

Can Rhinos Be Farmed for Their Horns?

Raising white rhinos in captivity seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s not working as planned. (Denver Bryan / Images on the Wildside)

A week ago (as I write this), a friend of mine returned from a trip to Zambia. He told me about some of the following items he read in the local papers while he was there.

It seems that a wealthy South African businessman, who made his fortune in the African tourism industry, wanted to do one last business venture before retiring. His name was John Hume, and his idea was to farm white rhinos for their horns. Hume’s idea seemed simple enough: Raise rhinos in captivity, remove their horns (the horns grow back in two or three years), sell the horns on the open market, and create a scenario where you make rhinos worth more alive than dead — thus eliminating poaching. It sounded like something that might work, because it would price the poachers out of the market. This idea has now been tried, and it hasn’t worked.

Here is what Hume did. He bought 21,000 acres, fenced it, stocked it with some rhinos, hired numerous workers, installed high-tech infrared security, and even purchased a helicopter to protect his farm from poachers. With poachers active in South Africa, protecting his growing rhino herd became paramount. At one point, he was spending thousands each month to do that. He kept poachers out, but there was one huge problem: The Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) does not allow the sale of rhino horns from South Africa.

Rhino horn is used in traditional medicine in Asia, with the major countries being Vietnam, Korea, and China. The perceived medicinal value is used for at least 20 ailments that include cancer and hangovers. The horns are also made into pendants, decorative carvings, tea sets, etc.

I found one publication on the legal status and arrests in Vietnam. In Vietnam major trafficking networks are linked to many African countries. In Africa, it starts with poachers who sell the horns to network operatives, who then smuggle the horns back to Vietnam. These operatives hire people to smuggle the horns in personal luggage on flights, or through seaports, air freight, and express-mail services. No matter where they enter Vietnam, there are lots of chances for kick-back payments to employees. The horns, or processed products, are then sold to consumers or smuggled into China.

There are some arrests in Vietnam. From 2017 to the end of 2021, the Vietnam Crime Unit was involved in 342 cases that included 394 individuals. Of those, there were 35 seizures of rhino horns at seaports, airports, and land borders. In 30 of those horn seizures, 59 individual arrests were made, and as of January 2022, 20 cases resulted in prosecutions and convictions. Prison sentences were given in 17 cases; 27 individuals received prison sentences that averaged six years. The highest sentence was 15 years.

The level of arrests from 2017 through 2021 showed no evidence that these arrests led to a decrease in rhino horn trade. The report I found on the Vietnam rhino trade noted the major problem was a “lack of aggressive investigations focused on network leaders…”

Hume has around 2,000 captive rhinos, with hundreds of pregnant females, but since he cannot sell the horns, he has them stored, and they are apparently worth over $5 million. Various groups have concerns about letting him sell horns. Some feel that legalizing trade in South Africa would stimulate poaching in surrounding countries such as Zimbabwe. Kill them in Zimbabwe and smuggle the horns into South Africa for legal sale. Another concern is that legal horn trade will drive up demand, and more poaching will result.

With thousands of rhinos to feed and protect, Hume is running out of money. So now he wants out. From April 26 to May 1, Hume held an online auction to sell everything. The minimum bid had to be $10 million. He’s hoping that some billionaire will buy his rhinos and all his facilities to keep his idea alive, until such time that selling them becomes legal.

Hume has definitely increased the number of white rhinos in Africa. If Hume’s ranch can stay open under another owner, it could be a source for rhinos everywhere — if someone will buy, move, and feed them with supplemental food as they get accustomed to their new environment in the wild. So, you see that what seemed like a great idea, has hit a stone wall for various reasons. Chances are that no one will bid on Hume’s rhino farm, and then what will happen to them? I’ll keep following this and let you know what happens.

New York Trying To Ban Trophy Imports

In March, the New York Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 3302 — the Big Five Trophies Act. Along with Assembly Bill 584, the Big Five Trophies Act would ban the importation, transportation, and possession of lions, elephants, leopards, black or white rhinos, and giraffes in New York. Bill 3302 has been forwarded to the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, but there has been no vote as of this writing.

There is nothing good here. Safari Club International has notified the New York legislators that such bills are preempted by the federal courts, which have held that state laws restricting such importation of species regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are unenforceable under the Endangered Species Act. They also advised that similar bills in New Jersey and California were struck down in 2016.

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SCI also noted that banning such imports negatively impacts populations of these species in Africa. The legislators who voted for this Act ignored the fact that hunter dollars create the funds used to manage these species in Africa. Safari operators also provide poaching patrols to prevent poaching. In addition, SCI pointed out that hunting encourages local residents to participate in the conservation of these species. The New York Senate also ignored the fact that most of these species are doing well, relative to numbers in the wild, and that the largest numbers live in countries where regulated hunting exists. What is it that these legislators don’t understand?




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