Snake oil threat to the world's rhinos

12/03/2013  WildLife Extra News

As the rhino poaching crisis, hits new troughs, some snake oil salesmen from South Africa want to enrich themselves by selling 'snake oil' to the Vietnamese. In this case, the snake oil comes in the form of rhino horn, which some rhino farmers in South Africa want to sell legally to Vietnamese businessmen who will sell it in Vietnam as a cure all for cancer.


Aside from the rights and wrongs for the rhinos of making them into a commodity, the ethics of selling, at vast expense, rhino horn, which is made of keratin, the same as your hair and mine, to ignorant and misguided people who believe it will cure them of cancer and various other ills, is as disgusting as any peddling fake drugs to any gullible member any public.

What are the penalties for pharmaceutical fraud in South Africa?
If a Vietnamese citizen was selling snake oil in South Africa for hundreds of thousands of dollars a go, and promising a cure for cancer et al, there would be a vast outcry and no doubt he would be jailed for many a year, and quite rightly so. So why oh why would it be ok for South Africa to sell rhino horn to Vietnamese as a cure?

South Africa's debate on ‘rhino-conomics' is preparing the ground for legal sale of horn, warns wildlife charity
South Africa is preparing to launch a campaign to legalise the rhino horn trade, warns Care for the Wild, following a debate on the merits of ‘rhino-conomics' at the CITES conference in Bangkok.

97% in favour of snake oil
Speakers at a South African government-hosted event, joined on stage by John Scanlon, the CITES Director General, said that 97% of private rhino owners supported the principle of a legalised trade in rhino horn.

Chief snake oil salesman
With the dramatic escalation of rhino poaching in South Africa and across the continent, the Chairman of the South African Private Rhino Owners Association, Pelham Jones, said that his country had lost 1875 rhinos in the last 10 years, and priced the value of their horn in the illegal marketplace as 3.5b Rand (US $381m).

For the first time at such a high profile event the delegation called for a lifting to the CITES ban on the international trade in rhino horn implemented in 1977. A local economist, Masuvo Msimang, added that as the top spenders in the market countries of China and Vietnam become wealthier, then consumption and demand will increase as well. He concluded that if demand is going to grow, then there may as well be a legal market.

Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild International, said that their argument was flawed, and extremely concerning.

"The danger is that legalising horn will feed the growth of the market rather than reduce the demand on poaching. This experiment has been done with previous authorised sales of stockpiled ivory to China and Japan. They did not work - demand rose, poaching rose and the price of ivory rose," he said.

"Most of the people calling for this are the highly influential private game reserve owners - some of which have been stockpiling horn for many years, and some of which have been harvesting horn also. The legalisation of trade in rhino horn from these sources would make overnight multi-millionaires of these key figures in South Africa. Their motives are therefore dubious and self-fulfilling and economically driven rather than conservation driven.

"The emphasis, as numerous studies have shown, must be on protection in the field, and quelling the demand at source in Asia. To do this, governments need to recognise the issues, work to stamp out the trade and encourage more leading local medical experts to confirm the lack of medicinal value of rhino horn."

These worrying developments came after another setback for wildlife charities, as a proposal by Kenya to put a zero export quota on rhino horn from South Africa and Swaziland was withdrawn due to opposition.

"This policy alone wouldn't have stopped rhino horn being sold illegally, but it was to be a small statement of intent showing that we need to do everything within our power to quell the trade," said Mr Mansbridge.

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