Last week the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that the number of African rhinos poached in 2015 has increased for the sixth year in a row and is the highest in the last decade.
The rise in slaughter of rhinos has been driven by demand for their horn by the growing middle classes in countries such as China and Vietnam, where they are prized for their purported medicinal properties. The horns are sold for about $60,000 a kilo on the black market, making it worth more by weight than cocaine and gold.
Poaching is rightfully not one of the issues on the animal liberation movement agenda. However the staggering fact that poaching rhinos for their horns, mainly for use in traditional medicine, still exists, not to mention increasing, should be noticed by the movement.
The fact that there is an increase even in industries that exploit big, iconic, wild and charismatic animals and from an endangered species, must be an alarming warning sign.
Obviously big, iconic, wild and charismatic individuals from an endangered species are not morally more important than any other individual. But most humans do view them as more important, and yet even they are far from being safe from humans’ cruel hands.
And not only that they are absolutely not safe, even some of the propositions for protecting them are violent and exploitative.
Desperate of trying to fight the poachers with enforcement, one of the suggestions is flooding the market with faux and cheap horns to disrupt the markets by driving the prices down and end the economic rationale for poaching.
The two main problems with this suggestion are that selling faux horn does not reduce the demand for rhino horn or dispel the myths around rhino horn and could instead lead to more poaching because it increases demand for “the real thing”.
And the second and much bigger problem with their suggestion to flood the market with cheaper fake objects made to look like they are real, is that many of them are real, only that they were not sawn off of a rhino’s head but of another species’ head.
There’s already an enormous amount of fake rhino horn, mostly made of water buffalo horns, on the market in places like Vietnam. But Rhinos are still being shot at ever-increasing rates in Africa. So it doesn’t help the rhinos and it does hurt other animals.
The most popular suggestion is to make a sustainable value out of rhinos, than it would make more sense to keep them alive than murder them. Since the horn of rhinos, same as humans’ fingernails and hair, can grow back, and specifically in a rate of about a kilo a year, what is more humanly logical than farming them?
In fact several such farms already exist in South Africa and China, breeding rhinos and regularly cutting off their horns in anticipation for the trade to be legalized in the near future. Since they currently can’t legally sell the horns, they are more of a future investment, waiting for the international ban to be lifted and then they will make a fortune. Meanwhile they sell some of the rhinos to touristic and hunting ranches to cover their costs.
In September, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) will meet in Johannesburg to discuss whether there are benefits to legalizing the international trade of rhino horn.
In either case the rhinos lose. If the ban on international trade continues, poaching would too. If it is canceled there would be another legal and regulated exploitation industry.
One wouldn’t have expected that by 2016 this kind of industry would still exist, not to mention increase. As you all know, industries that are on the animal liberation movement agenda are also increasing worldwide and in an extremely frantic rate. But when it’s still happening even to animals most humans do care about, it leaves no hope for animals humans absolutely don’t care about.
Rhinos are not more important than chickens and fish, obviously this is not a call to divert the fight to other issues, but it is a call to divert the fight to whole other measures.It is a call for the internalization of the message humanity is sending from time immemorial – animal exploitation is never going to stop.
Try to think of an industry that has truly ceased to exist? If you can, think whether it was moral reasons that ended it or was it other reasons. But more importantly, think how many new industries and new ways of exploitation were invented and keep being invented. And most importantly, think how the old ones keep growing and growing all the time.
If it is impossible even to save loved animals who are in danger of extinction, isn’t it about time to realize it is never going to happen with the rest. This is not a call to give up, on the contrary, this is a call to move on.