A Committee of Inquiry has been established in South Africa to consider the arguments for and against such a move. The Committee will report back to Government later this year.
Proponents claim that legalizing international trade in rhino horn will enable the South African authorities, and those they would be trading with, to control the supply and price, and make poaching unprofitable. They also claim the income generated will provide much needed resources for rhino protection and conservation.
But when you start to dig into the likely impacts of legalizing trade, it fast becomes apparent that the proposed solution is seriously flawed and the risks involved are enormous.
Rhino horn is in demand in Asia as a component of traditional medicine for a variety of old and novel medicinal uses, but also, increasingly, for recreational purposes, as a high-level gift and as an investment. Demand is poorly understood, and the nature of demand is changing rapidly.
Surveys suggest that many potential consumers who do not currently purchase rhino horn would consider doing so if it were legally available. Legitimizing the product could bring swathes of new consumers into the marketplace, in Vietnam and other Asian countries. The inevitable shortfall in legal horn would undoubtedly be supplied by the poachers and illegal traders.