Rhinos are in trouble. Poaching has decimated their numbers in the wild, and there are now only about 22,000 rhinos across Africa. Enter John Hume, a South African entrepreneur who, 15 years ago, launched a massive rhinoceros breeding farm to combat poaching. Hume aimed to create a sustainable horn trade, with a legal supply from farms like his that would reduce the attractiveness of poaching.
However, without any legal international trade, Hume is now selling his entire 21,000-acre farm operation, including almost 2,000 southern white rhinos, five hippos, 11 giraffes, and hundreds of buffalo, sheep, and goats. The sale begins on April 26 and ends on May 1, international Save the Rhino Day.
Hume hopes to find buyers who have “passion for conserving rhinos and the means to keep the breeding project going.” But who might have the funds and willingness remains an open question. Taylor Tench, a senior policy analyst who specializes in rhinos at the Environmental Investigation Agency, questions how the breeding operation is benefiting the species in the wild.
Hume’s breeding operation has helped increase rhino numbers in captivity, but Tench raises concerns about the financial viability of the operation for the buyer. The hope is that the buyer could receive biodiversity credits, which would be rewarded for environmental stewardship. However, that type of credit system isn’t a reality.
Any buyer will have to take on the cost of defending the animals. Hume spends more than $425,000 per month on farm operations, with more than half of that sum supporting security. Since the farm’s last poaching incident in March 2017, Hume’s Platinum Rhino Conservation Project has managed to keep poachers out, but it’s required a behemoth security apparatus of helicopter patrols, a radar system, and dozens of armed game rangers and dogs.
The sale could help conservation if the buyer has a genuine passion for rhino conservation and the financial resources to keep the breeding project going. Captive rhinos could theoretically give a boost to wild populations, and rewilding remains Hume’s hope. However, logistical and security requirements involved in finding a habitat with appropriate food, water, space, and safety from poachers are intense.
Who might buy Hume’s rhinos? Historically, South Africa has exported hundreds of rhinos for breeding and display at zoos. State-run entities, provincial level parks within South Africa, private reserves, zoological institutions, or foreign countries could all be bidders for at least some of the rhinos. However, there are concerns that a Chinese company might start breeding rhinos and set up its own domestic horn market—skirting CITES restrictions.
The sale of Hume’s rhinos highlights the complex issues surrounding rhino conservation. While captive breeding can increase rhino numbers in captivity, it remains to be seen how the practice benefits the species in the wild. A legal and sustainable horn trade could be a solution to reduce the attractiveness of poaching, but it’s not a reality.
Unfortunately, legal rhino horn sales won’t solve our problems. Critics say that legal rhino horn sales could actually boost demand, which would give new incentives to poachers. Making the trade legal and all of these other solutions won’t really help conservation in the end. We need to save the rhinos by catching and prosecuting poachers.
Much of Africa’s wildlife is in danger of being hunted beyond repair, as many of its species are already on the endangered species list. Poachers are one of the biggest threats, and sadly, the practice only seems to be growing. Sign this petition to demand that the US and EU provide funding for the Hack the Poacher platform, so we can find the poachers before they find and kill wildlife.
In the past five years, poachers have killed 138 endangered rhinos in Botswana, which has amounted to around a third of all rhinos in the area. In the five years before that, poachers murdered only two rhinos. Officials have determined this has to do with increased demand in the marketplace. The government of Botswana and conservation organizations are doing what they can to protect the last remaining rhinos, but they need our help. Please sign this petition to urge the international community to help protect endangered rhinos!
We can all do our part to support rhino conservation by donating to reputable organizations that support rhino conservation efforts or signing petitions to stop rhino poaching. Let’s ensure that future generations can still admire these magnificent creatures in the wild.
This article by Nicholas Vincent was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 11 April 2023.
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