We need to sell more rhino horns, quickly.
That may be the only way to save rhinos from extinction. Today, rhinos vanish because poachers kill them for their horns. Businesses turn their horns into ornaments or quack health potions.
Some horns sell for $300,000. No wonder poachers risk their lives for one. How do you fight an incentive that strong?
Flood the market!
That’s a solution suggested by Matthew Markus.
Markus’s biotech company can make artificial rhino horn in a laboratory that’s virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Put enough of that lab-grown horn on the market and supply and demand will bring the price way down.
Then poachers won’t risk getting killed trying to steal real rhino horn.
“One way to devalue something is to create a lot of it,” said Markus. “When things are abundant, people don’t kill.”
South Africa tried a mild version of this solution once. For 20 years, they made it legal to own rhinos and sell their horns.
Poaching dropped because legal rhino farming took away the poachers’ incentive. Rhino farmers bred rhinos and protected them. Once in a while, they’d put rhinos to sleep with tranquilizer darts and saw off their horns. The horns grow back. The rhino population quadrupled.
But animal welfare activists are never happy with any solution that involves profiting from nature. South Africa banned sales of rhino horn again. Poaching rose 9,000 percent from 2007 to 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Now South Africa is considering legalization again, but they will have to fight the NGOs.
Some, like Humane Society International, even oppose sale of that artificial horn. They asked the U.S. government to block a shipment of a sample of rhino DNA that might have created better artificial horn.
I confronted the Humane Society’s spokeswoman about that. Our interview will be one of the first videos for my new project: “Stossel on Reason.” I will post videos weekly on Facebook, Twitter and Reason TV. We start this week.
In this first story, the Humane Society’s Masha Kalinina passionately argues against re-legalizing rhino farming and the sale of artificial horn.
“This is dangerous! Absolutely dangerous for rhinos and their survival,” she says. “This is greenwashing an illegal activity… The problem is that people still see animals as commodities, natural resources for their use!”
The Humane Society even opposes artificial rhino horn, which would lower demand for poachers’ fare.
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