Magical Thinking

Image credit: laschi / 123RF Banque d'imagesHumans like to imbue animals with special qualities. Dogs are loyal in some cultures, dirty in others, and a source of meat in still others. It seems that the more impressive the animal is to humans – especially top predators, large animals like elephants, sharks and rhinos, or unusual animals like pangolins – the more we impart magical thinking to their body parts. Teeth, tusks, horns, claws, scales – it’s easy to think that these might have wondrous powers for human use, all evidence to the contrary.

South Africa, home to over 70% of the world’s remaining rhinos, announced it will be seeking permission to sell some of its stock of rhinoceros horn, with a black market value estimated at $1 billion, from CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, at the next major meeting in 2016.

The main markets for rhino horn are Vietnam and China, where the horn is sold at prices equalling that of gold, and is used in ‘traditional’ medicine for a number of ailments.

According to a Reuters article, “up until about 2010, only a handful (of rhinos) were poached, but the number shot up when a rumour spread that rhino horn had cured a Vietnamese minister’s relative of cancer.” Studies have shown that rhino horn is about as medically effective for any given ailment as biting one’s own fingernails.

The government of South Africa has proposed legalizing the trade of rhino horn in order to better control it, and to sell off the existing stock to flood the market and lower prices. Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.

To my mind selling rhino horn, illegally or through legal channels, only promotes the erroneous notion that the horns have any medicinal value.

As hopeful as the proposal might be, I can’t really see how, in the long run, this will protect the animals themselves or prevent their demise any more than ground rhino horn can prevent or treat cancer.

Rhino numbers Source:

Rhino numbers


Bloomberg articleSouth Africa Backs Proposal to Legalize Rhino Horn Trade by Mike Cohen & Paul Burkhardt

2012 article that discusses the legalization of rhino horn trade.

International Rhino Foundation website

African Wildlife Foundation website

ScienceDaily article – Scientists Crack Rhino Horn Riddle

Save The Rhino website


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