How legalization of the rhino horn trade could impact rhino welfare

Legalizing the rhino horn trade could be beneficial for rhino welfare, a study using 1000minds shows.

 

The poaching crisis facing Africa's white rhinoceros populations – most of whom are in South Africa – is one of the continent's leading conservation problems. 

 

A team of scientists surveyed wildlife and conservation experts using 1000minds conjoint analysis software to create a framework for assessing the impacts on the welfare of rhinos under either legalization or a continued ban on trade in rhino horns. 

 

1000minds was used to elicit and represent the experts’ preferences with respect to the relative importance of 11 welfare issues pertinent to a trade ban and/or a legal trade of rhino horn.

These and other findings were then used to calculate the welfare effects on rhinos of different rhino horn trade policies.

“Our results show that the individual [negative] welfare impacts of a legally dehorned rhino are significantly lower than for horn sourced through poaching,” the authors of the study wrote.

“This is largely due to the differences in a rhino's physiological and psychological distress in response to being shot versus being immobilised with anaesthetics.”

These results are especially significant in light of China's announcement in 2018 of the legalization of trading in rhino horn for medicinal purposes.

Currently, about 1000 rhinos are poached annually, worrying conservationists that rhinos may become extinct in the wild within the next few decades. The costs of protecting rhinos from poachers are high, which has encouraged calls for legalizing the rhino horn trade.

Legalization would provide a source of conservation-based income, decreasing the reliance on foreign aid. It could also decrease the black market by creating a steady supply of rhino horns.

In contrast, opponents of legalization argue that a legal trade in rhino horn would increase demand overall and thereby worsen poaching, as well as make poaching easier.

However, this study was the first to study the implications of legalization on rhino welfare, which is important as animal welfare organizations hold significant power in influencing policy.

Though individual rhino welfare would be greater under legalization, the impact on rhino populations overall depends on whether poaching would increase or decrease under legalization of the rhino horn trade, the authors conclude. 

The full study and the framework can be found here.