South Africa is facing its seventh consecutive yearly increase in rhino poaching and an unusual proposal for tacking the issue has come to light: legalizing the rhino horn trade.
A rhino's horn is made of keratin — the same material in our hair and nails — and is highly valuable in Asia, purportedly for its medicinal properties.
"We've tried everything else," says Pelham Jones, now head of the Private Rhino Owners Association, speaking about legalizing the trade. "From more guns to more boots to more cameras to more surveillance systems — but the poachers are always one step ahead of us."
Legalization might also send mixed messages to end-users of the horns, whose beliefs and behaviors conservationists are trying to change.
Buying and selling of the animal's horn was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1977, but domestic trade has continued in South Africa for decades, says the AFP. A sudden increase in poaching was seen in 2008, and the following year the South African government issued an embargo on domestic trade.
According to Le Monde, 2014 will be the most deadly year for the species — official figures show that between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1, 979 animals had been poached, compared to 1,004 for the entirety of 2013. If the pace continues in this country, home to 82% of the world's rhino population, in just a few years the mortality rate will surpass the birth rate.
While poachers are arrested and convicted, added the French daily, it is not always easy to prove their guilt in court. The previous conviction was in July, when a man was found guilty of killing three rhinos at Kruger National Park and sentenced to 77 years in prison.
Read more from the AFP here.