A gangster in an expensive coat and a Lincoln Model L stops on a bridge on the Canadian border. He is there to meet a lorry from Canada and check its shipment of whiskey. What he doesn’t know is that Eliot Ness and his ‘Untouchables’ cops are waiting in a nearby building, and the gangster will soon be dead. You may remember the scene from Brian de Palma’s 1987 film.
Today, that gangster’s successors run and even self-regulate a global industry worth more than US$500 billion. The spirits industry’s progression from Prohibition America to today is one of the most astonishing examples of market establishment in history.
Could the same happen to rhino horn and elephant ivory?
Currently, the trend is for more prohibition, not less. Due to pressure from the West, African governments burn priceless confiscated ivory and rhino horn. It’s all for show and solves nothing. If these countries were allowed to sell ivory and rhino horn under a regulated system, poaching would virtually stop.
“As long as the market is there, there will be poaching,” says Herman Els of South Africa’s National Hunting and Shooting Association.
“[They] are now starting to poison with the poison we call ‘two-step’, which is deadly. The two-step name, it comes from that if a dog eats as much as a match head of that poison, it takes two steps and dies. So now they poison the water holes and animals die there. And specifically where rhino and elephant go to drink so that they have access to the horn and they have access to the ivory.
“The added advantage is that they also all of a sudden have access to vultures and dead vultures are used for medicinal purposes.” (Like rhino horn to some Asian cultures, there are African indigenous people who believe vultures contain powerful medicinal ingredients) “There’s a magic substance attached to vulture parts especially eyes and the head, which is used in traditional medicine to enhance the ability of a hunter or a person to see further,” says Herman.
“Whether we think that’s nonsense, it’s what people believe. It’s the same as the rhino horn which the people buy in China or in the Eastern countries. It’s really got nothing to do with how you and I think about that. It’s how those people that use it think about it.”
Demand for rhino horn and elephant ivory is unlikely to go down, so poaching will continue. Burning tusks and horns will only make them more expensive and earn more money for the syndicates, corrupt politicians and smugglers involved at the international level.
History teaches us that strangling supply only makes products more desirable. The burning will not stop while the West tries to maintain its neo-colonial control over the continent, directed by animal rights groups and celebrities eager to boost their image by misleading the public.
“It’s an anti-use agenda and we’ll never accept it in Africa,” says South African journalist and writer Emmanuel Koro. “I know that Kenyans have been bought into doing such silly things. You know that they’re 100% funded from outside by animal rights groups – their parks and wildlife management authorities.
“They frustrate you to the extent that you can’t use your resources, then they start telling you we can burn them and then we pay you money. And in burning that, they will go back to their European constituents to say, we have [stopped] trade in rhino horn and in ivory. Victory. Can you donate money? So they are getting a lot of money out of it.
“When they burnt ivory in Kenya, in the front row, you had the likes of Richard Branson [and] Ed Sheeran. [They should] stick to business. Ed Sheeran: stick to making music – that’s his specialty – rhinos and elephants are not.”
The legal position of rhino horn is the subject of battles between different jurisdictions. CITES allows trade in horn from rhinos kept in reservations. South Africa banned the trade in rhino horn in 2009. South Africa’s constitutional court recently backed the trade within South Africa, and now the country’s politicians may be about to bring in new rules restricting it again.
Meanwhile, rhinos are becoming fewer all the time. Southern white rhino numbers in Kruger, South Africa’s biggest park, are down to a few thousand. The government says it does not have an exact number. Poachers are encroaching on private land, home to 70% of the white rhinos left.
If the governments and the West were to allow horn harvesting, this would not be happening. The rhinos would not suffer, the market would get its supply of rhino horn and the governments would earn legal tax dollars.
When the Untouchables busted a whisky shipment, Al Capone simply made more whisky. It’s not the same with rhinos. They don’t grow like barley. Without a sensible new system to harvest rhino horns, they have no future in Africa.
- Herman Els is executive chairman of the National Hunting and Shooting Association
- Emmanuel Koro is part of the True Green Alliance
Watch our film about rhino farming here: