Will a free market in horns save the Rhino?

Prof. Tyler Cowen has a depressing post on state of rhinos in the world. From around 500,000 rhinos in 1900 we have reduced them to just 29,000. As one of the article in Cowen’s post says, at this pace, we can just painfully say – Rhinos, it’s been nice sharing the planet with you.

The bans have barely worked so there are talks of having a free market in rhinos as a solution:

South Africa’s high court has upheld a decision to legalize domestic sales of rhinoceros horn, a controversial plan that some hope will reduce poaching by creating a legal source of supply, but limited to South Africa, for the endangered animal’s parts.

…John Hume, a rancher in South Africa with more than 1,100 rhinos, made the application with another farmer to overturn the ban. He said he can only afford to keep his farm going if the local horn trade is legalized.

Here is the WSJ story, and here is another useful source. Note this:

Right now, there are only 29,000 rhinos left on the planet, most of which are in South Africa. It’s an incredible drop from the 500,000 that roamed Earth at the start of the 1900s, and sadly, the majority have been killed as a result of poaching, which increased 9,000 percent (yes, you read that right) between 2007 and 2014.

That means more than 1,000 rhinos are now killed illegally each year for their horns. Most of these end up in Asia, where they can reach up to US$100,000 per kilogram on the black market. Those prices are driven by the fact that many countries see rhino horn as a status symbol, and in Vietnam it’s believed (with no evidence whatsoever) to cure cancer.

Farmers claim they can harvest rhino horn without killing the animals, critics claim that rhinos will be in danger as long as the Asian demand continues, and in essence legalization cannot make supply sufficiently elastic, sufficiently quickly, to solve the problem.

 Really sad to read all this. As we look for clever solutions of govt vs markets to solve the problem, the idea of killing rhinos for a mere horn is hugely discomforting. No end to human greed..

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