Let poaching carry the death penalty. De facto it already does
There are only two elements of importance when a rational approach to the rhino horn dilemma is required and these are both economic issues – ordinary demand and supply.
The first, demand, originates in Asia and the Middle East. In Vietnam and China, and several other places, primitive lovers are convinced powdered rhino horn improves their libido. Whether they are actually getting powdered rhino horn for which they pay so dearly is besides the question. The Asian user only wants to believe he is buying the genuine thing. This does not deter the smugglers because real rhino horn is still a very very expensive commodity for those users who have enough money to afford it. The combination of the real demand and the pseudo demand is what creates the market.
From a rational point of view it should be easy to dispel the nonsense about rhino horn. Simply inform the gullible customers that there is more aphrodisiac in biting your nails, than in swirling rhino horn, genuine or fake. After all, every logical, sane person knows rhino horn is just compacted keratin, the same stuff your hair and nails consist of. But try and sell this truth to an insecure, primordial consumer, and you see how powerful tradition can be regardless how stupid it is. So, it is up to Asian governments to educate their citizens to stop wanting rhino horn, it does absolutely nothing for the lack of masculinity.
Similarly, it is up to the Yemeni government, if it survives, to teach its macho youngsters it is not cool to kill a rhino just to be able to brag with the dagger in your belt. Again, tradition is a powerful evil and it hides all sorts of injustices. It also cocoons gentlemen who are not too sure whether they are men or not.
That is on the demand side. Take away the demand and the market collapses. Easier said than done.
On the supply side, the ramifications must be severe. It is up to the governments of those few African and Asian countries where rhino still occur, to protect them and to make 100% sure they stay alive. To achieve this on the continent means ALL relevant African countries must adopt a unanimous moratorium on trading in rhino horn. Reinforcing this resolve must come in the form of very vocal and visible campaigns in each individual state telling its citizens that rhino horn and ivory are even deadlier commodities than diamonds and red mercury.
The trade must be banned completely, no exceptions allowed. Rhinoceroses must become specially protected by the state. This must be understood by all. Both governments and conservation groups need to be supported so that they can meet the onslaught against rhino, in the veld, with a level of protection that repels any attempt to kill them.
This is the theory. The actual application can only work if conservation teams have enough funds available to pay for their own operations and to maintain a network of informants so that any intended poaching activity is known in advance. In the veld or the bush, protection teams must carry weapons that equals or outmatch those of the poachers. These criminals come well-organised, armed with automatic assault rifles, kitted with two-way communications, and rely on the support and the money of the international smugglers.
As we have seen in neighbouring South Africa, they are even supported with helicopters.
Finally, the protection teams must enjoy legal immunity from persecution after they have shot the poachers. And make no mistake, that is the only workable solution, poachers must be killed on the spot. It must be widely known that to embark on a poaching trip is akin to signing your own death warrant.
It brings me endless joy to learn this week our environment ministry is taking rhino and elephant poaching very seriously. We already have many protection teams on the ground. It is heartening to know that these selfless people who do a very dangerous job will finally start enjoying official support.
Listening to all these renewed undertakings, only one question flashed into my mind. How does a poacher find a rhino, of which there are only a few, in an area so vast as Etosha? It is not possible without “insider” help.