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September 19, 2011

Rhino Protection

Trade, loopholes, and legal sales

Humane Society International

  • Rhino populations are plummeting due to poaching for their horns. Sandra vom Stein/iStockphoto

  • This rhino in Kaziranga Park, India, survived for 36 hours after being mutilated for her horn. DSWF/Aaranyak

Update: In October 2011 HSI responded to a South African government consultation on rhino trophy hunting, calling for a full moratorium on the practice.

Most rhino populations have had legal protection from the impacts of international trade since the 1970s through their listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

However, the populations of white rhinos in South Africa and Swaziland were downlisted to Appendix II in 1994 and 2004 respectively, specifically to allow the export of live rhinos to “appropriate and acceptable destinations” and hunting trophies. Both countries allow foreigners to hunt southern white rhinos and to export the horns as trophies.

In recent years, Vietnamese nationals have been exploiting a CITES loophole by applying for permits to ”hunt” white rhinos in South Africa in order to export the animals’ horns, as “legal” hunting trophies to Vietnam, where many are thought to be illegally entering the traditional medicine trade.

In response, the South African government has stopped exporting live rhinos to suspicious foreign facilities, and is considering a moratorium on rhino hunting. HSI has written to the government of South Africa to express support for the hunting ban.

Ranching rhinos

South Africa has exported a large number of live rhinos (191 between 2006 and 2010), principally to China, raising concerns that companies may be planning to use these animals as breeding stock in order to set up commercial horn harvesting facilities to supply the illegal medicine trade. Indeed a Chinese company which has purchased a large number of live rhinos recently published a business plan centered on live “harvesting” of horn from the animals.

Worryingly, South Africa is studying the feasibility of harvesting horn from captive rhinos in an attempt to flood the market with “‘legal” horn. Such efforts to ‘farm’ wild animals (for example, tigers and bears) for their high-value products have singularly failed to reduce poaching levels in the past, and in many cases may have fuelled demand and resulted in an increase in poaching.


Some southern African countries already hold considerable stockpiles of rhino horns, collected from animals who have died or seized from poachers or illegal traders. These countries may be considering applying to CITES for dispensation to sell their stockpiles to East Asian countries in order to generate income (ostensibly for conservation projects) and in an attempt to flood the traditional medicine market with “legal” product.

However, with current demand and prices so high, such a move may serve only to stimulate further demand and lend legitimacy to the trade. Learn more [PDF].