Conceptual diagram of the international legal rhino trade scenario with breeding and wild rhino populations, legal and illegal markets and four mechanisms identified (as discussed in the four main sections of this study): a) financial viability for private rhino owners, b) demand for rhino horn, c) rhino horn washing, and (d) rhino horn consumer behaviour. Green arrows represent a potential positive effect (a higher/larger source leads to a higher/larger target), red arrows represent a potential negative effect (a higher/larger source leads to a lower/smaller target) and green/red arrows represent both a potential positive effect and a negative effect. Improving the financial viability of private rhino owners was thought to benefit both farmed and wild rhino populations. It has been assumed that demand for rhino horn will increase with a legal market, money laundering has been assumed to allow an increase in the illegal horn trade with a legalized market, and it has been hypothesized that programs to change the behavior of rhino users will be less effective if there is stigma suppressing the legal rhino market. (For interpretation of the color references in this legend, see the web version of this article.) Wong, R. W. Y. (2019). China and the illegal wildlife trade. Publisher: Springer International Publishing.
doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-13666-6 Smith, M. J., Benítez-Díaz, H., Clemente-Muñoz, M. Á., Donaldson, J., Hutton, J. M., Noel Mcgough, H., et al. (2011). Assessing the impact of international trade on CITES-listed species: current practices and opportunities for scientific research. Biol. Preservation. 144, 82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.10.018 Given the high likelihood of a substantial increase in demand with the legalization of trade, it is important to consider effective market forces to regulate this increase to avoid harming wild rhino populations.
Price is such a force that many studies have suggested influencing market demand (e.g., Milner-Gulland, 1993). However, the impact of price on aggregate demand, as well as illicit demand, is ambiguous and can lead to counterintuitive results. For aggregate demand, on the one hand, lower prices make rhinos affordable for more buyers, which could lead to an increase in overall demand (USAID Vietnam, 2018). On the other hand, a lower price could also weaken the effect of the anthropogenic avenue effect, i.e. a lower price makes it less attractive to people looking for luxurious or rare products. With respect to illicit demand, Biggs et al. (2013) argued that lower prices in the legal market are likely to reduce it. While it is true that a lower legal price can motivate people to move from the illegal market to the legal market, this is not always the case. As with marijuana, a legal market is more likely to reduce the illicit market if its price can compete with the illicit market (Morris, 2018). Markets for wildlife products are very different from perfectly competitive markets, suggesting that lowering the price may not be a good strategy because it is difficult to ensure that the price on the legal market is always lower than the illegal price. For example, bred tiger bones are 50-300% more expensive than poached tigers (EIA, 2013). In addition, illegal elephant tusks were sold for only one third of the price of legal tusks (Fischer, 2004).
When it comes to rhino farming, the minimum price for rhino horn profitability is about $11,500 per kg (Rubino et al., 2018). If criminal networks are able to supply horns at a lower price, consumers are still likely to buy illegal products. However, 63% of illegal Vietnamese rhino consumers would be willing to pay more if the product was scientifically tested by a trusted supplier, and 72% would still buy rhino horn with a 10% price increase (USAID Vietnam, 2018). As a result, a significant proportion of current illegal consumers are likely to migrate to the legal market, even if legal prices cannot fully compete with illegal prices. On the other hand, consumers often exaggerate their willingness to pay a premium (Katt and Meixner, 2020). In addition, these results also show that price is a minor issue for current rhino users (USAID Vietnam, 2018; USAID Wildlife Asia, 2018). This is supported by the notion that demand for rhino horn is inelastic to price changes (Crookes and Blignaut, 2015; Milner-Gulland, 1993). For example, despite a 40% increase in prices, demand for rhino horn in Yemen has increased significantly in four years (Vigne et al., 2007), and modelling studies have shown that declining rhino horn prices will not curb rhino poaching (Crookes, 2017).
These results suggest that the overall demand for rhino horn is impervious to an increase or decrease in price. The CITES-approved one-time sale of surplus elephant ivory in 2008 to reduce demand in Asian markets may have inadvertently triggered current demand for ivory and contributed to the current crisis and the deaths of 30,000 African elephants per year. This is important information to consider when discussing the legalization of national or international rhino horn trade. Rhino horn is coveted for its medicinal properties and as a status symbol. To end the rhino poaching crisis, it has been suggested that sustainably harvested horns from live rhinos could be sold in legal trade to international buyers to meet demand. At the same time, it can generate revenue to fund anti-poaching activities, create jobs for local people, deter poachers, and encourage private rhino owners to conserve rhinos. “The overall decline in rhino poaching is encouraging, but it remains an acute threat to the survival of these iconic animals,” said Sam Ferreira, Scientific Director of the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group. “To support the growth in rhino numbers, it is important to continue active population management and anti-poaching activities for all subspecies across ranges.” The family of all modern rhinos, the Rhinocerotidae, first appeared in Eurasia at the end of the Eocene. The first representatives of the Rhinocerotidae were small and numerous; at least 26 genera lived in Eurasia and North America until an extinction wave in the mid-Oligocene wiped out most of the smaller species.
Several independent bloodlines have survived. Menoceras, a rhinoceros the size of a pig, had two horns next to each other. North American teleoceras had short legs, a barrel chest, and lived until about five million years ago.