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Green Blog: Supply and Demand of the Rhino Horn

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 17, 2013    •    666 Views

By Amy Tourgee, guest blogger, Kent Place School alumna and Environmental Studies undergraduate at Princeton University

Hi again! Although I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus because of Kenya’s limited internet connectivity, I’m back for a while now posting every Wednesday morning!

My trip to Kenya was phenomenal, but I’m glad to be back in a country where Siri works and there’s a Starbucks in every town. One of the things I’ll miss the most about Kenya is the interaction with the wildlife every day – from elephants to giraffes to gazelle. We even got to see rhinos at a few national parks, even though they are enormously endangered.

A huge poaching problem exists in Africa surrounding rhinoceroses because the horn of a rhino is thought in many parts of the world to be a remedy for a variety of illnesses, from cancer to hangovers. Therefore, the price of rhino horn is high, and there is incentive for Africans to kill rhinoceroses and take their horns to sell, driving the rhino populations down. In order to prevent the rhino population from facing extinction, there is currently a ban on buying and selling their horns. Although the ban started in 1977, rhinos still face extinction to this day.

This Discover article poses an interesting idea, however, as a solution to this poaching problem: legalization of a highly regulated trade in rhino horns. The article makes a good point that the ban artificially restricts supply although demand is high, which increases the price for rhino horn and in turn the incentive for poachers.

While I think it’s really great to consider a diversity of possible alternative plans when a policy isn’t working, I’m not sure if this one would be completely effective.  Although the price of rhino horn might decrease under this regulated trade, it would almost definitely still be significantly higher than the average wage of an African – which can be as low as $2 a day. Therefore, I would imagine that people would still cheat the system and poaching would continue.

In the mean time, though, let’s all just try some Tylenol and a healthy dose of carbohydrates to cure our hangovers.

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