A recent story about poachers breaking into the zoo in Paris and killing a rhino to saw off its horn has led to Czech and Belgian zookeepers pre-emptively sawing off the horns of their rhinos in captivity to thwart potential poachers.
That sort of supply-reduction thinking will work just as effectively as fumigating illicit cocaine crops and banning assault weapons. You cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. So long as there is demand for rhino horns, cocaine, and assault weapons, someone will step up to supply them.
The demand for cocaine and assault weapons seems easy to understand. But does everybody know why poachers kill rhinos for their horns?
Because many people in Asia believe silly ancient superstitions divorced from medicine and science.
VICE reports: “According to the Guardian, rhino horns are more valuable than gold or coke and can get up to $60,000 per kilo on the black market. Often they’re sold to clients in China and Vietnam as traditional medicine or aphrodisiacs.”
We have every medicine science can provide from Abilify to Zyrtec, with Cialis, Levitra, and Viagra in-between. We have a global communications network that can impart the factual information about which medicines work and which do not. But because Chinese and Vietnamese people have believed in a worthless folk medicine for 2,000 years, poachers can make more money on one rhino horn on one kill than they would earn in a year.
The life of a rhino is now essentially like a big gold chain and a pimped-out ride on 20” wheels; just something to show off your affluence.
Save the Rhino tells us that rhino horn is just keratin – no more medicinal than a horse hoof or a turtle’s beak. But because a Chinese medical text from 1597 said it would treat “fever, rheumatism, gout, …snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and devil possession,” rhino horn sells for over $1,700 an ounce.
It’s actually not considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese medicine, however. But since the West misinterpreted that translation, it now has become prized for rumored aphrodisiacal properties among people in Vietnam, which is now the country with most consumption of rhino horn.
Worse, as the poachers reduce the rhino population, the rhino horn becomes scarcer and more valuable. Its increase in value is now turning the faux medicine into a status symbol of great wealth:
A survey carried out by TRAFFIC in 2013 identified that the motivation for consumers buying rhino horn is the emotional benefits rather than medicinal, as it reaffirms their social status among their peers. Image and status is important to these consumers, they tend to be highly educated and successful people who have a powerful social network and no affinity to wildlife. Rhino horns are sometimes bought for the sole purpose of being gifted to others; to family members, business colleagues or people in positions of authority.
The life of a rhino is now essentially like a big gold chain and a pimped-out ride on 20” wheels; just something to show off your affluence. Where there were once over half a million rhinos roaming the southern areas of Africa, three of the five remaining species are critically endangered. Over 1,000 rhinos are poached in South Africa every year for the last three years.
For two-thousand years, people in the East have believed in ancient folktales that are contradicted by modern science. Since the late 16th Century, they’ve revered one book’s promotion of these wildly unscientific claims. Their superstitions create economic demands that can easily and more affordably be satisfied by science, but they instead believe the centuries-old book that leads to the death of innocents and disregard for the environmental damage left in its wake.
It’s a good thing the enlightened people of the West aren’t like that, huh?