The unconventional sale may raise up to $30 million to protect the animals.
When it comes to the dealing of poached items from endangered animals, the public rarely views the acts in ethical shades of gray, but the recent announcement of a (legal) auction of 1,100 pounds of rhino horn is proving a little more complex than most transactions regarding the black market item.
The man selling the inventory is South African rhino breeder John Hume, who is using the proceeds to fund protective efforts for the animals. By selling what amounts to a 10th of his inventory at an estimated $27,000 per pound, the act could benefit the endangered animals in two distinct ways. The $30 million projected to be raised would be a windfall for protection efforts, and the influx of product on the market would also raise supply, thereby dropping the price of illegally sold rhino horn, possibly dissuading poachers from their pursuit in the future.
Hume is selling his supply using a recently enacted loophole in South African law that allows rhino horn to be sold domestically in certain instances. He has amassed the horns from his own herd, anesthetizing the animals and removing only the top portion in a “bloodless horn-harvesting” procedure, which has become more common in the fight against poachers.
While the result still involves the mutilation of rhinos, the ultimate goal is to protect them by turning buyers toward a legal and more human marketplace than the ones poachers have established.
One stakeholder in the fight, Neil Greenwood of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, isn’t buying the logic. “While this sale may be legal, it could well play into the hands of the criminal syndicates who are known to exploit any loophole for gain. We would appeal to rhino breeders to think again before proceeding with his auction,” he said.
The tactics exist in murky ethical waters, and the result may be less fruitful than proponents hope. But the auctions, on Aug. 21 and Sept. 19, will reveal to the world whether this unconventional approach could actually succeed in thwarting poachers and helping protect the animals.