Saving The Rhino - Part 1 by Paul Ash Poachers continue to slaughter South Africa's rhinos as the price of horn skyrockets. Time to legalize the trade, Ash asks. In the autumn of 1892, a man named Frederick Courteney Selous set sail from Africa for England. Selous was in a deep funk. As the original Great White Hunter, he had, with his single-shot, 10-bore rifle, dispatched a great swathe of wild animals during a lengthy and bloody hunting career. Yet, despite months of searching, he had been unable to find and shoot a single white rhino specimen for a European museum. Selous and other hunters believed that, at most, a handful of rhinos had survived the unhinged slaughter of Southern Africa's wildlife in the closing decades of the 19th century.These were now frightened, gun-shy animals probably hiding in remote thickets in the difficult, malarial country between the White and Black Umfolozi rivers. A few years later, Selous wrote: "But that 20 of these strange old-world creatures are alive today, I very much doubt ... I cannot think that the species will survive very far into the coming century." Selous would probably have been greatly surprised to see what has happened a century later in South Africa. Not only has the white rhino survived, but there are now roughly 18,500 of them spread across national parks, game reserves and private farms. In many cases, Selous would not even have bothered to raise his rifle - because many have been dehorned in an attempt to prevent poaching, and horns have been locked in bank vaults. I recently visited a private rhino rancher (who requested his name be withheld). Formerly what he called a "normal" farmer, running cattle and growing vegetables, he turned to game ranching in the mid-1990s as the wildlife breeding business took off. Now he is just one of a growing number of private rhino owners in South Africa who, between them, own roughly 25% of the local white rhino population. The rancher has been breeding rhinos since 1994 with considerable success. "I think the white rhino is the most incredible animal in the world," he said. "It deserves to be protected." The large number of rhinos grazing happily in camps seems to confirm the idea that farming rhinos as if they were merely very large cows works. "Whether it's grapes or wheat or mangoes, give the job to farmers - they'll do it well." As part of his sustained effort to protect his animals, all have been dehorned. At current prices, the rancher's horn stash is worth millions of dollars, but there will be no payday for him or any other rhino owner until the ban on the trade in rhino horn is lifted. That is unlikely to happen any time soon - but legalizing this trade could be their salvation. Rhinos are protected under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which forbids trade in rhino horn. That white rhinos have prospered so well in South Africa is thanks to a legal market for breeding and selling them, driven by rising prices for live animals for both wildlife tourism as well as the vibrant trophy-hunting market. It is no small irony that the rhino, which had been hunted almost to extinction a century ago, has been saved by hunters. In October 1953, when legendary conservationist Ian Player conducted the first aerial survey of the Umfolozi Game Reserve, he counted 437 white rhinos. In the following years, Player and his team translocated dozens of rhinos to other parks and overseas zoos because they were literally running out of elbow room in Umfolozi. In the end, though, rhino survival is a matter of simple economics, says independent environmental economist Michael 't Sas-Rolfes. "Trophy hunting is largely responsible for the growth in our rhino population," he says. "The market has saved them." TOM MILLIKEN Regional Director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, is to become thematic program leader for TRAFFIC’s global work on elephant and rhinoceros trade, thus formalizing a role he has played for many years. Tom will bring to this position a wealth of knowledge and experience from his longstanding and excellent work for TRAFFIC, particularly in Africa and Asia. Trophy hunting attracts large sums of money from hunters, mostly from the US, Europe and the Middle East, who can afford to hunt a rhino. A trophy hunter may shoot one rhino a year and export its horn, subject to CITES provisions. That trophy hunting has saved the white rhino is a view that many conservationists and animal lovers find unpalatable. But the numbers do not lie: in 1982, trophy hunters paid $5,500 to shoot a white rhino; by 2008, the price had peaked at $54,000 before dropping to about $29,000 in 2010. If the trophy-hunting market ensured some sort of balance in the rhino business, the recent surge in poaching has not only wrecked the peace, but also threatens to drive the rhino to final extinction as the black-market price of rhino horn soars to astronomical levels. For the first time in recent memory, rhinos are worth more dead than alive. Conservationists believe the resurgent trade has been driven by declining stocks of available horn in Asian traditional medicine markets, most notably China and Viet Nam, where, although illegal in both countries, it is often used in preparations to cure fevers. Despite a popular myth constantly peddled in Western media, rhino horn is not used as an aphrodisiac. Tom Milliken, regional director for international environmental monitoring group Traffic, says improving economic performance and rising prosperity in the East means people can now afford traditional cures that were previously out of reach. "GDP is up, personal income is up and there's lots of disposable income," he says.