South Africa can’t keep up the cost of protecting rhinos, a new government report says – and trade in white rhino horn could be the answer

Business Insider SA
  • Private landowners in South Africa – critical to the protection of white rhinos – are losing interest in stocking and securing them, a new government report says.
  • Ecotourism can still make for a profit on white rhinos, but with billions in security costs that business is becoming marginal.
  • Dropping a hard international ban on trade in their horns, though, could help.
  • For more stories, go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage. 

Trade in rhino horn may be the only way to protect the white rhino, a soon-to-be-official South African report in terms of the the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) says, because the economic incentive to keep rhinos are shrinking.

And with a combination of gun-shy private owners and donor fatigue threatening to reduce the money available for anti-poaching initiatives, South Africa stands to lose R6 billion worth of rhino if those incentives are not readjusted.

The report, formally known as a non-detriment finding on the Southern white rhinoceros, was finalised by the Southern African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) in July 2018, but published by environment minister Barbara Creecy on Thursday.

That formal publication triggers a 30-day comment period for anyone to offer "written scientific information" relating to its findings.

The report cites rising security costs as a reason why "private rhinoceros owners are showing an increasing tendency to disinvest in the species", leading to a flattening off in population growth when current populations hit the carrying capacity of the land they range on.

Private game farms are estimated to house 28% of South Africa's white rhinos, Sabi says. Those private owners still see some benefit from their rhinos thanks to ecotourism, "but the cost benefit of keeping them is vulnerable (benefits are becoming marginal)."

Private owners spent around R250 million per year up to 2017 to protect their rhinos, according to Sanbi's numbers, while the Kruger National Park spends around R3 million a year to secure its rhinos – but the state needs up to R1.3 billion a year to be sure its rhinos are kept safe.

"It is unlikely that the current investment in the protection of rhinoceroses from current sources (government and donors) can be sustained in the long term," Sanbi says. "Income derived from the sale of rhinoceros horn could assist both government and the private sector to continue funding the current investment in rhinoceros protection."

Failing to keep up protection, on the other hand, could cost South Africa big. Sanbi estimates that if 6% of white rhinos are poached every year – a conservative estimate that excludes recent spikes in poaching detected – the asset cost to South Africa will be R6 billion over the next 10 years.

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