Synthetic Horns and Tusks can be the Answer
This has been a very difficult post to write because there are quite a few issues involved here, and it is hard to come up with a perfect solution to the devastating problem of illegal poaching without making a lot of people very angry.
Before I carry on let me explain why a wannabe writer living in the North East of England deems it necessary to write about the market for illicit elephant and rhinoceros tusks and horns. The simple answer is that I spent the first twenty odd years of my life living in Zambia and South Africa, so I have an affinity for the wildlife of the continent. I have been to the Kruger National Park and other game reserves, and have seen these magnificent beasts in their natural habitat. So I would hate to see us fail to keep future species of animals from going extinct, yet that is exactly what could feasibly happen unless we start playing the game a lot better. Asking for money to send to Africa, India or wherever else is all very good and noble because it eases the conscience and makes us feel better as human beings. But it doesn’t stop the poachers. Because they will still sneak into the parks, butcher their targets and sneak off again with thousands and thousands of dollars worth of tusks or horns.
And why? That’s easy – the tusks and horns hacked off the bodies of these animals (dead or alive) are worth a large fortune. Whether on a wall, as a trinket or ground down into powder for medicinal use. The demand is there and consumers don’t care where the product comes from. And it does not matter one bit who bans what, or which new innovative measures are put in place to combat illicit ivory or animal parts trade – the poachers will always win because the demand can never be met- that is the unfortunate economic reality here. Think of the drugs war – it is totally unwinnable for the same reasons.
Unless the global community comes together and fights dirty. And how do you do that? These hunters have better technology and resources than the games parks! Just like the drug dealers of the world. And in a similar vein, the poachers don’t have to play by the rules, they have any means at their disposal to succeed at any cost. So why can’t the organisations that are trying to save endangered animals do the same? Well, it turns out that there is a weapon that could be used – but it would require global agreement and participation to do it, and this is where I really believe we could win or lose to the poaching industry.
We have created Dolly the sheep and apparently put men on the moon. We have even grown a new spinal cord for a dog. And now we can also manufacture synthetic rhino horns and elephant tusks. Think about that for a minute… this could change everything, if only the global community grew its own spinal cord! The international community of conservationists, game parks and nature reserves and governments around the world need to realise the following:
- Demand for animal body parts can never be stemmed, so work with this reality in mind.
- Politically correct and traditional methods of combating illegal poaching and animal trade have never worked and will never work.
- If something absolutely disruptive is not done soon then elephants, rhinos and tigers will follow the quagga and the dodo.
Fire with fire…
I would propose four strategies for obliterating the trade in illegal animal parts:
- Ban big game hunting altogether. If you want a set of elephant tusks in your bar then go and buy a pair from Walmart or online. You don’t get to eliminate the world’s animal population just to feed your fragile ego. If you are caught hunting certain species you do jail time AND pay an extortionate fine to the local community that has been robbed of its natural resources.
- Animal populations should be better managed by the game parks. Sterilisation or redistribution of male bulls to other parts of the world or zoos can be used. Allow local populations to co-own their own animal parks. Educate local populations on the lucrative business of tourism, and then attribute a tourist dollar value to the sighting of an endangered species. A live animal should be worth more in monetary terms than a dead one – no rhino / elephant = no tourists wanting to spend money = no wages for the local community.
- Send in the army! The South African Defence Force used to love its bush wars, so let them start another one – against the poachers. Perfect training for them and useful at the same time. Shoot to kill policy where the hunters suddenly become the hunted. It only seems fair…
- The price of ivory, horns or other animal parts has to be dropped to the price of a can of Coca-Cola. There is simply no other way to save endangered animals because the most powerful force involved here is supply and demand. Increase the supply enormously and the price has to drop, thereby killing the demand for ILLEGAL product. If demand goes up, then at least synthetic production can follow.
The Amazon effect
Who is the most disruptive retailer in the world, and why? I would argue that this has to be Amazon because you can buy whatever you want, wherever you want at the lowest price anywhere. Now translate that into the illegal horn trade: tonnes and tonnes of synthetic ivory are manufactured across the world, and then fed into the animal horn market, both covertly and overtly.
- Covert product – synthetic horns and tusks absolutely flood the illegal market by whatever means necessary. This product is not labelled as synthetic so that no distinction is made between natural or factory product. The aim is to drop the price of ivory / horns so that it is no longer a viable option to poach for it.
- Overtly the market is then saturated with the product so that the end consumer can’t tell where his ivory is coming from. The consumer should at this stage only care about the price – and that’s where the poaching rings are destroyed.
Pretty soon you will have a situation where retailers across Vietnam (the world’s leading consumer of rhino horn) can buy as much product as they want from reputable wholesalers at a quarter of the price that they once had to when they were buying illegally poached horns. No criminal poaching organisation should be able to compete with the big wholesaling consortiums that are formed to manufacture and distribute legal horn and tusk products.
How fast would the price of ivory and rhino horn fall if every street vendor across the globe had access to kilogram after kilogram of the stuff? I mean, they already do now, but if the government or a massive wholesaler entered the market and disrupted it to the core then the prices would have to crumble. It should not be possible to identify synthetic from natural either. The retailers should be allowed to sell it as whatever they want to label it as so that no distinctions are possible. If an ‘Amazon effect’ could be created with the perfect quality product then the poachers would be aggressively pushed out of the market.
The mass market should get pushed towards government approved retailers that will only sell the synthetic product because that is the only way they can make any money. Illegal ivory and horns should just be too expensive to buy as stock if you are a retailer. It needs to be totally unfeasible to send a team of poachers into a safari park in Africa to bring back a truckload of tusks and horns because it is simply way cheaper and more convenient as a vendor to just buy better quality legal horns at the cash and carry.
Unfortunately, many organisations need to reach a consensus on many different issues and strategies in order for this to work to best effect. Egos need to be put aside and a sense of urgency needs to be initiated. While the experts are debating this theory and that, the poachers are getting closer to a point of no return. Nobody wants to visit plastic rhino models in a museum that roar when you press a button because all the real ones have died out while we had the means, but chose to do nothing.