Late last year the Western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in West Africa. This year South Africa, home to up to 80% of the world’s rhino population, has had to deal with incredibly high levels of poaching. They are being killed for their horn, even by the very people that are meant to protect them, which sells for an astronomical amount. If the trade on rhino horn was lifted South Africa would be sitting on a stockpile worth R10 billion!
The question now is how can you protect them? There are enhanced restrictions being put in place and even soldiers are used to protect them but evidently that isn’t enough. The sheer amount of money involved in the rhino trade means that there is no way it will be stopped through such means, much as the war on drugs has been a dismal failure. The only way that you can stop something like the trade in rhino horns is to remove the demand for the product.
That, of course, brings us to ask, “Why do people want rhino horn?” The answer is, very simply, that they are misinformed. In Vietnam, rhino horn is now seen as a cure for cancer while before it was believed to be seen as an aphrodisiac in many Asian countries, a position mocked in the hilarious comedy Oh Shucks! Here comes UNTAG. In China, sex pills are now made from human foetuses instead. These beliefs can’t just be removed by telling the people that they are false, that has been done but they won’t listen. The only way to address the problem is to teach people evidence-based thinking.
While we may want to preserve the rhino we need to recognise that it is just the symptom of a much bigger problem, that of people holding beliefs without sufficient justification. This manifests itself in many more ways than just rhino poaching but in all forms of alternative medicine, faith healing and all manner of superstitions. But this it’s unlikely that this advice will be taken when the South African government is happy to endorse things like traditional healers, even when there are many examples of murders motivated by muti. All these cases are people acting on beliefs that are not supported by evidence and it is imperative that we teach people that beliefs can only be held when there is sufficient evidence to support them. If that does not happen then more and more of such stories will pop up.