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Saving African Rhinos

  • Michael `t Sas-Rolfes

    In 1900, the southern white rhinoceros was the most endangered of the five rhinoceros species. Less than 20 rhinos remained in a single reserve in South Africa. By 2010, white rhino numbers had climbed to more than 20,000, making it the most common rhino species on the planet.

    Saving the white rhino from extinction can be attributed to a change in policy that allowed private ownership of wildlife. While protecting the rhinos encouraged breeding, the ranchers were able to profit by limited trophy hunting.

    Poaching for rhino horn, which is in high demand for medicinal and ornamental purposes, had also devastated the rhino population. CITES banned the commercial sale of rhino horn, which caused black market sales to sky rocket and encouraged poaching. If the ban were lifted, ranchers are ready to supply the market by harvesting the horns humanely, which then regrow just like fingernails.

    Strong property rights and market incentives have provided a successful model for rhino conservation, despite the negative impact of command-and-control approaches that rely on regulations and bans that restrict wildlife use.

    Mike ’t Sas-Rolfes is a sustainability economist, with unique experience and understanding of the role of markets for biodiversity conservation. He has been actively involved in various private conservation initiatives for 25 years, starting as a financial manager of a private game reserve in South Africa. Michael conducted pioneering research into the role of private markets for wildlife conservation in Southern Africa, and worked with Dr. Francis Vorhies in setting up Eco Plus, an innovative consultancy on business, economics and the environment. His consulting experience includes work on issues as varied as energy policy, environmental impact assessments, trans-frontier conservation areas, wildlife trade policy and institutional reform in protected area management. Past clients include the World Energy Council, USAID, WWF, TRAFFIC International, Africa Resources Trust and Save the Rhino International. He has also written extensively on various conservation issues, especially relating to trade in endangered species, and has been involved with teaching and supervision of students.  He has also worked and published with several think tanks, including the Free Market Foundation, Institute of Economic Affairs Environment Unit, Property and Environment Research Center and the International Policy Network.

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