Rhinoceros Poaching in the Context of Globalization

This year Yale Model United Nations introduced an essay contest as one of its new educational initiatives. For this contest, delegates were asked to submit a brief piece examining an aspect of globalization and how it has transformed the modern world. From an incredible selective pool the top three essays have been selected for publication online on YRIS. The following is the Third Place essay by Margaret Victory.

Written by Margaret Victory

My daily perusal through Instagram a few nights ago was interrupted by the message “#stoppoaching,” followed by the horrific image of a blindfolded rhinoceros about to be stripped of its horn. Naturally, most teenagers, cocooned by the luxuries of a first-world country, protected from the dark and distant worlds of conflict and crisis, will experience a fervent emotional response to such a picture of the rhinoceros. I started to witness dozens of teens suddenly proclaim their desire to “#stoppoaching,” but I wondered if any of my peers who had developed this newfound ethical morality had known about the multiple previous efforts to control poaching. Due to porous international trade barriers and the seemingly contradictory nature of globalization, the poaching of endangered species has become a global topic for discussion; the question is, how can the international community minimize poaching while also accounting for the positive and negative effects of such actions?

For the purposes of a more specific essay, I will concentrate on the poaching of black and white rhinos in southern African nations, a region with a long history of attempting to create manageable poaching levels thanks to government participation and aid from private organizations. It is important to first consider why people have continuously turned to poaching, and the answer is simple: money. In a global context, the horn of a rhino is valuable especially in Asian nations due to century-old traditions. Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, calls for ground rhino horn to treat multiple ailments including headaches and gout (1). The use of the rhino horn has persisted despite the taboo of poaching due to the fact that the horn is seen as a pharmaceutical necessity. Not only this, but new uses for the horn are developing in nations like Vietnam, whose wealthy citizens buy the horn for its emotional benefits, “as it reaffirms their social status among their peers” (2). Because of this, the demand for the scarce, valuable horn has been consistent and horns can run up to $60,000 (4). Thus, it is obvious why some impoverished citizens in southern African countries are eager to engage in rhino poaching.

The international community first responded to initial increases of poaching levels in the 1970s when CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, was implemented. Within the first Appendix, a ban was placed on all trade involving rhino horn (8). It was hoped that such ban would effectively tackle the poaching crisis however, the convention failed to recognize that where consumer demand exists, supply will be available even in the face of a trade ban. The immediate result of the ban was a drastic increase in the price of rhino horn on the market, which consequently drove up the value in the eyes of consumers. This rise in the price level of rhino horn would provide further incentive for poachers to continue killing the rhinos. The negative effects of the initial ban caused the creators of CITES to encourage more countries to establish a ban on rhino horn trade and “the US government threatened four remaining key consumer countries with trade sanctions unless they passed and enforced strict domestic laws against the use and sale of rhino horn” (6). The effect of this was initially positive, due to the fact that the number of black rhinos began to increase. However, the demand of consumers was still not addressed which is why East Asian interest in purchasing the horn picked up in the early 21st century.

The rise in rhino poaching was met with reactions from private, NGOs, since the legislation of CITES was evidently not enough to control the issue. From the perspective of multiple non-governmental organizations, the problem that needed to be tackled was the maintenance of consumer demand. By working to reduce international consumption of endangered species products, such as rhino horn, as well as enhancing conservation support, these NGOs address the problems that international diplomacy failed to do. For example, WildAid’s slogan is “when the buying stops, the killing can too” (7).

Proponents of demand reduction are met with large criticism, however, since private rhino owners in African nations believe that legal trade in rhino horns may be the most successful method in controlling the killing of rhinos. The contradictory nature of globalization is extremely evident in this method: how could legalizing rhino trade ever control the problem? The answer is that the market price for trade in these products would fall as a result of legalizing in trade; if the product is easier to obtain, then the consumer will pay less. This in turn, minimizes the incentive of poachers since they will make less money on rhino horn than they had before. For example, China has recently decided to loosen its 25- year ban on rhino horn trade, an act that government officials have deemed necessary in order to “manage legal demand” (5). Time will tell what effects this action will have on the market and consumption of rhino horn, and this may ultimately determine further action that may go as far as to legalize the illicit trade all together.

The globalized industry of the lucrative rhino horn trade has clearly inspired international committees, NGOs, and even teens (like my peers) to become aware of the poaching issue and take some sort of action. Over the decades, the industry has evolved into a global market, but also a global problem which has produced several methods of resolution that are still works in progress. Before appropriate maintenance of poaching levels can be attained, people must work to recognize the positive and negative effects that any solution may have since globalization of an industry ties business to multiple aspects of society.


(1) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/rhinoceros-rhino-horn-use-fact-vs-fiction/1178/

(2) https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino-info/threats/poaching-rhino-horn/

(3) https://www.savetherhino.org/thorny-issues/tackling-the-demand-for-rhino-horn/

(4) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/online-rhino-horn-auction-set-open-south-afric a-170821043921244.html

(5) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/experts-fear-impact-of-china-lift ing-trade-ban-on-tiger-and-rhino-parts

(6) https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/rhino-poaching-what-is-the-solution/

(7) https://wildaid.org/about/

(8) https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/app/2015/E-Appendices-2015-02-05.pdf