Global Advocates Warn Against Unintended Consequences of Synthetic Rhino Horn Trade
STRASBURG, Va., June 26, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A San Francisco company, Pembient, recently announced it will soon release two products made with synthetic rhino horn: beer in China and skin cream in Vietnam. In response to the emerging industry, two leading rhino conservation organizations vehemently oppose the manufacture, marketing and sale of synthetic rhino horn.
The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and Save the Rhino International (SRI) released a joint statement calling synthetic rhino horn trade ineffective at reducing the rising demand and sale of authentic rhino horn in Vietnam and China and, instead, potentially counterproductive in curbing the current poaching crisis that threatens rhino species with extinction.
“Synthetic horn could lead to more poaching because it increases demand for ‘the real thing,'” said Susie Ellis, executive director of IRF. “Production of synthetic horn encourages its purported medicinal value, even though there is no scientific evidence to support that. If real horn doesn’t work, why would an alternative be effective?”
The groups argue that artificial horn compromises law enforcement’s ability to detect the difference between synthetic and illegal real horn, especially if sold as powder or in manufactured products like beer or skin cream.
“Currently, 90 percent of the rhino horn in circulation is fake, but poaching rates continue rising,” said Cathy Dean, director of SRI. “Manufacturing synthetic horn diverts attention from the real problem: unsustainable levels of rhino poaching.”
Conservationists agree that new ways to solve the poaching crisis are critical, but proven methods have the best chance of success. In the 1990s, the threat of US government economic sanctions under the Pelly Amendment helped to stop the horn trade in Korea and Taiwan. Tried-and-true efforts — including increased numbers of highly-trained, fully equipped rangers on the ground; coordination with local communities to inform authorities about poaching; moving rhinos to more secure areas; and demand reduction campaigns in consumer countries — provide the greatest hope.
“We want to decrease demand, not invest in potential extinction by introducing new products,” Ellis said. “Poaching won’t be the sole cause of rhino extinction. It will result from multi-faceted, interacting events, even those that may initially sound harmless, such as the development of synthetic horn.”