Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Poisoning rhino horns to save the rhinos

Earlier this month I wrote a post about the ineffectiveness of burning ivory to save elephants. This week, out of the same file, we have the Rhino Rescue Project, poisoning rhino horns:
Hern, the co-founder of the Rhino Rescue Project, has spent the last four years “devaluing” the horns of rhinos by infusing them with ectoparasiticides — or anti-parasite drugs — and pink dye. The dye isn't visible on the outside, and the ectoparasiticides are harmless to the rhinos when injected into their horns. But humans who handle or consume the horns may not be so lucky.
“At a minimum it would start with diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, all the way up to nervous symptoms, which could be permanent,” Hern says. “Some ectoparasiticides also precipitate the development of cancers later on in life.”
So, the Rhino Rescue Project argues that you can save the rhinos by making it more costly for poachers to handle the rhino horns. Are the effects the same as those I noted in the earlier post about ivory burning? In part, yes. It will increase the costs to poachers (since now they face the risk of being infected by the ectoparasiticides), which decreases the supply of rhino horns. Decreased supply increases the price of rhino horns, which would encourage more poaching. Besides that, the costs to the poachers can easily be dealt with by poachers wearing gloves when handling the horns.

However, the eventual buyers of the horns may not be so lucky. Rhino horn is sought after as a therapeutic drug ingredient in lots of Asian countries - believed to cure cancer and many other ills. However, if there is a chance that your rhino horn elixir is going to make your sick, maybe you re-consider. That should reduce the demand for rhino horns. Decreasing demand is a much better solution to the problem, especially if you are decreasing the supply at the same time.

Here's my final diagram from that earlier post on ivory burning:

If demand decreases (from D0 to D1), and supply decreases (from S0 to S1), you end up with a large decrease in rhino horns traded in the market (from Q0 to Q1), with little change in price. But importantly, less trade in rhino horns means fewer dead rhinos. Although then the poachers probably move back to hunting elephants...

[HT: Marginal Revolution]

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