Conservationists Pushed Ban on Non-Fatal Rhino Horn Harvesting. Poaching Skyrocketed.

Environmental activists should use the market to their advantage.


Today's environmental activists are so hostile to capitalism that they end up killing animals they want to protect.

Like the African rhinoceros.

Poachers kill them to get their horns, which can sell for as much as $300,000. Poachers mostly sell in China and Vietnam, to people who carve them into ornaments or sell them as aphrodisiacs. By the way: The aphrodisiacs don't work.

When I started Stossel TV, my first video covered one man's attempt to reduce rhino poaching by flooding the market with fake horns.

Matthew Markus argued that his 3D printed rhino horn would reduce demand for real horns.

"One way to devalue something is to create a lot of it," he explained. "When things are abundant, people don't fight, kill or steal."

True. Bootleggers and Al Capone's thugs disappeared when America ended Prohibition.

South Africa, home to the largest number of rhinos, once tried something similar. For 20 years, they allowed people to own rhinos and sell their horns. Rhino farmers put the rhinos to sleep with tranquilizer darts, sawed off their horns (the horns grow back) and sold the horn.

Farmers had an incentive to protect rhinos. South Africa's rhino population quadrupled.

But in 2009, under pressure from "environmental" groups, South Africa banned sales of horn again.

The sad result: Poaching increased sharply. Poachers also killed park rangers who tried to protect rhinos.

So, I confronted Masha Kalinina of the Humane Society, one of many groups that called Markus' plan to sell 3D printed horn "greenwashing an illegal activity."

Kalinina said legalization might increase demand for real rhino horn, as did happen once with elephant tusks.

"It started up a new carving industry in China that had been dormant for decades," she said.

I pushed back: "It needs to be long enough to bring the prices down, and then people say, 'Eh, there's no money in poaching.'"

"The problem is that people still see animals as commodities!" Kalinina responded, "natural resources for their use."

Well, yes. I do. So what? I eat eggs. Chickens are plentiful because people like me pay for what chickens produce.

Kalinina sneered, "Are we really going to just farm every single animal on this planet so we can endlessly continue supplying this bloodlust and thirst of people to consume wildlife products?"

"Bloodlust?" Give me a break.

Even if you oppose people using animal products, banning sales doesn't stop the use. It just creates black markets and crime.

Far better is letting rhino farmers trim horns and sell them. Farming gives people incentive to protect rhinos from poachers. That saves both rhinos and human lives.

When I told Kalinina, "your bans have failed… they are cruel to both rhinos and people," she replied that "education" is the way to stop poaching. The Humane Society runs ads in Vietnam telling people that rhino horns have no medical value. They claim this campaign convinced many people.

"But what good did it do?" I asked. "People are still poaching the rhinos."

"It takes time," she replied. "Time for the trickle-down effect."

It's nice that the Humane Society tries to convince people not to buy horn, but it's outrageous that their hatred of capitalism blinds them to better ideas.

"It's like the drug war," I point out. "You can ban things, but if there's money to be made, poachers will kill animals."

"This is an endless argument," she replied. "We can't live in a lawless society."

But markets are not "lawless."

Legal rhino farming or selling fake horn, would save endangered animals. But the environmental groups just can't see that.

Now researchers from the University of Oxford have produced a new form of fake rhino horn that they say would reduce demand for poached horn.

"Environmental" groups oppose that, too.

Fortunately, South Africa wised up. After my video was first broadcast, officials decided to ignore the complaints from the environmental groups. They re-legalized sales of farmed rhino horn.

After that, the killing of rhinos fell dramatically.


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  1. “Are we really going to just farm every single animal on this planet so we can endlessly continue supplying this bloodlust and thirst of people to consume wildlife products?”

    Yes. Why not? It’s just a clump of cells.

    1. That was the best, most revealing moment of the interview.

    2. Is it still bloodlust if the animals aren’t killed?

    3. Wouldn’t an endless supply mean that there are lots of animals to furnish that supply?

    4. In the twisted mind of the progressive, a fetus is not a human being. I actually had one tell me “a fetus is not a human being.” They were apparently unable to distinguish the difference between species and life-stages within a species.

  2. Save a rhino hunt a progtard

    1. Can you get a hunting tag for that? What’s the limit?

      1. Like feral pigs it’s unlimited.

  3. Legal rhino farming or selling fake horn, would save endangered animals. But the environmental groups just can’t see that.

    Oh, I’m pretty sure they can see that, they’d just rather be sanctimonious virtue-signalers even at the cost of getting rhinos killed.

  4. How much do you think she makes a year? How much does her organization make a year? It is a business like any other and no one wants to lose their job. It’s just sad that she cares more about her phony baloney job than the thousand or so park rangers that have lost their lives.

    1. I saw a bunch of people making that arguement on the YouTube comments. And there is some validity to that… they do make a lot more raising money off of poaching than they would if there were thousands of rhinoceros farms all over Africa.

      However, I don’t think that is the primary driver here. Her motivations were revealed when she talks about exploiting the animals for profit. “Are we just going to exploit every animal?” This is the point of ideological conflict between Stossel and her. It is a perfect moment, because she cannot fathom that anyone would be OK with farming any animal. They have their own autonomy, their own rights. And Stossel cannot fathom thinking that there is anything wrong with farming chickens.

      It is clear that she would much rather have a world in which rhinos and pandas and tigers are extinct than a world in which rhinos and pandas and tigers are common because they are held in captivity by humans all around the world (and worse… for profit)!

      For her this is a moral and religious precept. The question of “why did are cows more numerous than they have ever been in their entire evolutionary history while other large herbivors are nearly uniformly threatened or extinct?” never even occurs to her. She cannot even process it as a question.

      Goats are not endangered. Undomesticated relatives are. Why? Chickens were not entirely common and located in a small region. Now they are found on nearly every continent in countless numbers.

      Even the show “Tiger King” offered a good illustration. The animal rights activists would rather kill a bunch of tigers than allow them to be “exploited” in private zoos. The same “but they are making money” argument was used as the closing argument. These people share the dual religions of Marxism and Animals are Equals.

    2. If park rangers quit, the rhinos would go extinct, then it would be safe to be a park ranger again?

  5. “Just say no” worked for drugs so why wouldn’t it work for rhino horns?

  6. This is Stossel at his best – he is in 1990’s form here. He picks the perfect person to interview. She’s a true believer in her cause and cannot fathom that there might be other points of view rooted in anything other than ignorance and evil.

    At once argument and expose, this quick video really makes the point about as well as it is going to be made. All of the Reason crowd should set aside the time to watch this one.

    And maybe send it to that friend of yours who has PETA stickers all over her SUV.

  7. Tragedy of commons sense

  8. Fortunately, South Africa wised up. After my video was first broadcast, officials decided to ignore the complaints from the environmental groups. They re-legalized sales of farmed rhino horn…After that, the killing of rhinos fell dramatically.

    Haha Stossel. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Rhino poaching is down in South Africa – because the number of rhinos is down by 50% from 2011 to 2017. There has been no census of rhinos since 2017 but since the number of poachings has exceeded the number of births for quite a few years it is safe to assume the population is still dropping. If/when rhinos go extinct, poaching will decline by 100%.

    Now maybe the 3D printing idea will truly eliminate the ‘rhino horn’ supply constraint (limited to ‘live’ rhinos). It’s a lot better than the ‘let’s turn rhinos into farm animals’ idea. More likely, however, the ‘exotic animal markets’ will simply recognize the difference between counterfeit Gucci 3D rhino and real Gucci poached rhino.

    A FAR better idea is to recognize that this isn’t a supply-side problem but a demand-side problem and a lack of good old-fashioned competition. The best way to solve that is to create a market for poacher/buyer penis. Chop off their dicks when caught poaching or buying in exotic markets and create a legal auction market for those who want to pay for the costs of protecting large wild animal populations.

    Let’s level the competitive playing field here.

    1. I get that you are going for the over-the-top joke, but this is not an either/or problem.

      You can quite easily run education programs to dispel the myths that drive demand for exotic animal parts while simultaneously having a legal and regulated market.

      Quasi legal is the worst of all possible solutions – which was the case with Ivory and other exotics.

      Not every problem can be solved this way. If the market for leopard skin wall hangings will pay $15,000 for a leopard skin and it costs $25,000 to raise a leopard… well, you are still going to have incentives for poaching.

      1. Those education programs don’t work because the TRUE core driver of exotic animal part demand is not the silly marketing palaver. It is the very real notion that one is buying something that will soon go extinct. Buying future scarcity. The PURPOSE of the demand is to drive extinction. And that means the cost of maintaining a wild animal population is maintaining an army that will defend against those who are de facto at war against that animal’s existence in the wild. And that poaching army has every intention of being strong and numerous enough to drive that animal into extinction.

        It is not the benevolence of the butcher…

        This really is not ‘over-the-top’. This is almost a perfect case study for sustainability of resources into the future. If we’re not really able to deal with that – well that’s actually a bigger problem than rhino horn or poacher penis.

        1. As an aside – the element of the argument that really is over the top is the part that kind of distinguishes the usual propertarian argument disguised as ‘free market’ (let’s domesticate rhinos and turn them all into private property) from an actual free/competitive market (where rhino horn and poacher penis can equally be property). A legal argument from an economic argument.

        2. The PURPOSE of the demand is to drive extinction.

          No it’s not. Otherwise, the demand would be for rhino heads or skins, not horns. And not as accessories or components to aphrodesiacs but as ornaments themselves. The rhino’s death would be the commodity. The equally absurd inverse to your assertion is that junkies leave heroine needles strewn about their domiciles as trophies.

          If there really were a standing army fighting to drive the rhino into extinction, farming would’ve been more dangerous than defending against poaching. It wasn’t. Because the poachers aren’t motivated by animus or religious fervor, but money. Once it became more profitable to do something else, the army evaporated.

      2. I get that you are going for the over-the-top joke,

        I think you’re confusing humor with stupidity.

    2. Detecting printed horn is too easy to make it work. Heat up a needle and stick the object if it smells like plastic it’s fake if it smells like burnt hair it’s real.

      1. The fake rhino horn is made from horse hair.


    3. I thought that Viagra/Cialis would have killed off the market for rhino horns.

      1. It’s never really been considered an aphrodisiac. It was/is a relatively minor antipyretic for serious fever and a probably completely bogus gout treatment.

        In truth though the demand now is less for actual medicine than for signaling. The main ‘medical’ demand now is not by patients. It is by practitioners of traditional medicine. Who view having an inventory of expensive ingredients (esp one used for gout which is thought of as the rich mans disease in Asia too) as a sign to others that they treat rich patients.

  9. The Humane Society of the US is not like your local humane society. They are a bunch of crazy animal rights extremists like PETA that oppose ANY human use of animals. So of course they would be against farmers taking care of rhinos, even if it leads to them being saved, like the American Bison.

  10. I will wager that the “save the rhinos” woman knows that she needs poachers to maintain her lifestyle just as police need drug traffickers and users to justify their income. There is money in the form of grants and tax shelters helping the homeless stay homeless by warehousing them every night. You pay yourself a salary out of tax dollars via the federal government grants because you own the warehouse. So let us all buy warehouses and cots.
    Hard to imagine a demand for a carved horn but I live in a different world where currency is paper or plastic and Wall Street investors trade currency for debts and failing businesses are valuable! Why do atheists argue and debate about something they say doesn’t exist? Or will a rhino sleep on a cot in a warehouse? I digress…often

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