The rhino/ivory debate: Some facts





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    Default The rhino/ivory debate: Some facts

    This is my Man Friday column in Friday's Cape Times: time to get some objective facts into this discussion

    Selling off our rhino horns could be the spark that ignites the inferno

    THERE is a terrible feeling of déjà vu about the announcement by Environment Minister, Edna Molewa, that South Africa intends lobbying Cites to allow us to sell off our estimated 18-ton stockpile of rhino horn. This, she says, would flood the market and stem the slaughter of South Africa’s rhinos.

    Sadly, this is a “been there, done that” scenario - in the elephant world. Between 1986 and 2008, Cites, mostly under pressure from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, all of which have well managed elephant populations, cleared over 600 tons of ivory for legal sale. Despite these sales, the price of ivory has gone ballistic.

    More than 2 500 elephants have been poached in southern Africa in the past two years, and over 50 000 in the rest of Africa. It’s rapidly becoming a scenario to rival the terrible “elephant wars” of the 1970s.

    Starting in the early 1960s, there was wholesale slaughter of Africa’s elephants. Between 1963 and 1989, 86% of Africa’s elephants were poached. By the early 1980s, the elephant population of the continent had dropped from 1.3 million to 600 000. Just in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, more than 100 000 elephants were butchered between 1975 and 1986. Tanzania lost 80% of its elephants, Uganda 73%, Kenya 80%.

    Then, in 1989, Cites enacted a global ban on the trade in ivory. Overnight, the ivory price dropped one hundred-fold to less than a dollar a kilogramme. In many areas that had been heavily poached, it was as though a tap had been turned off. Conservation officials at the time reported that poachers were telling them that the “big bosses” had told them it was no longer worth poaching elephants. But by then, the sentient pachyderms had been decimated.

    The crime syndicates then realised that rhino horn was even more valuable, and easier to get, than ivory. Elephants are very dangerous to hunt - they move in big herds, are highly aggressive when threatened, and have acute hearing and smell. Rhinos are often solitary, or move in pairs, and have terrible eyesight and are easy to hunt.

    More than half of Africa’s surviving elephants are in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, with nearly 14 000 in the Kruger National Park alone. An estimated 65 000 to 70 000 live in the wilderness areas of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, the Zambezi Valley, and Namibia’s northern Kalahari woodlands.

    The Kenyan conservationist, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who founded Save the Elephants, wrote in a recent article in National Geographic that “the new wave of killing of elephants in Africa is in many ways far graver than the crisis of the 1970s and 80s. Firstly there are fewer elephants, and secondly the demand for ivory is far higher. Record ivory prices in the Far East are fueling poachers, organised crime, and political instability right across the African elephant range.”

    Worst hit are those areas close to West and Central African conflict zones: Iain reports that “in January last year, Janjaweed militia gunned down more than 300 elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park in Cameroon. In March 2012, 22 elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), were slaughtered in a single attack, many with shots to the top of the head. A Ugandan army helicopter was seen flying low-level over the park a few days after.”

    And the NGO, African Parks, which manages several parks across the continent has documented some of the most depressing news of the lot, from Zakouma National Park in Chad. As recently as 1970, Zakouma had over 300 000 elephants. By 2002, there were just 4 300 left. Today? Only 450 elephants still survive in Zakouma.

    And in September last year, five game scouts employed by African Parks in Zakouma were gunned down by poachers as they kneeled for morning prayers.

    Now the ivory poachers are moving south: Cites monitoring for 2001, according to Douglas-Hamilton, “shows that the high levels of illegal killing in central Africa have spread to East Africa and the northern parts of southern Africa. Only three large populations - Kruger in South Africa, Chobe in Botswana, and Etosha in Namibia - have remained unscathed.”

    My fear, and the fear of conservationists like Iain Douglas-Hamilton, is that selling off stockpiles of rhino horn, just like the sale of ivory stockpiles, will fuel the demand rather than undermine it.

    And let’s not forget that while there are 600 000 elephants left in Africa, there are only 26 000 rhinos left.

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    Tony Weaver

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    Riveting read Tony.

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    Maybe we should start an international trade on poachers. Same concept as the "Hostel" movies - rich businessmen come here and they pay to hunt poachers for an authentic African adventure.
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    As usual a great read, lets hope your fears do not become reality even though I have to agree with you
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    Quote Originally Posted by hbannink View Post
    As usual a great read, lets hope your fears do not become reality even though I have to agree with you
    Thanks Henk and Jenny, appreciated. Tony

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    Quote Originally Posted by albertvl View Post
    Maybe we should start an international trade on poachers. Same concept as the "Hostel" movies - rich businessmen come here and they pay to hunt poachers for an authentic African adventure.
    Now THIS sounds like it would work!!!

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    It's a very difficult thing. Tony's argument is good - it's all theory - the argument for deregulation is also good...

    I think that the big flaw in this argument is that ivory and rhino horn are not comparable.

    Ivory is decorative, and has value, it's a lot like gold. As such supply and demand works like a commodity.

    Rhino horn , rightly or wrongly , is a drug. And you have to look at its economics as such...

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    While the argument against stockpile selling is valid, it comes across as dismissive of any potential trade by omission of mention.

    The logic is hard to follow. I think it is the jumping around of dates that confuses matters.

    1963 - 1989: 700 000 Elephant Slaughtered (1.3million to 600 000)

    1989: CITES ban: Prices drop to nothing.

    No more poaching.

    1986 - 2008: CITES lifts ban because of pressure of SA etc.

    [Stockpile Sales]

    2011 - 2013: 2500 Elephant in SA and 50000 in Africa poached. As bad as 1970's.
    Info just taken from supplied text and ordered by date.

    It seems from here like we should push for a CITES ban on all trade on rhino horn so that prices will drop overnight!

    Oh wait...

    Historical lesson to stockpile sale is an important one.

    But expansion on the differences is potentially more interesting.

    Why didn't the CITES ban work like it did for Elephant?

    I feel the answer lies with Alex's comment.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Apocalypse View Post
    It's a very difficult thing. Tony's argument is good - it's all theory - the argument for deregulation is also good...
    I think that the big flaw in this argument is that ivory and rhino horn are not comparable.
    Ivory is decorative, and has value, it's a lot like gold. As such supply and demand works like a commodity.
    Rhino horn , rightly or wrongly , is a drug. And you have to look at its economics as such...
    That's only partly correct, Alex. Back in the 70s and 80s, demand for rhino horn was driven by two things - newly rich Arab bucks in the Yemen and Saudi who wanted rhino horn dagger handles as a status symbol, and wealthy folk in the Far East who believed it was an aphrodisiac. In the last five to six years, demand was initially driven by medicinal hocus pocus after a Vietnamese politico claimed he had been cured of cancer by ingesting rhino horn.
    But today, the demand is driven by exactly the same reasons as ivory - it has become a status symbol to own ivory, and it has become a status symbol among China's nouveau riche emerging middle class to sprinkle powdered rhino horn on food at dinner parties.
    Iain Douglas-Hamilton and others are trying to fight the cultural mystique by getting popular Chinese movie and pop stars out to witness what is happening, to see elephants and rhino in the wild, and then to go back and go public against the trade.
    Perception is a very powerful thing - back in 2004, I spent three weeks in Zambia and Malawi working with a Peace Parks Foundation team of zoologists and scientists collaring elephants in various parks, including North Luangwa, the Nyika, and Lower Zambezi. The culmination of the process was to be the signing of a cross border conservation treaty between Zambia and Malawi that would create a transfrontier conservation area linking the Nyika and Vwaza Marsh areas to the Luangwa Valley with joint anti-poaching operations.
    We had been warned that it was going to be tough, because of antangonism between the two Wildlife Ministers. As a PR exercise, we took them on a collaring exercise in Vwaza Marsh (collaring is pretty risky, so it was a bit of a gamble). Once we'd darted a matriarch, and with the chopper keeping the rest of the herd away, I got the two ministers to first of all touch the elephant, then to put their ears on it and listen to its heart, and then to help fit the collar.
    We got back to the lodge at Nyika and the two ministers said "where's the agreement, let's sign." They told me over dinner that neither of them had ever seen an elephant in the wild before, and they were so blown away by the experience that on the chopper ride back to the lodge they had agreed there would be no haggling.
    It was a great experience to see how that brief interaction completely changed their mindset.

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    Even if it is the same commodity, demand for both will increase as population increases, particularly that of the wealthy middle class.

    You have the opportunity to supply one of them with a renewable resource, the money from which you would use a percentage of to protect your production from poachers.

    Stick some elephants in the area protected by horn money. You could use some for vegetation clearance and habitat modification to suit white rhino anyway.
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    What are the alternatives?

    It would appear that banning it is not working. Again, with no offence intended to those putting heart and soul into trying to stop the onslaught.

    but - real facts - so far this year - nearly 500 Rhino? twice as much as last year?

    If we keep that up by 2016 there will be so few left it will be a moot point.

    Escalate the whole lot to full scale war? Like the US and their drug war? Which still does not stop the drug trade....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Weaver View Post
    That's only partly correct, Alex. Back in the 70s and 80s, demand for rhino horn was driven by two things - newly rich Arab bucks in the Yemen and Saudi who wanted rhino horn dagger handles as a status symbol, and wealthy folk in the Far East who believed it was an aphrodisiac. In the last five to six years, demand was initially driven by medicinal hocus pocus after a Vietnamese politico claimed he had been cured of cancer by ingesting rhino horn.
    But today, the demand is driven by exactly the same reasons as ivory - it has become a status symbol to own ivory, and it has become a status symbol among China's nouveau riche emerging middle class to sprinkle powdered rhino horn on food at dinner parties.
    Iain Douglas-Hamilton and others are trying to fight the cultural mystique by getting popular Chinese movie and pop stars out to witness what is happening, to see elephants and rhino in the wild, and then to go back and go public against the trade.
    Perception is a very powerful thing - back in 2004, I spent three weeks in Zambia and Malawi working with a Peace Parks Foundation team of zoologists and scientists collaring elephants in various parks, including North Luangwa, the Nyika, and Lower Zambezi. The culmination of the process was to be the signing of a cross border conservation treaty between Zambia and Malawi that would create a transfrontier conservation area linking the Nyika and Vwaza Marsh areas to the Luangwa Valley with joint anti-poaching operations.
    We had been warned that it was going to be tough, because of antangonism between the two Wildlife Ministers. As a PR exercise, we took them on a collaring exercise in Vwaza Marsh (collaring is pretty risky, so it was a bit of a gamble). Once we'd darted a matriarch, and with the chopper keeping the rest of the herd away, I got the two ministers to first of all touch the elephant, then to put their ears on it and listen to its heart, and then to help fit the collar.
    We got back to the lodge at Nyika and the two ministers said "where's the agreement, let's sign." They told me over dinner that neither of them had ever seen an elephant in the wild before, and they were so blown away by the experience that on the chopper ride back to the lodge they had agreed there would be no haggling.
    It was a great experience to see how that brief interaction completely changed their mindset.
    Tony, to me, one of the big things is fashion / changing mindsets.

    Take Cigarettes. to use a favorite movie as an example, Blade Runner, 1982, in an early sequence the questioner, sits back, relaxes, lights up and takes a huge considering drag. The Heroine chain smokes throughout the movie.

    You don't see that anymore. not in movies, not in life. Smokers go outside with the dogs. 10 years ago people would walk into someone's house and just light up. it was socially acceptable.If you asked them not too you got a heap of abuse and were ostracised by the 'in crowd'.

    now they timidly ask if it would be okay and meekly accept the mandate that if they MUST (host rolling eyes) then they can go outside to the far side of the pool near the compost heap and be careful because that's where the dogs go.... and they can take their stompies home with them thankyouverymuch.

    On the flip side it's still a drug and people still smoke despite the cost, the social condemnation, the knowledge that it's really really bad for you and the "stood in the dogpoo" problem.

    Half the kids at my daughters school smoke - future smokers. Despite it being unfashionable, stupid, expensive and knowing the consequences.

    If you outright banned smoking tomorrow - people would still smoke.

    I think if they outright banned smoking tomorrow a lot of people would TAKE UP smoking to be anti establishment... (well, I know of at least one )

    I think - in the very long run you could make smoking so 'uncool' that few people will do it (there will always be an underground) and the same with Rhino horn - but really, it's not going to be a happy moment where millions of Vietnamese all suddenly see the light and quit their Rhino horn habit...
    Last edited by Apocalypse; 2013/07/05 at 02:51 PM.

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    I agree with Alex. There are no alternatives.

    Ivory and Rhino horn may share some similarities in the market, but Rhino horn can be harvested from live animals, and we haven't managed to do that with elephants. Also the requirements for keeping and breeding elephants are different.

    I believe that the motive for the market is purely the fact that it is illegal. The specialist traders or triads who deal with this have done all the marketing and sold all the stories to the users. The most important thing is to take the initiative away from them.

    I also believe that once we open the market, we will know who we are dealing with and who the user actually is and what his demands and expectations are. Users also want to be guaranteed that product is authentic. Under the current illegal system, they have no idea if the product was real.
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    One major point that has not been mentioned is that rhino in general do not handle the anaesthetic well and there is a high mortality rate of rhino that has been anaesthetised.
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    I am not sure of the intro that these are the FACTS.

    The ivory price did not drop after the ban, what happened was that at the time the price was too low for the risks involved so yes the LOCAL price dropped. BUT, very soon demand drove the price through the roof and the crime syndicates found ways around the ban and it was game on again?

    The main reason for the increase and decrease in poaching has always been the level opf effective policing. As certain African countries went down the drain (and corruption at high government levels became rife), the poaching grew with it (which is why "military aircraft" are used for the poaching).

    I'm sorry, but I don't buy the argument that the Cites ban had any appreciable effect on poaching.

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    Same argument, different view.

    INTERVIEW: Economist Michael 't Sas-Rolfes on why legal horn trade will save rhinos

    Posted on 05 July 2013,

    It’s a conservation debate that’s as fiery and emotive as they get: how does South Africa, which is home to 90% of Africa's rhinos, go about protecting them from a poaching pandemic that’s likely to claim over a thousand victims before the year is done (and could eventually devastate rhino populations)? That debate really intensified this week when the South African government gave its strongest indication yet of the route it plans to take: the country’s environment minister announced that South Africa would back "the establishment of a well-regulated international trade" in rhino horn and seek permission for a one-off sale of stockpiles worth around $1-billion.

    With the news setting off heated discussion online, we spoke to one expert who believes well-regulated trade is the right answer. Conservation economist Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, who has written extensively about the market factors driving the poaching crisis and the ‘economics’ of rhino conservation, answers a few of our questions on this controversial topic (and if you’d like to add your voice to the legalisation debate, have your say on our Facebook page).

    Q: With a background in business and economics, you haven’t really followed the ‘conventional’ path into the area of wildlife conservation. How do you think those skills help you to see the poaching crisis from a different angle?

    A: I think they are not only helpful, but essential. The poaching crisis – and indeed many other conservation problems – is driven by human behaviour. To solve such problems we need to come to grips with the incentives driving that behaviour and the systems that create those incentives. So we need to have an understanding of social sciences more than biological sciences: that includes economics, psychology, sociology and politics! Most importantly, we need to understand how markets work.


    Q: For those of us who don’t speak ‘economese’, it can be tricky to understand the poaching problem and the rhino-horn market in rigorous economic terms. Is there a simple way to break things down?

    A: Simply put, the way things are set up right now, poachers and illegal traders have much stronger incentives – and more money at their disposal – to kill rhinos than individual rhino owners and custodians have to protect them. This is because Asian demand for rhino horn is real and not expected to decline in the near future, and – most importantly – Asian suppliers are expecting rhino horn to become commercially extinct and therefore increasingly valuable over time. We are facing some very powerful market forces here.

    Q: Do you think more people would see legalization of the rhino horn trade as a viable option if they were able to understand the economic forces that drive the horn market?

    A: Most definitely!

    Q: The widely accepted timeline seems to be that the poaching crisis was sparked around 2007 thanks to rising demand in Vietnam and the emergence of the infamous cancer-curing myth. But you believe the timeline is actually quite different…

    A: Yes, I think that is a somewhat misguided interpretation of what actually happened (as seen through a Western lens of understanding). Rhino horn has been a valued commodity in Asia for thousands of years, for both ornamental and medicinal purposes, mostly in elite circles. An essential part of the horn’s current value is its scarcity. As a medicine, it is – and has always been – used to treat a wide range of conditions related to inflammation and toxicity in the body. In some circles it is considered the ultimate medicine to treat serious (and not so serious) cases – i.e. it is the Rolls Royce of traditional Chinese medicine. Evidence suggests that demand is rising in both Vietnam and parts of China along with increased affluence (not just for cancer treatment, but for all sorts of medicinal and ornamental uses, but with the underlying prestige factor). The poaching crisis was sparked when we responded to that increasing demand in exactly the wrong way: by restricting the supply. Basic economics tells us that if you reduce the supply in the face of increasing demand, market prices will rise. If prices rise, so do the potential rewards for poachers and illegal traders.

    Q: Many anti-poaching campaigns are aiming to ‘reduce’ Asian demand for rhino horn through awareness and education. Can ‘reeducation’ work?

    A: I am skeptical that this approach can deliver results fast enough to bring poaching down to sustainable levels in the short and even medium term. We are dealing with a product market based on very deeply held cultural values and beliefs. Those advocating demand reduction are unable to tell us how quickly this can work and – most importantly – how much it will cost to be effective and who is going to pay for it.

    Q: Aside from awareness campaigns, you argue that enhanced security (and what you call after-the-fact enforcement) will not be enough to halt rampant poaching. Why?

    Poachers and other criminals have very short time horizons. If you offer them a huge reward now with a fairly low probability of being caught and punished at some time in the vague future, they will typically ignore that potential cost. And what is the point of prosecuting them a year or two later anyway? By then a whole bunch of new poachers and criminals are already in the game. To stop poaching you need to convince poachers that they are very unlikely to succeed in their initial poaching attempt – that it simply won’t be worth it in the first place. The only way you can do that is by lowering the value of their potential initial take (dehorning rhinos and/or reducing the price of horn) and – most critically – having such effective security on the ground that the rhinos are almost impossible to get to.

    Q: What would you say to those who feel that farming rhinos for their horns would effectively reduce one of Africa’s most iconic wild animals to the status of livestock?

    A: I fear we are faced with a stark choice: a lower risk option of white rhino ‘farming’ as a buffer to wild populations of all species – or the continued severe threat to all species and likely reduction (and even extinction) of almost all wild rhino populations.

    Q: Even if trade is legalised and farming rhinos becomes a reality, is it possible that some consumers may still seek out horns sourced from “wild” (poached) rhinos rather than their “farmed” counterparts (the same way wild-caught salmon is preferred over the farmed variety)?

    I consider this less likely with rhinos as we are not talking about artificial and intensive feed-lot farming, but rather ranching – periodically removing the horn from free-ranging rhinos (that is by far the most cost-effective way to produce horn). Conscious meat consumers avoid grain-fed feed-lot beef but are happy to eat grass-fed free range beef, even if the cattle in question are not truly ‘wild’. I would not expect rhinos to be much different. If you offer consumers the choice between genuine certified legal free-range rhino horn and illegal horn of unknown origin that may be a fake, I suspect few consumers would pay a premium for the latter. If anything, most would probably be willing to pay far less.

    Q: What about those who argue that South Africa’s government agencies are too corrupt and ineffective to properly monitor and manage legal trade in rhino horn?

    A: You could argue the same for controlling the illegal trade. The argument doesn’t make any sense. With legal trade, the owners and custodians would be getting the money – lots of it – that is now all being taken by criminals. With legal trade the owners and custodians would be able to afford better security and have a much stronger incentive to protect and breed up their rhinos.

    Q: Even if South Africa decides to move forward on the road to legalisation, legal trade hinges on approval from CITES – which can only be granted at the next CITES conference in 2016. What are the logistics of that approval process and who would be involved?

    A: The logistics are intimidating. South Africa will have to secure the buy-in of key consumer countries, which will need to amend their laws to allow for this. The mechanism is also critical – there are many wrong ways to set up legal trade and only one right one. There is still a lot of work to be done on this and everyone needs to be involved, from government agencies to private agents and NGOs.

    Q: Can trade be legalised in time to save Africa’s rhinos?

    A: I regret that we are likely to lose a lot more rhinos in the next few years, whatever happens. With a properly established legal trade we have a better chance of navigating our way out of this mess and securing the future of most rhinos into the longer term. Without legal trade I fear rhino numbers will be severely reduced. I think extinction is unlikely, but the longer-term prognosis for rhinos will not be as good.
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    I agree with every part of that interview...

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    Emotionally, I say an absolute no to the trade in rhino horn. Why should we give in to the East who think they have a right to walk in here and take what does not belong to them? They've cleaned out their own and now they are driving our rhino towards extinction, taking as much as they can in the process.

    My mind tells me that we are sitting on a different type of gold. Farming rhino and supplying the market with legal horn can be financially very viable for South Africa. That would also take a huge strain off other African countries who just do not have the means to protect their wildlife effectively.

    Rhino horn is a renewable resource. There is no reason why these animals should die to be harvested, the same rhino can be harvested over and over. The demand for rhino horn should see their numbers flourish.

    I read an article a few weeks ago where it was estimated that the horns kept in our reserves as well as horns from natural deaths would satisfy the current market for the next X-number of years to give the farming of rhino time to establish itself. (I'm trying to find that article again.)

    The devil will be in the details.
    I think if the trade was legalized and we kept control of the market, continuously feeding demand, it would have the desired affect but a once off sale would spell absolute disaster for the future of these animals. I pretty much doubt if the market will be flooded by a once off sale. We would only be handing our ace over to the next party to keep in reserve who will only filter a limited number of horns through to the end user to keep the prices high. There is no way that a once off sale will bring down the level of poaching.

    If the trade is legalized, we will be handed the golden card. All will depend on how wisely it's played.
    Last edited by JennyB; 2013/07/09 at 02:28 AM.

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    I'm totally with you on the emotional front Jenny - giving in to thugs is not in my nature... but this is not a fight that can be won...

    however, whichever way you look at it, there is no such thing as a truly wild animal anymore (at least in the large land mammal category). exposure to humans and technology and restriction of habitat is the norm.

    'Farming' Rhino - on a game farm - this is already pretty much what happens. A token Rhino to show the tourists in most cases, because having a Rhino is actually a pain now that they have no intrinsic value to a farm owner.

    with regulation on their keeping - e.g. maximum number per hectare and so on - and a financial incentive to breed/keep them - it's a better option than the current situation.

    looking at it as a 'pot of gold' is also wrong - you need to keep the accountants out of it or they'll be in 3m square pens and being fed hormones for maximum yield - just a simple business opportunity that earns some foreign currency and keeps people employed and land ownership profitable when properly managed.

    that is what SA needs - not another magic pot of gold to be raped, nor a war we can't win - just plain old working businesses...

  20. #20
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    Exactly.

    I think very strict legislation will have to go with it all.
    I also agree that it should not be seen as a pot of gold but the only future I can imagine these gentle beasts have is if it becomes financially viable to keep them.
    Sad but true...
    Last edited by JennyB; 2013/07/09 at 11:48 AM.

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