Ideas & Debate

A market solution to poaching menace needed

As long as there is a market for rhino horns and elephant tusks, any measures taken to safeguard the animals will only serve to increase demand.  FILE
As long as there is a market for rhino horns and elephant tusks, any measures taken to safeguard the animals will only serve to increase demand. FILE 

It is a known fact that Kenya earns more than Sh100 billion annually from the activities of around 1.5 million tourists.

And there is an ambitious target to attain the three million visitors mark within five years. But this upward trajectory is heavily undermined by security threats that poachers pose to both animals and tourists.

Cases of poaching or the measures being taken to curb its rise are now a common news item.

Rhinos and jumbos are the main victims of this scourge that if unchecked could wipe out these animals from our midst and set the number of tourists sliding.

Going by the nature of its execution, poaching will not be contained easily. Television footage has shown elephant carcasses in the Central African Republic with wounds that suggested the use of choppers and sophisticated weapons to kill the animals for their pricy tusks.


The brutality was such that the calves were victims too. It is believed, that this particular event happened in the dead of the night and with the support of senior security officers in that country. Night vision equipment, normally the preserve of government agencies, was used in the attacks.


For as long as there is a market for rhino horns and elephant tusks, any measures taken to safeguard the animals will only serve to increase demand.

This will increase the prices to the extent that the risks associated with actual poaching will be more than compensated for by the market prices in China and wider Asia.

The level of sophistication witnessed in Central African Republic could be employed in Kenya too because the people guarding the animals do not earn private sector salaries and are easily compromised.

If we cannot wipe out the market for these commodities then let us not expect to fully contain poaching.

My take, is that it is far much easier to officially become a factor in the horn and tusk market by engaging with the spenders themselves. Poachers are the middlemen in this business who need a market to continue in the trade.

It sounds ridiculous to think that we can actually solve the problem of poaching by engaging the buyers directly. Yes! Consider the fact that even without poaching elephants and rhinos die of old age.

The tusks and horns of these dead animals still have astronomical monetary value to the buyers.

If all countries that are home to the African elephant came together, the collective number of animals falling to natural attrition would be enough to sustain a booming tusks and horns market.

Buyers would be asked to bid for available stock in an open market and the host countries would derive immense commercial benefits.

This would allow animals to live till old age and attract much needed tourists whilst ensuring that in death they become significant foreign exchange earners for home countries.

Once a legal market is created, it will be in everyone’s interest to see the number of animals growing so that future trade is guaranteed. Bans on ivory and horn trade, only serve to take up the value and in turn create a black market for poachers.

Legal trade in tusks and horns should be seen in the same light as mining of rare minerals. This model would ensure that too much money is not spent in supporting models that have never worked since the 1970s when poaching was first seen as a danger to wildlife.

Drug business

Fighting poaching is like fighting the drug business. Both the middlemen and end consumers will always find ingenious ways to peddle their stuff undetected.

On average, the rhino horn is anything between one to two and a half kilogrammes. In Vietnam, a kilo of rhino horn fetches as much as $100,000 making it worth more than gold.

The elephant tusk fetches the same amount but as they come in twos, it is double the amount from the rhino horn.

These numbers should provide a clear picture of why the rewards by far outweigh the associated poaching risks. Ten animals in one mission promises a lifetime fortune.

What the government must consider doing is to map out the market for these animal commodities and bring together other countries to address this challenge.

Africa cannot continue pretending that it is possible to stem poaching effectively if it cannot engage and control the market with the aim of stabilising demand and supply.

Instead it would be wise to learn from the Chinese themselves, who have managed to control 80 per cent of the world’s rare earth market regardless of where such mineral are found. They have done so because it is of strategic importance to them.

By controlling the rare earth market, the Chinese get to add jobs to their economy. It means that electronic components that require some of these minerals to function get a sustainable global market.

The money from commodity proceeds can then be ploughed back into the care of animals and in time, it may become a self-sustaining activity that needs no government funds.

Since the Americans and Chinese have pledged support in preserving our wildlife, let them give us the requisite knowledge to sustainably manage the entire chain from birth to post-death harvest of the pricy trophies.

This article may spark a debate on what is right or wrong between conservationists and business people, but one thing is certain. Conservation must make business sense whilst achieving much desired results of preserving our valued heritage.

Let us be in a mood to maximise our wildlife sector’s potential.

Mr Mugun is the author of the books ‘How to Undo Life’s Airlocks’ and ‘10 Critical Success Answers for SMEs’ and director of special projects at Strathmore Business School.