In Plain Sight: China’s ‘Rhino Horn Scheme’


Another inconvenient truth.

Despite a series of troubling indicators that should have alerted South African authorities to China’s intentions to breed rhinos commercially in order to harvest their horns, over 100 live rhinos were exported from South Africa to China between 2007 and the present.

Disconcerting timeline

South Africa’s rhino crisis is surrounded by a disconcerting timeline of events in China.

Let’s take a look.

2007: Chinese government infuses traditional Chinese medicine research with USD $130 million – five times more than the previous year’s budget – to “standardize and modernize” traditional Chinese medicine. Read the entire article:

2008: Chinese research proposal reveals location of China’s ‘rhino farm’ and ‘horn harvesting experiments’, along with intentions to circumvent CITES. For additional information, see:

2009: Chinese research proposal recommends acquisition and stockpiling of rhino horn. Check out the following to learn more:

2010: At least 18 live rhinos exported to China from South Africa during a six-month period. To learn more, see:

2010: China’s patent office reportedly published a patent application for a “self-suction living rhinoceros horn-scraping tool”. See:

During the same time period, take note of the increased market demand for rhino horn, as evidenced by rhinos illegally killed in South Africa.

  • 2007: 13
  • 2008: 83
  • 2009: 122
  • 2010: 333

At least 173 rhinos have been killed in South Africa during the first six months of 2011, according to SANParks on June 6th.

‘Approved and acceptable destinations’

Although international commercial trade in rhinos and rhino products is prohibited, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ™ notes that there is an exception.

… the South African population of Southern White Rhino was downlisted in 1994 to Appendix II, but only for trade in live animals to “approved and acceptable destinations” and for the (continued) export of hunting trophies.

According to CITES, such trade is not supposed to be for commercial purposes.

An import permit shall only be granted when the following conditions have been met: … (c) a Management Authority of the State of import is satisfied that the specimen is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes.

It is also relevant here that a 2006 document prepared by China’s CITES Management Authority clearly states that rhino horn can be researched only if the purpose of the research is to identify a substitute for its use in traditional Chinese medicine. 1

[The Notification] also requires registering and sealing up all rhino horn, tiger bone and their products (except for uses on researches of substitutes).

China currently has plans to import at least 40 more rhinos this year.

In plain sight

The entire situation is deplorable.

Perhaps even more unsettling is that it has been developing for years, in plain sight, for anyone who cared to look.

All images © Saving Rhinos LLC

1. CITES Management Authority. (2006). Report on Implementing Resolution Conf.12.5 of CITES. People’s Republic of China.

Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, an educational nonprofit organization which provides news and information about wildlife crime and endangered species. I am the Editor of Rhino Horn is Not Medicine and Project Pangolin, author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine, a writer for the environmental news blog Planetsave, the host of Behind the Schemes, and Producer for the upcoming documentary The Price. When I'm not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, I enjoy gardening, reading, designing, and rocking out to live music.

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  1. But if they do get production going, in the long run won’t that fill the demand and reduce poaching? I suppose if rhino could be farmed for their horn, just like any other animal product (Milk, leather, etc), I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Despite years of intense effort, anti-poaching initiatives haven’t stopped poaching. Time for something new?

  2. Jimbob…. really???? Have you never seen a Chinese “tiger farm” or a “bear bile farm”???? Do you really want rhinos to be living like that too?? Furthermore, I believe it takes a year or more for the horn to grow back. 18 rhinos = 18 horns per year. 200 rhinos = 200 horns per year. Last year, around 400 were killed around the world. How the hell are you going to meet the demand with these “farms”? A “rhino farm” with 2,000 rhinos in it?! GET REAL!!! China has THE biggest human population in the world! Where the F are you gonna find enough space for 2,000 rhinos?! They need lots of space, or else they kill each other–that’s their nature. Farming rhinos is the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard of. And it’s apparent when you look at tiger farming! In 1993 China banned domestic trade in tigers, but tiger farms have exploited a loophole and have, in MANY people’s opinions (including almost ALL experts), been the driving force behind the tiger’s extinction. Even if you farm rhinos, it’s not going to be enough to meet the demand AND they’re STILL going to poach them in the wild. They still poach tigers in the wild, even though they farm them–same with bears (for their bile)! Horrible, awful, idiotic, INSANE idea. NO RHINO FARMS!

  3. This is not an easy one – bear bile farming seems so awful and yet rhino poaching in south africa will not be solve dby paramilitary means alone. animal rights groups often seem to wish for the extinction of species as long as its benign and circumvents cruelty. If the sale of farmed horn can be linked to a push by the chinese government to clamp down on the illegal trade then maybe the rhino will have a chance – remember that the white rhino in numerical terms is fairly secure and if supply in captive groups ncan meet demand then poaching may become an uneconomic activity if it is policed and if the dealers will not accept marked horn

  4. ken …. beg your pardon but your comment *policed and if the dealers will not accept marked horn* … is very funny to me..