What is Driving Consumer Demand for Rhino Horn?

A First Look at China’s Latent Market for Rhino Horn

NEW YORK (March 7, 2016) — The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today released a ground-breaking survey that outlines – for the first time – the potential impact of Chinese consumers and proposals to legalize trade in farmed rhino horns on the imperiled species.  

The spike in poaching rates in the past five years, however, has experts concerned that all wild black rhinos could be gone in 10 years and that all wild rhinos could meet the same fate as soon as 2036.

Consumer demand and profits are key drivers of the international trade in rhino horn, which is currently illegal and largely controlled by criminal syndicates. Demand for powdered rhino horn, which some Asian cultures believe has medicinal properties, is a part of the $20 billion annual illegal wildlife trade, as is demand for horn purchased as a symbol of affluence.

The case to legalize international trade rests on the supply being able to meet the demand. Until now, though, there has been no empirical data about the consumers involved in the illegal trade in China, which many believe is a latent market for rhino horn. The findings in Rhino Rage: What is Driving Illegal Consumer Demand for Rhino Horn? not only offer some insights into why people buy rhino horn but also raise uncertainty about the current economic model underpinning a legal international trade. .

“This is a first-ever peek into what’s potentially driving consumption of rhino horn in China,” said NRDC’s Alex Kennaugh, the principal investigator for the research. “With robust consumer data on who may be buying rhino horn where and – more importantly – why, we can design better strategies to reduce illegal trade in demand countries and, in turn, help alleviate poaching in supply countries where the world’s last remaining wild rhinos are fighting to survive.”

The new analysis shows that the scale and trends of the medicinal and luxury good markets differ and that potential buyers or users in each market behave differently. The survey also indicates demand is dampened by awareness of conservation issues and by knowing that rhino horn trade is illegal domestically and internationally.

Conducted in five cities in China, the survey is the first of its kind in terms of research methodology on the subject of rhino horn, and the first rhino horn economic study done in China since the 1980s. The behavioral economic study was modeled in collaboration with economists from academic and research institutions.

By measuring consumer behavior, including preferences, willingness to pay, and stigma effects, the study produced some key findings:

  • Demand for rhino horn has differentiated into two markets: medicine and luxury goods.
  • Users behave differently in each market and exhibit regional differences as well.
  • The illegal status of the international rhino horn trade and awareness of conservation issues dampen demand in both product markets.


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