August 01, 2006

Coca and rhinos

What do cocaine and rhino horns have in common? Their trades are illegal. As Tim Harford explains, their trades are also lively and profitable. There is a difference, though. While there is an abundant supply of cocaine despite efforts to systematically destroy coca crops with herbicides, rhinos are on the brink of extinction despite efforts to preserve them.


  1. I missed that. Sad. Good things are starting to happen in ocean conservation. Maybe too little, too late.

  2. Congratulations, Harford discovered the similarities between coca exploration and rhino exploration! Now, before going on with that capcious racionale, what if he considered the diferences: how easy it is to cultivate coca? How easy it is to breed rhinos?

    Harford's article carefully omits these fundamental issues. As the saying goes: "never let the truth spoil a good article".

  3. Clearly, it is easier to illegally cultivate coca than to illegally breed rhinos.

    It is also possible that, from the point of view of horn selling, breeding rhinos is less profitable than hunting them all to extinction. Do you have numbers to back up this hypothesis?

  4. Markets are helping the Southern white rhino.

  5. I wish I could now find an article I wrote years ago, only partly tongue in cheek, suggesting that when those gung-ho conservationists dart the rhinos -- the better to study and save them -- they simply saw off their horns at the same time.

    OK, we don't know the biological function of horns, but the experiment seemed worth trying for two reasons.

    First, it removes a major incentive to poaching horns.

    Secondly, it could, potentially, flood the market with cheaper horns, if one wanted to go that route rather than sanctimoniously burning it, like Kenyan ivory.

    Oh, and of course the tourists would be happy to photograph hornless rhinos, knowing that there was now no reason for poachers to slaughter them.

    Alas, I can't find it.