Last rhinoceros

This picture I have used before in an optimistic post on Rhinos.

It was taken in 1988 in the Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe — 24 years ago. The skulls are from black rhinos shot by poachers.

At the time the conventional wisdom was that the main market for rhino horn was in the Yemen where the many princes required the matted hair as raw material for artisans to carve ornate dagger handles.

This year a new wave of poaching has hit the species that since the losses in the 1980’s is now spread far and wide, mostly in smaller reserves that are heavily protected. This time the story is that the market is Asia where ‘medicinal’ use is setting high demand.

Maybe it was Asia back in the late 1980’s too as there can only be so many Yemeni princes, but whatever it was then there seems little doubt that today it is a large and powerful market that seeks rhino horn. And market forces are hard to stop. High demand and limited supply generates prices that make for good business and, for some, small fortunes.

But there is something more. Scarcity seems to trigger something primal in us.

As consumers we go to great lengths to sooth that feeling, paying whatever it takes to be in possession of that limited commodity.

The real worry for anyone with empathy for the rhinoceros is that these markets are newly flush with dollars thanks to two decades of double-digit economic growth in many parts of Asia. This economic growth has brought many benefits and it has also dramatically increased the proportion of people with disposable income. There is vastly more money in the system than there was in the 1980’s and as we know it matters little if you come from Chengdu, Chennai or Chicago consumers want to spend their surplus cash on themselves.

Chengdu at a tick over 14 million is the 4th largest city in China and is home to 5 times the number of people living in Chicago. Given there are currently 22 cities in China with more residents than the 2.7 million that live in Chicago, there is no shortage of potential customers for medicinal products.

Protecting the rhino is now a much harder problem than it was in the 1980’s. When you live far away from the rhino and have probably not even seen one, except maybe on television, you don’t even ask the fundamental question: rhino or me?

You just say, “me, thanks”, just like every consumer has done since commerce was invented. And, as the Lilly Allen lyric in her song ‘The Fear’ so profoundly puts it: “I am a weapon of massive consumption, it’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function.” We simply cannot help it.

So, if you are fond of a bet there would be very short odds on the only living rhino in 2036, another 24 years after the picture was taken, being in a zoo. And maybe this is necessary. Loss on a scale large enough and scary enough will probably be what it takes to change the knee-jerk “me, thanks” to…

“me, once I have thought carefully about the consequences of my choice”.

Here is an idea for the rhino problem.

Why not ban all false advertising across the entire globe.

Any claims made by an advertisement of any kind in any media must be falsifiable according to a strict set of international rules. And the onus of the proof falls on the advertiser, the company or individual who runs the ad.

So you cannot say that rhino horn powder cures any number of ailments and promotes everlasting life unless you have evidence — good, old-fashioned falsifiable evidence.

Failure to comply would result in an on-the-spot $1 million fine payable into a national environmental fund.

This edict need not just apply to wildlife products, but any product where the seller claims it to be what it is not.

Now there’s a thought.

Obama wins

President Obama is returned to office, quite comfortably in the end; only he looked anything but comfortable.

The oratory in the Presidents victory speech was familiar, right down to the repetition of phrases and anecdotes that have worked well for him many times before. Only they seemed out of place and at odds with his countenance. That slim youthfulness wears the strains of office and endless campaigning easily, but there was no joy in him. It felt like the passion had gone, drained away by four years of political reality.

Obama couldn’t arouse the faithful with a “let’s finish what we started” message because not much has started and what was finished [Obamacare] turned out not to be as popular as it should have been. Best he could do through the first term was to hose down fires with no surety that they would go out [jobs, deficit, war].

You could see it all  in his speech. All the issues that he really wanted to speak about truthfully but couldn’t mention replaced with things he had to say but only half believed.

Nothing about reigning in the banks and the profit driven end of town.

Nothing about deficit being debt and that debt can readily become living beyond your means.

Nothing about how war might start out as an economic stimulus but over time is crippling to both treasury and psyche.

Nothing to say about the idea that incomes may not always need to rise for voters to be happy.

Obama did say thank you because he is a polite man and was clearly grateful for avoiding failure. He didn’t manage to inspire hope and didn’t look like he was invigorated to start anew. And this is a pity because the only way to tackle those unmentionables is head on making sure to bring the people with you.

There is still a chance because hope never dies, even if in Obama it seems to have been drained and jaded by the magnitude of the task.

Leadership really is a tough gig in a modern world of individual entitlement.