Rhino Poaching: Should South-East Asians Keep On Practicing Their Traditional Medicine, Which Involves Rhino Horns?

by Thatlyeboy on February 15, 2015 - 9:53pm

Many animal species disappear from the earth’s biosphere every year due to a natural rate of extinction. However, humans are slowly becoming a real threat to lots of endangered species by increasing the rate of extinction. For instance poaching has been a major problem in recent years, decimating entire populations. In the article “Can anything stop the rhino poaching crisis”, written by Karl Mathiesen for The Guardian, the case of rhino poaching is denounced.  While major conservation efforts in South Africa has helped the population of white rhinos increase from 50 to 20,000, the intensive poaching is starting to decrease the rate of population increase which will soon reach a negative rate. The poaching is driven by the demand for horns from South-East Asia (Mathiesen). These horns, which are made out of Keratin, are used in traditional Asian medicine to cure fever, cerebrovascular diseases, cancer and hangovers, in addition to having aphrodisiac virtues (Mathiesen). However, is it ethical for South-East Asians to keep on practicing their traditional medical beliefs involving rhino horns?


I think it is very unethical for them to do so. I believe in the principle that you should do whatever you want in life if it makes you feel happy, as long as there are no negative impacts on others. First of all, it has been proven that rhino horns have no medicinal benefits (Poaching for rhino horn). Although it does not cure illnesses, it must bring a certain degree of happiness to those who use it. But this happiness leads to a huge sunk cost, which is the negative consequence poaching has on rhinos:  not only does poaching reduce the populations, but it also leaves the victims bleeding to death slowly and painfully (Poaching for rhino horn). This negative impact to acquire happiness is against my principle. “If people want to believe in prayer, acupuncture or voodoo as a cure for what ails them, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, but if animals are being killed to provide nostrums that have been shown to be useless, then there is a very good reason to curtail the use of rhino horn” (Poaching for rhino horn).


I know that my principle is not flawless. For instance, believers of cultural relativism could say that no matter what the negative impacts are, rhino horns have been used in the traditional Asian medicine for a long time and we need to respect every culture in the world. However, it is not because a tradition has been practiced for centuries that it is ethical. For example, humans have been fighting and killing for thousands of years, but it does not make killing more ethical conventionally. Also, some might argue that due to the high price of rhino horns (45,000£/kilo), it could be ethical for a poor man to practice poaching in order to get out of poverty (Mathiesen) but I think the downsides of this scenario are greater than the upsides, and that human should not be responsible for the extinction of any species.





Bibliography (MLA):


       Mathiesen, Karl. “Can anything stop the rhino poaching crisis?”. The Guardian. (2015): Web. Feb 14th 2015   http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/23/can-anything-stop-the...



       N.A.  “Poaching for rhino horn”. Save the Rhino. (2015): Web. Feb 14th 2015




To start off, I cannot express how much I enjoyed your post and the extent to which I agree with your views. I very strongly concur with your saying, “I believe in the principle that you should do whatever you want in life if it makes you feel happy, as long as there are no negative impacts on others” (Thatlyeboy). As well, I think you successfully described the Southeast Asian perspective, the cultural relativist perspective and the “poor man’s” perspective for this dilemma while even more successfully disproving them (Thatlyeboy).

To enhance your argument, I will be approaching this moral dilemma from a utilitarian perspective. According to John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher, utilitarianism is based off the principle that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill). In this case, happiness is described as “intended pleasure, and the absence of pain” (Mill).

The interesting thing about approaching rhino poaching from a utilitarian perspective is that it begs the question: whose happiness are we talking about? On one side, rhino poaching produces happiness for those benefitting from the kill, in this case, the Southeast Asians that use, as you described, use their horns for multiple reasons. On the other side, the poaching produces unhappiness for the rhinos and those who are concerned with their extinction and well-being. Mill describes unhappiness as “pain, and the privation of pleasure” (Mill).

This creates the dilemma in which we must decide whether the creation of happiness, or pleasure, takes precedence over the creation of unhappiness, or pain. Mill says that, “of two pleasure, if there to be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure.” Therefore, in order to confront this dilemma from the utilitarian perspective we must convert them both to pleasure. By this I mean we must look at the unhappiness of the poaching of rhinos as the happiness of ending the poaching of rhinos or illegalizing the activity. However, in this case, there are no people who have experienced both the happiness of using the rhino horns and the happiness of not poaching rhinos since the two are not mutually exclusive. This proves exactly why such a dilemma is so hard to resolve.

Therefore, one must apply his or her own opinions and principles in order to prove whether or not rhino poaching is an ethical activity, which is exactly what you did and exactly why your post works so brilliantly. You declared that, “This negative impact to acquire happiness is against my principle” when describing the fact that poaching both reduces rhino populations and leaves the animals slowly and painfully bleeding to death (Thatlyeboy). By declaring that it is against your principle, you have in fact recognized the importance of personal opinion is such a dilemma. Thus, since this moral dilemma cannot be solved through a utilitarian perspective, providing personal opinion, as you did, is the only way to come to a conclusion to this debate.

Works Cited

Mill, John Stuart. "What Utilitarianism Is." Utilitarianism. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Thatlyeboy. "Rhino Poaching: Should South-East Asians Keep On Practicing Their Traditional Medicine, Which Involves Rhino Horns?" Web blog post. Newsactivist. N.p., 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 3 May 2015. .