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The backstory: White rhinos are a vulnerable species, as poachers often kill them for their valuable horns. But millionaire John Hume has been on a mission to save them from extinction. After getting his first rhino in 1993, Hume began breeding them and caring for them on his ranch in South Africa. Now, his rhino herd has reached 2,000 animals, which is between 13-15% of the global white rhino population, classified as “near threatened.”
His initiative was called the Platinum Rhino Project. Platinum Rhino aimed to help South Africa with its poaching problem since the country lost about 1,000 black and white rhinos to poachers every year from 2013 until 2017.
More recently: Hume has actually been fighting to legalize the rhino horn trade. He’s said that legalizing the practice would bring down poaching rates by lowering black market prices. The thing is, rhino horns can be sawn off and will grow back, so there’s no need to kill the animal. And the horns are more valuable than gold or cocaine. While the trade in South Africa is now legal, it’s still illegal on a global scale, and Hume’s efforts to drive down black market prices haven’t worked out how he’d hoped.
Hume keeps his rhinos on a 21,000-acre ranch with an intense security system, including radar detection, helicopter patrols and armed guards. But now, it’s become too expensive to keep up with.
The development: On Wednesday, Hume launched an auction to sell off his herd, with bids starting at US$10 million. According to Hume, the project has cost him US$150 million of his own money since he launched it in 2009. Without rhino horn trading being more broadly legalized to offset those costs, he can’t really afford it anymore. But the project can still be useful. The project’s wildlife veterinarian, Michelle Otto, says that it could help bring back Africa’s wild white rhino population.
"All you did was build up a black market and the criminals of the world, the Al Capones of the world, were very, very active when you tried to ban alcohol in America," said John Hume on "60 Minutes," comparing the rhino horn ban to prohibition in the US. Now we've done the same thing with rhino horn. It's created criminals. It's pushed the price through the roof. Bans have never worked."
"I'm hoping that there is a billionaire that would rather save the population of rhinos from extinction than own a superyacht," Hume said.
"[The ranch] could repopulate the whole of Africa, where we lose hundreds of rhinos each year to poaching," said Otto.