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2,000 'near threatened' white rhinos are up for auction

There are fewer than 16,000 white rhinos around the world and are classified as "near threatened." John Hume, owner of the Platinum Rhino Project, is estimated to own somewhere between 13% to 15% of the population.
Mark Kolbe
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There are fewer than 16,000 white rhinos around the world and are classified as "near threatened." John Hume, owner of the Platinum Rhino Project, is estimated to own somewhere between 13% to 15% of the population.

John Hume has been trying to save the white rhinos of South Africa before they're poached into extinction. Now, he says, he can't afford the upkeep of his crusade.

On Wednesday, Hume, who is estimated to own somewhere between 13% to 15% of the world's white rhinos, launched an auction to sell off the 2,000-strong herd in an online sale that's starting at $10 million.

Hume established the Platinum Rhino Project, a sprawling 21,000 acre ranch about 100 miles southwest of Johannesburg, in an attempt to legalize the trade of rhino horns, which is banned in most countries. His plan was to create a breeding farm where the horns could be safely sawn off a living rhino and sold on the open market. (Rhino horns are made of keratin – the substance in human fingernails – and can grow back at a rate of about 7 cm per year.)

His argument, and that of other private breeders, is that a legal rhino horn trade will drive down black market prices, which the World Animal Foundation estimates is between $15,000 to $30,000 per pound. By being able to dehorn the massive pachyderms in a humane way and ensuring their survival, Hume said the Platinum Rhino Project would generate enough revenue to cover the large costs associated with managing and conservation of the species.

While Hume successfully sued the South African government in 2017 to reverse a decades-old moratorium on the domestic sale of rhino horns, the overall effort proved to be less lucrative than he'd projected.

The ranch's website states that Hume, a hotel mogul, has invested more than $150 million of his own money into the Platinum Rhino Project since it opened its doors in 2009. In 2017, he told National Geographic that he spends $170,000 a month on security, feed and veterinary services.

Now, he says, "the ideal buyer is a person or foundation with a passion for conserving rhinos and the means to keep the breeding project going."

An auction page on the site adds, "With 200 rhinos born a year, the project has the power to make a significant difference and bolster declining rhino populations on the African continent."

"We have so much rewilding power here," said the project's wildlife veterinarian, Michelle Otto.

She believes the ranch's rhinos "could repopulate the whole of Africa, where we lose hundreds of rhinos each year to poaching."

The WWF estimates there are 15,942 white rhinos around the world. The species is classified as "near threatened."

Demand for rhino horn comes mostly from East Asian countries — primarily China and Vietnam — where it's traditionally been used for medicinal purposes and carved into figurines. According to the World Animal Foundation, the poaching crisis took off in 2008 and reached a peak between 2013 and 2017, when more than 1,000 were slaughtered every year. Even now, the organization estimates one rhino is killed every 12 hours.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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