A team of academics are building a mathematical model they hope will shed light on the complexities surrounding the illegal trade of rhino horns. The team believe their equations will provide policy-makers and conservationists a clearer path on how to protect the endangered mammals from extinction. Ben Gruber has more.
Rhino poachers in action.The men behind this killing were later caught, one of them sentenced to 40 years in prison. But it hasn't stopped the slaughter. So far this year 82 rhinos have been killed in South Africa. The poachers are after their horns, each of which can fetch more than $600,000 on the black market. Ben Gruber has more. And the demand for rhino horn is high, particularly in Asia where it's prized as a medicine and where a newly affluent class of people can afford to buy it. It's a huge international problem with no clear solutions…although Oxford professor Colin Please believes that saving the rhino from extinction may come down mathematics. Please is leading a team of mathematicians who are crunching all the numbers associated with the Rhino horn trade. Their aim is to create a mathematical model that will give policy makers a clearer picture of how to better protect rhinos from extinction. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OXFORD UNIVERSITY, APPLIED MATHEMATICS PROFESSOR, COLIN PLEASE, SAYING: "Rhino poaching has an enormous number of complexities interacting groups, interacting policies and so forth. Mathematics gives a way for policy makers, politicians, conservationists to have a rational discussion as to what the consequences of some actions that they take, might be." And one of those actions may be to legalise the trade of rhino horns. Please says the models will take into account all the costs and risks involved with poaching and compare it against the worth of rhinos to the tourist industry. By legalizing the trade and taking poachers out of the equation - some economists say the focus can shift back to conserving the rhino population while meeting market demand at the same time. But conservationists disagree. They want total protection for the species but, either way, conservation economist Michael Rolfes says any decision must come from a proper mathematical model. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CONSERVATION ECONOMIST, MICHAEL T'SAS ROLFES, SAYING: "The models are absolutely essential in understanding this in doing the number crunching because there are lot of people who argue one case or another case but unless you actually sit down with the numbers and run them through the model you don't, you are clutching at straws and it turns out that if you change the variables you will get different results. So it's important that we get those models right and then start to run them with the numbers that we have, the things that we know about how much it costs to protect rhinos affectively and so on to determine what would happen under different demand scenarios." Professor Please doesn't yet know what his models will reveal. But he is confident that when it comes to protecting rhinos from extinction - only mathematics can save the day.