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  A Game of Horns: Transnational Flows of Rhino Horn

Hübschle, A. (2016). A Game of Horns: Transnational Flows of Rhino Horn. PhD Thesis, Universität Köln, Köln.

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Hübschle, Annette1, Author              
1International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society, ou_1214550              


Free keywords: illegal markets; interfaces of legal and illegal markets; sociology of markets; market coordination; illegal trade in wildlife; rhino poaching; rhino horn trafficking; rhino horn consumption
 Abstract: A multi-sectorial regime of protection including international treaties, conservation and security measures, demand reduction campaigns and quasi-military interventions has been established to protect rhinos. Despite these efforts, the poaching of rhinos and trafficking of rhino horn continue unabated. This dissertation asks why the illegal market in rhinoceros horn is so resilient in spite of the myriad measures employed to disrupt it. A theoretical approach grounded in the sociology of markets is applied to explain the structure and functioning of the illegal market. The project follows flows of rhino horn from the source in southern Africa to illegal markets in Southeast Asia. The multi-sited ethnography included participant observations, interviews and focus groups with 416 informants during fourteen months of fieldwork. The sample comprised of, amongst others, convicted and active rhino poachers, smugglers and kingpins, private rhino breeders and hunting outfitters, African and Asian law enforcement officials, as well as affected local communities and Asian consumers. Court files, CITES trade data, archival materials, newspaper reports and social media posts were also analysed to supplement findings and to verify and triangulate data from interviews, focus groups and observations. Central to the analysis is the concept of “contested illegality”, a legitimization mechanism employed by market participants along the different segments of the horn supply chain. These actors' implicit or explicit contestation of the state-sponsored label of illegality serves as a legitimising and enabling mechanism, facilitating participation in gray or illegal markets for rhino horn. The research identified fluid interfaces between legal, illegal and gray markets, with recurring actors who have access to transnational trade structures, and who also possess market and product knowledge, as well as information about the regulatory regime and its loopholes. It is against the background of colonial, apartheid and neoliberal exploitation and marginalization of local communities that a second argument is introduced: the path dependency of conservation paradigms. Underpinning rhino conservation and regulation are archaic and elitist conservation regimes that discount the potential for harmonious relationships between local communities and wildlife. The increasing militarization of anti-poaching measures and green land grabs are exacerbating the rhino problem by alienating communities further from conservation areas and wild animals. The third argument looks at how actors deal with coordination problems in transnational illegal markets. Resolving the coordination problems of cooperation, value and competition are considered essential to the operation of formal markets. It is argued that the problem of security provides an additional and crucial obstacle to actors transacting in markets. The systematic analysis of flows between the researched sites of production, distribution and consumption of rhino horn shows that the social embeddedness of actors facilitates the flourishing of illegal markets in ways that escape an effective enforcement of CITES regulations.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2016-01-262016
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: 419
 Publishing info: Köln : Universität Köln
 Table of Contents: Table of figures, graphs, maps and tables
Abbreviations and acronyms
Chapter 1: An unstoppable pathway to extinction?
1.1 Setting the scene: Where have all the rhinos gone?
1.2 Problematizing the resilience of illegal markets
1.2.1 Rhino horn trade as a poaching problem
1.2.2 Rhino horn trade as a transnational organized supply chain
1.2.3 Rhino horn trade as a multi-actor business enterprise
1.2.4 Synthesizing the research gaps
1.3 Theoretical framing
1.3.1 Rhino horn markets are socially embedded
1.3.2 Defining ‘illegal markets’ and introducing the notion of ‘flows’
1.3.3 The notion of contested illegality and its impact on the emergence and functioning of flows
1.3.4 Resolving coordination problems in illegal markets
1.4 Structure of the dissertation
Chapter 2: Researching illegal markets
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Researching illegal markets
2.2.1 Choosing the qualitative route
2.2.2 Research design: A multi-sited ethnography
2.2.3 Single–case study and theoretical development
2.4 Methods
2.4.1 Desktop and archival research
2.4.2 Fieldwork
2.5 Triangulation and data analysis
2.6 Gray areas of social research: Research ethics
2.6.1 Informed consent
2.6.2 Anonymity and confidentiality
2.6.3 Positionality of the researcher
2.6.4 Reciprocity
2.6.5 Security concerns
2.7 Concluding remarks
Chapter 3: Of unicorns and rhino horns: The demand for rhino horn
3.1 Introduction
3.2 The physical and chemical properties of rhino horn
3.3 A global history into the mythology of the rhino
3.4. Hunting tales and myths
3.5 The cultural legacy of the jambiya and its symbolic value in Yemen
3.7 Current rhino horn use, consumer profiles and product differentiation
3.7.1 Rhino horn as an investment and money laundering tool
3.7.2 Rhino horn as a status symbol
3.7.3 Rhino horn as medicine
3.8 Concluding remarks: Sacred value and contested illegality
Chapter 4: Rhino protection: Parks, private land and conservation paradigms
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Why should rhinos be protected?
4.3 Colonial conservation measures in South Africa
4.4 Private rhinos: The commodification and privatization of the rhino
4.4.1 Private ownership rights
4.4.2 Large–scale conversion to game ranching in the 1990s
4.4.3 Privatization of the rhino
4.4.4 The sale of live rhinos as a fundraising strategy for national parks
4.5 The ascendancy of neoliberal conservation?
4.5.1 Case study: The creation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
4.6 Concluding remarks
Chapter 5: The international political protection regime: The road to extinction is paved with good intentions
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The international regulatory backdrop: CITES
5.3 The international response
5.3.1 The Vietnamese response
5.3.2 The South African response
5.4 Concluding remarks
Chapter 6: Riding on the edge of legality: Interfaces between legal, gray and illegal markets
6.1 Introduction
6. 1 ‘Put and take’ and other hunting transgressions
6.2 Permit fraud
6.2.1 The Groenewald gang
6.2.2 The pseudo-hunting phenomenon
6.2.3 Thai sex workers as trophy hunters
6.2.4 The resilience of the Xaysavang network
6.2.5 “Round–tripping”: Rhino horn in transit
6.2.6 The impact of pseudo–hunting on price structures and trust issues
6.3 Cooperation: The South African – Asian connection
6.4 Contested illegality: Legitimizing regulatory breaches
6.5 Conclusion
Chapter 7: Poaching rhinos: Illegal flows of rhino horn
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Diffusion, expansion and adaptation of flows from 2008 onwards
7.3 Kingpins, intermediaries and smugglers: The local stronghold
7.3.1 The social economy in the borderlands: What does it take to become a rhino kingpin?
7.3.2 Need, greed and environmental justice principles
7.4 Feedback loops of rhino poaching and anti-poaching measures
7.5 Roles and functions within poaching groups
7.6 Cooperation, security and competition: How kingpins secure the continuity of the flow
7.7 Smuggling the horn: Efficiency versus security concerns
7.8 Conclusion
Chapter 8: Fake rhino horn: Trust and the issue of quality control
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Legal actors and Ersatz horn
8.3 Criminal actors and fake or Ersatz horn
8.4 Trust, quality control and the role of the horn assessor
8.5 Rhino horn pills: Trust in factory-produced medicines
8.6 Fake horn production and quality control at the source
8.7 Cooperation between ‘con-men’ and dealers
8.8 Fake antique libation cups and the notion of ‘pre-Convention’ rhino horn
8.9 Conclusion
Conclusion: How can the rhino be better protected?
Why has the rhino not been better protected?
The sacred value of rhino horn
Historical lock-in
Contested illegality
The interface between legality and illegality
The resilience of flows
The structure of the market
Theoretical contribution
Parting words
Appendix A: Research sites and maps
Appendix B: Indemnity form for interviews with offenders
 Rev. Method: -
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.17617/2.2218357
ISBN: 978-3-946416-12-8
URI: http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/id/eprint/6685
URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:38-66673
 Degree: PhD



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Title: Studies on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy
Source Genre: Series
International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society, Editor              
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