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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : The kindest cut of all
 

The kindest cut of all

  Nov 14th 2002
From The Economist print edition

Viagra may help to save endangered species

WELL, it looks as though we were wrong. The rules of rational behaviour seem to apply even in so irrational a field as sympathetic magic. In 1998 we wrote, in an article entitled ìWhy Rhinos recommend Viagraî, that ìAsians do not doubt the virtues of western medicine. Many, however, assume that traditional varieties are better for certain kinds of problems, ëvigour' among them.î In other words, we doubted that rhinos (whose horns are allegedly consumed in powdered form in the hope that they will stiffen resolve) really did have any cause to cheer. But a paper about to be published in Environmental Conservation suggests that they might.

The results are preliminary, but the paper's authors, Frank von Hippel, of the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, and his brother Bill, of the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, have shown that the trade in such exotica as seal penises is falling rapidly. They suspect, though they cannot yet prove, that this is because men with ìvigourî problems who once placed their faith in penis soup have found that Viagra works rather better.

The brothers von Hippel looked at three products widely (and legally) traded as potency boosters: harp-seal penises, hooded-seal penises and the velvet from reindeer antlers. Between 1998óthe year that Viagra went on saleóand 2000, the catch of harp seals and hooded seals in Canada (the main source of supply) plummeted. The harp-seal catch fell from about a quarter of a million (near the maximum allowed) to less than 100,000. The hooded-seal catch fell to ten, despite a permitted maximum of 10,000.

Of course, seals yield other products besides their genitalia. But as well as falling catches, there were falling prices, indicating a genuine drop in demand. Before 1998, a seal penis was worth $70-100; afterwards, only $15-20. And between 1997 and 1998, the market for antler velvet, the other commodity the brothers investigated, fell by 72%.

None of the species that formed part of the study is endangered, but some others that are traded as potency boosters, such as sea horses and certain species of sea cucumber, remain a cause for concern. And rhinos are almost extinct.


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