Here’s a recent story of how two poachers, while posing as tourists, managed to slip away just long enough to kill a couple of rhinos and cut their horns off.

National Geographic has this story about the discovery of a critically endangered male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia. Problem is, that horn sure would make a nice dagger handle. It is just a matter of time now before the locals find out one is there.

This problem has been discussed a few times in letters to Science magazine: Biologists report finding an endangered species only to lose it again to collectors and poachers who learned of its whereabouts from the same report. This profit motive thing is powerful. Maybe we should be looking harder for ways to use it to protect what remains.

Then, there is this upbeat story from the Congo:

Not only are the Mai Mai [unemployed youths with automatic weapons] killing savannah elephants for food and ivory, but the battles to dislodge rebel groups are destroying much of the habitat in a park which once boasted the highest density of large mammals in the world. “There are almost daily reports of elephants being killed in the past month,” said Hart, estimating there could be fewer than 300 left … Wildlife still remains in the park, but it is hanging on by a thread … Militia groups were also selling buffalo and hippopotamus meat from the park.

What is with these park rangers? I mean, what are we paying them for?

Protecting Congo’s animals has come at a high price for the guards, who are paid $1 per month by the government

Call me a pessimist, but any park ranger willing to put his life on the line for a dollar a month is either desperate or an idiot. In either case, there has to be a better way.

One of the world’s greatest conservation victories involves the African southern white rhino. It was on the very edge of extinction when conservation groups got on the ball creating protected areas and, especially, captive breeding programs. There are now over 11,000 of the horny beasts. Protecting the wild rhinos in these “protected” areas from poachers was not nearly as successful as the captive-breeding program that allowed the reserves to be repopulated.

Not to light off the animal rights discussion again, but according to the World Conservation Society, allowing them to be bought and sold for tourism and sport hunting created a huge economic incentive and is the main reason they have rebounded so spectacularly.

And no, this idea can’t be extended to all cases of impending extinction — apes, bald eagles, chimps, condors, whales and worms.

On the other hand, the northern white rhino is down to about four individuals in its only remaining habitat in the Congo. An expedition this summer failed to find any sign of the Western black rhino in its last remaining habitat. It is presumed extinct. Why bother preserving all of these subspecies you might ask? Good one. Why bother saving the tiger when there are billions of house cats? Your turn.

Maybe, just maybe, it is worth letting pathetic rich guys in the throes of midlife crises play out their childhood fantasies by paying a hundred grand to be led to, and allowed to humanely put down (shoot), an older rhino no longer in its breeding prime? Arguing that it is cruel and immoral to do so should be done in light of an idea that has proven to work better, and I am all ears for that idea, but until then, you can breathe easy for now that the southern white rhino sub-species has dodged the main bullet — extinction.

I have my share of half-baked ideas. Instead of relying on a handful of pathetic rich guys to cough up a hundred grand, why not get a hundred people to cough up a thousand grand, or a thousand to let go of a hundred bucks? You would have to give them something they thought was worth it in return. Coming up with those things is all that needs to be done.

For sure, a framed personal letter thanking them signed by a real high status person. How about even giving them a choice of which person that is? I would pick E.O. Wilson, someone else might go for Britney Spears. Combine this with their choice of, ah, a replica of the ass-end of the rhinoceros they saved, or a full sized replica of a mounted rhino head they did not shoot, or dried flowers and a thank you note, whatever.