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Rhino Horn for Sale – Social Media Analysis

On 22 September 2015, World Rhino Day, a court case started in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. The case was as a result of a litigation brought against the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2012 by Johan Kruger, a Limpopo rhino farmer. Kruger was joined earlier this year by John Hume from Malelane, who happens to also be the biggest rhino farmer in the world. The rhino farmers claimed that “the right of sustainable utilisation is entrenched within the constitution of South Africa, and this ban or moratorium is in contravention of an owner’s constitutional rights.”
With 80% of the world’s rhino population in South Africa and the upcoming CoP17 being held in Johannesburg next year, the global conversation on World Rhino Day was likely to be flavoured South African. As expected this was the case, but notably it was dominated by topics surrounding the court case, Hume and Kruger and the possible lifting of the moratorium on domestic trade of rhino horn.

Rhino Horn - Topic WheelHume & co have defended their legal push as a conservation method. He (Hume) has been quoted as saying “If you’re going to save the rhino from extinction, this is the model.” In fact, the over-turning of the ban is just the first step in the plan, with the next step being a push to persuade CITES to lift the international ban on trading rhino horn which it instituted in 1976. It is worth mentioning that Hume, through the process of systematic dehorning of his 900 plus rhinos, allegedly has a stockpile of rhino horn worth over US$240 million.

Rhino Horn - Hume believes the answer

Between the 20th and the 24th of September there were just under 500 engagements around the topic of lifting the domestic trade moratorium, with the vast majority (68%) representing reporting by the media or the direct sharing of media created content.
Representation of those who agree with the farmers – that by flooding the market and regulating it, illegal rhino horn trade would be suppressed – was however not insignificant, with 1 in 20 users holding that view.

Rhino Horn - Opinion breakdown

Skip forward 3 months – during which time the related conversation dwindled with barely 200 interactions across the country — Judge Legodi announced his judgement of the case – lifting the moratorium on domestic trade of rhino horn — and the crowd goes wild.
Over the 4 days surrounding the judgement — 25 to 29 November — engagement on the topic across South Africa jumped significantly to well over 1200 posts.

Rhino Horn - volume

Rhino Horn - categories

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprising, was the change in proportions of what was being said. Although quite well covered in the media, reporting on this specific topic only represented 1% of the total data created.
The steep growth in volume came exclusively from people speaking up against the ruling and expressing their discontent, disbelief and sadness.


This also bolstered support for the Minister of Environmental Affairs and her plans to appeal the ruling. All together 98% of the South African online interactions were in opposition to the lifting of the ban. Outside of South Africa the story was much the same with disappointment and outrage coming from all corners of the earth.


The debate over how to tackle the escalating poaching of our rhinos and the seemingly inevitable extinction of these majestic creatures worldwide is not new. We, as South Africans, have been at the forefront of not only the conversation but also new technology and protection strategies. It is difficult to say whether the intentions of these farmers really lie with the well-being of the rhino species, or even if legalising trade is a step forward or backwards. What is clear is that this topic has evoked an emotive response from the public.


Activist groups and individuals have, and therefore can again be, rallied behind this cause. Saving one of our iconic big 5 is an issue close to many and their collective power may be our most powerful weapon in the fight.
Like any weapon though, we must learn to wield it effectively. Spotting the opportunity, understanding the impact and skillfully using the passion of the people to drive solutions.


From the 29th of November — only three days after the court ruling — until the second of December, there have been fewer than 100 mentions across the entire country regarding this issue. Although the initial community response was strong, no one managed to organise the masses into action. For now, the momentum has been lost.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from this experience, and countless others that have followed almost identical storylines, is that we need a plan. If you wish to generate meaningful outcomes on issues that evoke a strong emotional response, you (we) need to be ready to proactively direct and guide everyone who puts up their hand to say ‘’I care” into a direction that will deliver real change.

This data was gathered and analysed using Crimson Hexagon’s Forsight platform.
youKnow Digital are Crimson Hexagon’s Sub-Saharan partners. If you would like to see more of the powerful features that this Social Research and Analytics platform can provide, feel free to contact us for a live demonstration.

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