Wild vertebrate populations all over the globe are in decline, with poaching being the second-most-important cause. The high poaching rate of rhinoceros may drive these species into extinction within the coming decades. Some stakeholders argue to lift the ban on international rhino horn trade to potentially benefit rhino conservation, as current interventions appear to be insufficient. We reviewed scientific and grey literature to scrutinize the validity of reasoning behind the potential benefit of legal horn trade for wild rhino populations. We identified four mechanisms through which legal trade would impact wild rhino populations, of which only the increased revenue for rhino farmers could potentially benefit rhino conservation. Conversely, the global demand for rhino horn is likely to increase to a level that cannot be met solely by legal supply. Moreover, corruption is omnipresent in countries along the trade routes, which has the potential to negatively affect rhino conservation. Finally, programmes aimed at reducing rhino horn demand will be counteracted through trade legalization by removing the stigma on consuming rhino horn. Combining these insights and comparing them with criteria for sustainable wildlife farming, we conclude that legalizing rhino horn trade will likely negatively impact the remaining wild rhino populations. To preserve rhino species, we suggest to prioritize reducing corruption within rhino horn trade, increasing the rhino population within well-protected 'safe havens' and implementing educational programmes and law enforcement targeted at rhino horn consumers.