The government in South Africa has approved plans to allow the domestic trade and export of rhinoceros horns. The legislation, if approved, would allow a foreigner with the correct permits to export luxury goods to take up to two rhino horns out of the country for personal purposes only.
Government critics’ and conservationists criticised the draft regulation arguing that the exporting of horns would be close to impossible to monitor and would lead to the growth of the illegal poaching industry around the world. This would defy the global agreement for the protection of rhino populations around the world.
The vast majority of rhinos live in and around South Africa and a ban on the international trade of rhino horns has been in place since 1977.
The South African government has lost several highly public court cases following its moratorium on the domestic trade of rhino horns in 2009 as the poaching of rhinos increased to meet growing demand from Asia.
A one month long period where members of the general public where encouraged to come forward and express opinions on the proposed legislation on the domestic and international trade of rhino horns ended on Friday (10/03/2017) and the Department of Environmental Affairs said:
“The comments will be evaluated, the draft regulatory provisions will be revised based on the comments received, and the process for approval of the final legislation will be set in motion.”
Any foreigner who decides to export rhino horns out of South Africa will have to do it through the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and cannot take them out of the country in hand luggage. The Department of Environmental Affairs also said ‘authorized freight agents must provide authorities with DNA data and other information related to exported horns.’ However many skeptics both within the government and from around the world believe that this would lead to further corruption.
Demand for rhino horns in Asia has most recently risen from some consumers believing that the powder of rhino horns can cure illness, however there is no empirical data to support such claims.
Critics and animal rights activists believe that legalisation of the domestic and international trade of rhino horns by South Africa will encourage the already growing illegal market selling rhino horns across the world to grow. Rhino breeders on the other hand said in a statement to TLR News that they believed:
‘Poaching of Rhino’s would be undercut by a regulated trade, which would likely allow the sale of horn stockpiles and the harvesting of horns from living rhinos.’
The illegal poaching of rhino’s for their horns is not limited just to South Africa. Just this month a 5 year old white rhino in the Thoiry Zoo near Paris was shot three times in the head and then had its horn brutally removed with a chainsaw.
“Banning the trade in horn has made the horn more and more and more valuable. Had we never banned it, the price of horn would never have got to where it is now,” said John Hume, a rhino breeder in South Africa. “And that Parisian rhino would have been safe in its zoo because its horn would have been worth a fraction of what it is.”
Hume described South Africa’s draft legislation on the domestic rhino horn trade as “a step in the right direction.”
But Allison Thomson, a South African campaigner against legalization, said putting rhino horns on the market would increase demand and that South Africa is sending “conflicting messages” about how to deal with poaching, jeopardizing its lucrative wildlife tourism.
“The risk we run at the moment is that if we open up trade and poaching escalates we will have no rhinos in the wild. We will only have rhinos on farms, being farmed like cows,” Thomson said.
In South Africa last year alone 1,054 rhinos where killed, a ten percent drop from 2015, according to official government statistics published last month.
While authorities attributed the decrease to increased security and other anti-poaching measures, some conservationists speculate that there are fewer rhinos to kill. Drought also killed some rhinos in the past year.
By some estimates, South Africa has nearly 20,000 rhinos, or 80 percent of Africa’s population. Asia has several rhino species, including two that are critically endangered.