South Africa lifts ban on domestic rhino horn sales

Ruling by South Africa’s highest court means rhino horns can be sold locally by traders holding permits

South Africa’s highest court has rejected a bid by the government to keep a ban on domestic trade in rhino horn, a court document shows.

The ruling by the constitutional court effectively means rhino horns may be traded locally.

The department of environmental affairs had sought to retain a moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horns which was dismissed by last year by another court. In a one paragraph ruling, the court ruled that the application by government be dismissed.

Environmental department spokesman Albie Modise said authorities were still considering the implications of the judgment.

“It is important to note that permits are required to sell or buy rhino horn,” he said in a statement.

The ruling will have little impact outside South Africa because a ban on international trade is still in force.

Breeders believe open trade is the only way to stop poachers slaughtering rhino.

“We are absolutely delighted at the ruling,” Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, said.

South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhinos, around 80% of the worldwide population, about a third of which is held by private breeders.

Rhino breeders want the booming Asian demand for rhino horn to be met by horns sawn off anaesthetised live animals, arguing that a legal source of horn could end poaching deaths.

The horns grow back, but most conservationists disagree with the proposed policy.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human fingernails. It is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases – as well as an aphrodisiac – in Vietnam and China.

At least 1,054 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2016, a slight decrease from the previous year.

A WWF spokeswoman said: “A decade has now passed since the initial upsurge in poaching and South Africa is still losing three rhinos a day. We do not believe law enforcement officials have the systems or capacity to manage parallel legal domestic trade on top of current levels of illegal poaching and trafficking.

“We are very concerned by the court’s decision to lift the ban on domestic trade in rhino horn. While we respect the court’s decision, we note the grounds for lifting the moratorium relate to the procedures that were used to put it in place rather than to the substantive merits of the ban. Without proven control measures we cannot ensure the legal trade won’t allow laundering of so-called ‘blood horns’ from our wild rhino populations. We believe the risks are too high, especially at such a critical time for safeguarding the future of wild rhinos.”

Agence France-Presse

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