South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal has once again legalized rhino horn trade in South Africa.
The decision is coming at a time when the whole world is frowning upon animal poaching. It can either be the only means to save the African rhinos as the supreme court hopes or it could further facilitate rhino poaching.
Since 1977 international trade in rhino horn has been banned by member states of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that governs international wildlife trade.
The CITES convention however does apply to trade between countries. Trade within the border of a country which has ratified the convention will not be seen as illegal per se.
South Africa which has the world’s highest rhino population permitted domestic trade in rhino horn until 2009 when poaching reached an unpleasant high. The government imposed a moratorium– a temporary ban — which has now been lifted.
Last month Swaziland, a landlocked country in South Africa submitted a proposal to CITES to legalize the international trade of rhino horn with the intention of using the proceeds to pay for anti poaching measures.
“At present 100% of the proceeds from the sale of rhino horn are taken by criminals, while rhino custodians pay 100% of the costs of rhino protection and production yet they desperately need funds to cover these costs,” the CITES Management Authority of Swaziland had said.
Rhino poaching usually involves the death of the animals and in a bid to combat this issue , these countries practice dehorning. Namibia was the first to practice this.
Rhino horn grows back when sawed off above the root correctly, so ranchers usually anesthetize the rhinos and saw off their horns that way the animals are preserved while also satisfying the buyers of the horn– usually from China and Vietnam.
Will South Africa Practice Illegal Trade?
South Africa’s sales of Rhino horn will however pose a dilemma. By ratifying the CITES convention, it is bound by law to abstain from the sales of rhino horn to other countries. However, the markets for these horns is in Asia were they are ground into powder and used in creation of ‘drugs’. South Africa will either have to sell to Asians or these horns will be smuggled out.
There is also one more option, if Swaziland wins the right to sell rhino horn to other countries then South Africa will most likely sell to Swaziland. This will also be legal in reference to the CITES convention which offers an exception on the rhino horn trade ban between Swaziland and South Africa.