Rhino Horn Trade – a free for all again?
Last year, John Hume and Johan Kruger went to the High Court to contest the moratorium on the ban on rhino horn trade in South Africa.(Kruger and Another v The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs and Others  JOL 34725 (GP) para 6) They brought this to court because their main source of income was, at the time, and still is, trading in rhino horns. Hume is also the biggest rhino breeder in the world. At the time of the imposition of the moratorium, both Kruger and Hume were in possession of rhino horns that would have had a very high value, if the trade was allowed.
This moratorium was imposed in terms of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, which aims to conserve species that warrant national protection, as well as Section 24 of the Constitution or the Republic of South Africa which deals with everyone’s right to the environment. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to which South Africa is a signatory, imposes an international obligation on South Africa to protect threatened and endangered species, including rhinos.
The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs’ reasoning for the imposition of the moratorium was as folows – “Moratorium is intended to stem the flow of rhino horn into the international market and indirectly to curb the demand for horn and horn products which in turn may reduce poaching.” The imposition of this ban on rhino horn trade did not curb rhino poaching, but it was found to actually have increased since. In 2008, before the moratorium was imposed, the number of rhinos poached was just below 100. By 2014, after the imposition of the moratorium, that number had risen to 1200. It would seem that rhino poaching will continue whether or not the trade in rhino horn is legal.
In the above case, the Judge found that the correct procedures were not followed to impose the moratorium and therefore the ban was uplifted. However, when the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs indicated that she would appeal the decision, the uplifting of the ban was postponed. The appeal was not allowed and consequently, the 7 year ban on the trade in rhino horn in South Africa was uplifted. This means that rhino horn can be traded again in South Africa, subject to permits. This trade can only occur domestically because the international convention still bans international trade.
Other manners of curbing rhino horn poaching should be considered rather than banning trade in rhino horn. When rhinos are dehorned in responsible manners, they suffer no harm and their horns grow back to full length within two years. Dehorned rhinos have also been seen to have a a higher survival rate than horned rhinos, since most rhinos are poached for their horns. “Currently South Africa has approximately 75% of the world’s rhino population – just more than 24 000 rhinos. One rhino can generate millions of Rands’ income if taken into account that these animals’ life expectancy is between 35 and 50 years. In order to save the rhino we need to be resourceful and creative rather than sticking to old approaches such as blanket trade bans that have clearly failed to protect the rhino.”
An effort needs to be made to conserve rhinos, since they are critically endangered. If you would like to get involved, please visit www.savetherhino.org