JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s parliament could soon consider a new law to allow for limited trade and export of rhino horn for personal purposes. The government proposed the draft legislation earlier this year and an initial 30-day period for public comment wraps up today. The bill has support but has angered animal rights groups.
In the proposed law, the government seeks to allow domestic trade in rhino horn as well as individual exports of two rhino horns at a time, only for personal use and under strict control.
South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs proposes that any sale will include the full details of the buyer and seller, a permit and the genetic profile information of each horn sold.
Domestic trade in rhino horn was banned in South Africa in 2009.
In 2015, two independent rhino breeders won a court case challenging the domestic ban. The government tried to overturn that ruling on appeal but failed. The Department of Environmental Affairs proposed this new legislation to comply with the court’s 2015 verdict.
The draft law has excited independent rhino breeders who have fought hard to get the ban lifted. Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, points to upsides of the law.
“The benefit of domestic trade is that it will allow now a partial supply of rhino horn from existing stock piles, no injury to existing live animals whatsoever, to be traded in South Africa, to be exported with a CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] permit,” Jones said.
Critics fearful of law’s exploitation
But opponents say there should be no exceptions when it comes to trade in rhino horn. Animal rights groups believe even limited legalization will open a loophole for criminal syndicates. Jo Shaw is manager of the World Wildlife Fund’s South Africa Rhino Program.
“We don’t believe that the necessary control mechanisms are currently in place at an international, national or provincial level to enable law enforcement and permitting staff to be able to regulate this legal domestic trade alongside the existing levels of illegal trade in horn,” Shaw said.
International trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977.
Jones of the Rhino Owners Association says there is currently no proof that the international ban has protected the rhino. He argues that some legal trade will help fund conservation efforts.
“Due to those severe security costs, many reserves have in fact given up and have sold all their rhino populations, so this revenue will at least help to mitigate certain of our operational expenses.”
A rhino horn can sell for up to $23,000. Every year, according to government statistics, South Africa loses about one thousand rhinos to poachers eager to traffic the horns to Asian countries where they are believed to be able to treat various ailments, despite lack of scientific backing.