South African judge lifts domestic ban on rhino horn trade

Image of a rhino's horn after being removed from a rhino.

On 26 November 2015, a South African judge lifted a ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa, imposed by the government in 2009, after finding that the state had not followed the process of public participation before imposing the moratorium.

The ruling was delivered in the Pretoria High Court after two South African game breeders fought a legal battle to overturn the moratorium. John Hume and Johan Kruger who launched the legal action, say it is their constitutional right to sell rhino horn, which they describe as a renewable resource.

Shortly after the ruling was made public, the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs announced that the government would be appealing the court’s decision, meaning that today’s judgement is suspended, and the moratorium will not be lifted until the appeal is heard and then only if the decision is upheld. You can read the full statement from the Department of Environmental Affairs here.

Save the Rhino’s chief concern is that the domestic trade in rhino horn prior to the moratorium in 2009 led to a larger number of owners of rhino horn stockpiles, a proportion of which were investors rather than conservation managers, and that inadequate controls on this multiplicity of stockpiles facilitated “leakage” into the criminal trade in rhino horn. A report on the 2009 moratorium highlighted a shortfall of c. 1,800 kgs of what was expected to be held in stockpiles, according to estimates based on natural mortalities etc., and what was recorded in official records. Reopening the domestic trade in rhino horn within South Africa risks creating further opportunities for leakage into the illegal trade.

We believe that this step is being considered for financial rather than conservation reasons. We can see that rhino owners – state and private alike – are haemorrhaging cash with the increased costs of security, but if ownership of rhino horn is widened to investors, rather than simply game farm, reserve or park managers, there will be even more stockpiles to regulate and monitor, something the South African authorities have struggled with as it is.

Secondly, we’re puzzled by the judge’s comment that the moratorium’s role in adding to the surge in poaching could not be excluded. Does this mean that, prior to 2009, the legal domestic trade in rhino horns allowed sufficient “leakage” to satisfy illegal demand from overseas? If so, that leakage must have been significant.

If South Africa does submit a proposal to CITES to trade in rhino horn internationally, and it is rejected, what exactly will these investors do with their newly acquired rhino horns?

Overall, we would comment that it is widely supposed, though not yet confirmed, that South Africa will table a proposal to legalise the international trade in rhino horn for consideration at the 2016 CITES Conference of the Parties. In the face of extreme scepticism by many anti-trade proponents, it would seem wise for South African pro-traders to use these months to work with the government to iron out irregularities in the country’s stockpiles, to ensure that all stored rhino horn is properly DNA-profiled, micro-chipped, weighed, measured and inventoried, and to deal with the many abuses of the rhino trophy hunting system. Without demonstrating its ability to tackle long-standing corruption and inadequate record keeping, the chances of securing a majority vote at CITES seem remote.

To credit the “rhino farmers” who brought the court case: they affirm that they have rhino conservation interests at heart. One of the consequences of the heated debate over the potential legalisation of the trade in rhino horn has been to create divisions between those with different points of view. It’s important for us – including the general public – to remember that conservationists want to see increased rhino numbers in an increased number of viable populations spread throughout African range states. We can all agree on that, and no one should be put off supporting rhino conservation efforts simply because there is not a unified view on this particular issue.

Read more:

Killing for profit – Full court ruling document

News 24 – SA judge lifts domestic ban on rhino horn trade

25 thoughts on “South African judge lifts domestic ban on rhino horn trade

  1. To all the bleeding hearts who work from emotional impulse and not logical balance
    1, the chinese have been using Ivory and rhino horn for many purposes for thousands of years, longer than the good old USA has even been recognized as a nation,
    2 it is no different to farming a sustainable species as Americans do to native turkeys to send them to slaughter for”” thanks giving”” I wish someone could explain the joy in slaughtering a native American species in celebration
    3 , sustainable utilization is no different to the millions of acres that are cleared of native forests and wildlife in South America and Asia for the pleasure of big corporations in corporate America to produce beef for hamburgers and oils for cosmetics for the well to do , at least these individuals have the future of Rhino to protect for s corporate interest, and not remove as a pest byproduct for food consumption in good old USA

  2. you people do realize they don’t kill the rhino when cutting the horn off and it regrows when harvested properly. there are wildlife vet’s that do the darting and monitor the vital signs of the rhino. how has the ban helped so far??? it increased poaching to over 1000 a year. the ban is surly saving the rhino not!

  3. Does nothing stop the Chinese ignorance in this matter, as well as, the trade in ivory ? Of course they don’t care. It’s not their country.

  4. Totally disgusted by these greedy men who do not have anything other on their minds but to enrich themselves. Killing for profit is selfish , greedy and cruel. John Hume and Johan Kruger are not True South Africans-they should be ostracized. What gives them the right to slaughter our heritage as Africans. To leave baby rhinos without their mothers. These animals have more familial emotions and compassion than these two legged greedy humans.

  5. I cannot believe what I have read here! Why do people believe that what is basically hair can act as an aphrodisiac? PLEASE HELP the Rhinos by reinstating this ban!

  6. What a bloody short sighted and bigoted decision. How can it be a renewable resource if rhino horns don’t re grow and some die anyway. And any way what possible use is it to the modern world. Do the courts and governments not consider depletion of important wild life as a lack of tourist revenue from tourist game parks like Kruger. They bring in mega dollars without hurting anything.

  7. I am sorry to hear of how unforgivably stupid or corrupt South African courts have become. A three-year-old child could render a saner or more just decision. Sadly, the world will remember South Africa as the nation that gave the go-ahead to kill the rhino to extinction. You haven’t learned very much since the lifting of apartheid, have you?

  8. Why does this continue? These is pure human greed where ignorant people are led to believe that rhino horn has special powers. They need to be educated in this and understand they are being fleeced. The judge clearly is profiting from the killing too. Shame on you all.

  9. Disgraceful! If GOVERNMENTS DON’T STOP Animal Cruelty , THEY ARE JUST AS THE CRIMINALS AS THE CRIMINALS THEMSELVES….. “” Animals are the helpless victims of Greed, Corruption, Ignorance , Selfishness and Savage Cruelty””..~IL ……..””The greatness of the nation and its moral progress can be judge by the way its animals are treated””.~ MG

  10. I’m happy the Minister of Environmental Affairs has filed an appeal on this ruling. Save the Rhino should start a petition to document how many people would not support this ban being overturned. Thank you for all you do to help these magnificent animals…You’re all heroes.

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