SA drops rhino horn sale bombshell

5 months ago written by

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is seeking to make the widespread sale of rhino horn legal making the country open market for trading and even exporting rhino horn. In the process it will undermine attempts by CITES to save rhinos.

Environmentalist Don Pinnock writes for the Daily Maverick that the public only has until next week (March 10) to respond to draft regulations, which – if approved by parliament – will make the sale of rhino horn legal. 

Speaking in a Parliamentary portfolio committee on February 21, Minister Edna Molewa and DEA biodiversity director Thea Carroll spoke to the regulations in terms of legalising the sale of two rhino horns per person, but failed to mention the devil in the detail, which a closer reading of the regulations later revealed.

Pinnock says it turns out the two-per-person discussion was a red herring which effectively diverted attention of the few attending MPs from the fact that this only applied to “a person from a foreign state”. South Africans wanting to buy or sell rhino horn, on obtaining a permit, would have no such restriction and could trade and export “as much horn as they pleased”. Foreigners owning rhinos could also do so.

Because the paragraph concerning the two-horn restriction referred to “a person contemplated” in another part of the regulations, it was easy to miss the key point that the “person” referred to was only a foreign national, not domiciled in South Africa, or not owning a rhino. No such restriction was placed on locals.

South Africa has the greatest number of rhinos in the world and a huge poaching problem. Legalising trade and export is likely to collapse international attempts to protect rhinos.

We have earlier reported on this site that last year the moratorium on the sale of rhino horn was challenged by private sector rhino breeders who won a court case against the government on a technicality. Molewa took the result on appeal to the Constitutional Court. Then, on February 8 – possibly anticipating losing the Constitutional Court appeal – she announced new draft regulations, giving the public a mere 30 days to make representations or objections.

The effect, if the regulations become law, is that South Africa will be an almost open market for trading and even exporting rhino horn. This is a slap in the face for the overwhelming majority of countries that voted against the trade in horn at the CITES CoP17 meeting in Gauteng last year and a huge victory for the very few, extremely wealthy, rhino farmers and potential traders who have been lobbying Molewa for years.

The draft regulations seek to justify the trade through the fiction that it may only be traded for personal purposes, but leaves out what “personal” may mean.

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