In a controversial move, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that a ban on domestic trade in rhino horn – first implemented in 2009 – must be overturned, allowing licensed vendors to harvest and distribute them.
The country is home to the world’s largest rhino population, about a quarter of which are privately owned, according to Reuters. As such, South Africa is reported to be sitting on a stockpile of around 31 tonnes (34 tons) of rhino horn, which could be worth up to $2 billion on the international market.
However, with virtually no market for rhino horn in South Africa, vendors do most of their business by exporting it to Asia, where it is used as a totally ineffective “cure” for things like cancer, low libido and even hangovers in countries such as China and Vietnam. Yet international trade in this “commodity” is still illegal, and has been ever since 182 member countries signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1975.
As such, the passage to Asia remains blocked – in theory – for South African rhino horn, leading to fears that the court’s ruling will now encourage smuggling and black market activity.
The seemingly senseless decision to overturn the ban came after the country’s largest rhino farmer, John Hume, teamed up with safari operator Johan Kruger to sue the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (DEA). With so much financial interest in the horn market, the pair claimed that the minister was legally obliged to consult with them before introducing the 2009 ban – something which the High Court in Pretoria ultimately agreed with last year.
The DEA then took the case to the Supreme Court, which denied leave to make the appeal, upholding the High Court’s ruling.
The international trade in rhino horn is still illegal, which means this latest ruling could encourage black market activity. Paul Fleet/Shutterstock
Exactly how this development will affect rhino populations in South Africa is something that is currently being debated. After all, it is not necessary to kill a rhino in order to harvest its horn, which, like human hair and fingernails, is made of keratin and grows back if cut off above the root.
As such, some ranchers in South Africa farm rhinos, keeping them alive in order to periodically remove their horns. Some are now arguing that by allowing this practice, the funds obtained through the sale of these horns can be invested in rhino conservation projects.
However, others are concerned that the legalization of this trade will encourage unscrupulous and unlicensed poachers to kill wild rhinos in order to obtain and sell their horns.
As a punishment, perhaps these people should have their fingernails removed and sold, to see how they like it.