By Melanie Gosling
Cape Town - Legalising international trade in rhino horn would not lead to an increase in rhino horn poaching, the Department of Environmental Affairs said.
It was reacting to recent reports about legalising the trade which it labelled as “mischievous”, designed to create confusion about the government’s proposal.
“As international anti-trade campaigns gather momentum, it is of critical importance to emphasise that South Africa’s position regarding the trade in rhino horn is being distorted by the anti-trade lobby,” the department said.
It was reacting to the international controversy that has dogged Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s announcement in July last year that the cabinet had approved plans to ask the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) at its next meeting in 2016 to be allowed to sell rhino horn.
There has been a global ban on international trade in horn for over 30 years. However South Africa has an 18-ton stockpile of rhino horn and could raise millions by the sale of the horn – as well as save on the high costs of guarding the horn.
In its statement on Friday, Environmental Affairs said a panel of experts under the department’s head of biodiversity and conservation, Fundisile Mketeni, had been appointed to help the inter-ministerial committee appointed by cabinet to deliberate on the matter. To date, no final proposal had been compiled.
Whatever proposal was tabled at the Cites meeting in 2016 would be based on sound science, the department said.
“It will not be influenced by any individuals wanting to line their pockets or any group opposed to South Africa’s sustainable utilisation process.”
With rhino poaching there was no single solution, and asking Cites to allow rhino horn trade was an important step towards addressing poaching, the department said.
Molewa has said South Africa’s elephant population was not affected by poaching for more than a decade after Cites approved a once-off sale of ivory by South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in 2007. The sale was carried out to “approved Chinese and Japanese buyers” in 2008, the first legal sale of ivory after the ban on international trade in elephant products, introduced in 1989.
However Jason Bell, director of the South African branch of the International Federation of Animal Welfare (IFAW), believes the government is actively lobbying to gain support for legalised trade in rhino horn.
At a recent international conference to assess the risk of legalising rhino horn trade, Bell said research his organisation had commissioned had found there was a real risk that legalising the trade could result in increased poaching.
“Such a proposal would fly in the face of unprecedented international efforts to clamp down on illicit wildlife trade and poaching. South Africa should stand with the international community in putting pressure on countries like Vietnam and China, which are consumers of rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife, to do everything possible to eliminate demand,” Bell said.