By John R. Platt
The South African government released two important and shocking news items last week. The first announcement revealed that 461 rhinos had been poached in the country to date as of July 3—more than were killed in all of 2011. Poachers target the animals for their horns, which are valued in China and Vietnam for their purported (but nonexistent) medicinal qualities. The second announcement was a proposal for the legalization of rhino-horn trade, which is currently illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The announcements came from Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, who said she will formally make the proposal at the 2016 meeting of CITES delegates (known as the Convention of the Parties or COP), which will take place in South Africa that year. Molewa praised her country’s efforts to conserve rhinos—a true success story, as both African species were nearly wiped out a few decades ago—while saying that this success has also made the animals targets for criminal gangs. “South Africa cannot continue to be held hostage by the syndicates slaughtering our rhinos,” she said in a prepared statement to the media, adding that a “well-regulated trade system” would help all future conservation efforts.
South Africa reportedly will not seek a full legalization of all rhino-horn trade but a one-time sale of current stockpiles. The South African government has stockpiled more than 16,400 kilograms of rhino horns—mostly confiscated from poachers—while private owners possess about 2,000 kilograms more—ironically, mostly horns that have been removed from live animals to make them less attractive to poachers. With rhino horns fetching anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 a kilogram, the South African government could net half a billion dollars or more from the proposed sale. Private ranchers, who own much of South Africa’s rhino population, would also benefit from this windfall. In fact, many ranchers have been pushing for a sale like this. More....