Summary: Rhino owners and breeders want the domestic trade ban lifted, arguing that the legal trade of rhino horns will help cut back on poaching.
Private rhino breeders and game reserve owners are asking the South African government to overturn the ban on the trade of rhino horns. They believe if rhino horns can be traded legally, then poachers will be run out of business.
The ban on the domestic trade of rhino horns was enacted by the South African government in 2009. Rhino populations had plummeted even with an international ban being in place since 1977.
Game reserve owners and rhino breeders can harvest horns from living rhinos without killing them. The process of removing the horn is much like trimming a horse’s hoof. Rhinos experience no pain and dehorning can be done quickly. Their horns grow one to two pounds of horn each year allowing owners to harvest up to ten horns in the animals life.
The belief is that being able to harvest horns more than once from a rhino will make keeping them alive more valuable, driving the need for poaching out. Those that oppose lifting the ban think that the desire to make the trade legal is driven by greed and will still be filled with corruption.
The demand for rhino horns from Asia has driven the desire of poachers to do whatever it takes to get the horns. Buyers will pay more for horns than cocaine or gold. Many Asian religions believe the horns can cure ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer, even though there is no evidence of the horns having such properties. The horns are also a status symbol.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or the CITES oversees the trade of plants and wild animals. The Convention meets every year and had said they would talk about the ban during their September 2016 meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The government has said it will not lift the ban until the Convention meets next September. They have asked biologists, economists, veterinarians, park managers, and other rhino experts to view what their thoughts are on the ban. Most are in favor of legalizing the international ban. Experts believe that if the international ban is not also lifted, that the legal trade in South Africa will continue to fuel poaching and the use of the black market.
The breeders that filed the lawsuit against the government disagree with the experts, claiming that a legal trade will save rhinos. The court case will resume in September.