A group of international experts has warned the Committee of Inquiry commissioned to evaluate the feasibility of an international trade in rhino horn that even the suggestion of trade would almost certainly increase the risk of poaching.
The Committee of Inquiry was established by the Department of Environmental Affairs in February. If it concludes that trading rhino horn internationally will be beneficial to rhino conservation, South Africa will table a proposal to that effect at the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg at the end of next year.
In an letter to the chairperson of the committee the experts emphasise that if South Africa were to propose international trade at CoP17, this would undermine efforts to reduce demand in countries like Vietnam and China by removing the stigma increasingly attached to owning rhino horn in these countries and stimulating demand there.
Trade in southern white rhino horn would result in dire consequences for the world’s other, more vulnerable species, including the northern white rhino and the Javan rhino, and would open the door for poached rhino horn to be laundered into the legal market.
The experts question the ethical implications for a government that knowingly promotes the trade in a product sold for its supposed medicinal properties in the full knowledge that there is no proof for such claims whatsoever.
They express concern that important information and expertise from various stakeholders is not being considered and suggest that the arguments for the hypothetical benefits of trade are based on flawed assumptions and a lack of scientific evidence.
The authors of the letter believe that the underlying causes of the current poaching crisis are “criminality and demand” and that “the real solutions are elimination of demand and working to strengthen law enforcement and successful prosecution of poachers, middlemen and end-traders”.