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By Edwin Naidu
Rhino breeders in South Africa welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling that sets aside a domestic moratorium on trade in rhinoceros horn, saying the decision will make their operations sustainable and help in the fight against poaching.
The decision means that rhino horn can be traded legally in South Africa for the first time in eight years.
Private Rhino Owners Association chairman Pelham Jones told Bloomberg BNA April 10 that rhino breeders spent almost R2billion ($143 million) on security measures since the moratorium began in 2009.
“Along with the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] ban on trading in rhino horn, which has been effective since 1977, the moratorium has contributed to the rhino population in Africa and South Africa being decimated through increased poaching,” Jones said.
“Legalized trading, provided one has a permit and meets certain conditions, including obtaining a chip number for horn, taking a DNA sample and weight, can help grow the industry, enabling it to become sustainable,” he said. “We are not interfering with the rhino lifestyle, but reducing the security risk and growing the stock pile of rhino horn.”
Without providing reasons, the Constitutional Court April 5 dismissed an application by Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa for leave to appeal against a Nov. 26, 2015, court decision to set aside the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn with immediate and retrospective effect. The moratorium, which went into effect Feb. 13, 2009, was implemented under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act.
The original application challenging the moratorium was brought by private rhino breeder Johan Kruger in 2012, who later was joined by breeder John Hume in 2015.
Molewa said in an April 6 statement that the ministry was studying the implications of the order that the Constitutional Court handed down. “It should be noted that the court’s decision should not be construed to mean that the domestic trade in rhino horn may take place in an unregulated fashion,” she said.
During the eight years the moratorium was in effect, Molewa says the ministry strengthened its biodiversity laws, regulations and systems on possession of rhino horn and domestic trade in rhino horn.
As South Africa’s largest rhino breeder, Hume said he went to court asking the moratorium to be set aside because his rhino were threatened with extinction unless he could pay for it due to increased security costs. Hume argued that if he could satisfy the demand in Asia with rhino horn he cut from his farmed rhino, then he could slow illegal trade and help prevent their extinction.
“The only feasible way to save my rhinos from extinction is to sell their horn, which is, after all, a sustainable, natural product that I never need to kill a rhino to produce,” he said in his court application documents.
The Centre for Environmental Rights in Cape Town said in an April 6 statement that it was disappointed with the court’s decision to set aside the moratorium. One of the largest and most established conservation NGOs in South Africa, Endangered Wildlife Trust, said, given the serious nature of the rhino horn trade crisis and its far-reaching consequences for rhino populations, wildlife crime and international trade, the high court erred when it set aside the moratorium.
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Environment ministry statement on Constitutional Court ruling on domestic rhino horn trade is available at http://src.bna.com/nOV.
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