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DURBAN: SA rhino conservationists have unveiled details of a bold but controversial plan to curb the poaching crisis by selling rhino horns legally and directly to Chinese pharmaceutical companies.
The rhino horns would be sold in much the same way as diamonds are sold by the De Beers corporation. Prices would be controlled by a central selling organisation, with sales at OR Tambo International Airport in Joburg four times a year.
No formal negotiations have been held with prospective foreign buyers, but the intention is to sell horns to Eastern pharmaceutical companies to make traditional Chinese medicine, in an attempt to drive down the black-market price by offering horns at a cheaper price.
The plan was produced by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife chief executive Dr Bandile Mkhize, former Ezemvelo chief Dr George Hughes, former Ezemvelo conservation planning chief Roger Porter, Joburg economist Michael Eustace – and by SA rhino conservationist Dr Ian Player, who played a central role in rescuing the world’s white rhinos from the verge of extinction.
To stop illegal black-market horns being laundered with legal ones, all horns would be sold with certified proof of their origin, including DNA genetic and chemical samples and transponder chips.
Money raised from the horn sales would be used to fund rhino protection at a time when conservation agencies are battling to contain a rhino poaching crisis in a country that protects 90 percent of the world’s remaining rhino population. More than 270 rhinos have been slaughtered nationwide this year, while three white rhinos were gunned down and dehorned this week in Hluhluwe game reserve.
Details of the formal proposal were presented to the International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban yesterday on behalf of
Ezemvelo by Porter, who said the plan offered a realistic chance to curb poaching and reduce black-market prices, which have risen to the level where local poachers can make R250 000 from killing a single rhino. Foreign criminal syndicates pay even higher prices once the horns reach China and Vietnam.
Porter acknowledged that the proposal was not a silver bullet to halt poaching – and proposed building in a key political escape hatch.
“Let’s try it out for five years and see what impact it has on poaching and the black-market prices.
“If it reduces poaching significantly, let’s carry on with it. But if it doesn’t reduce poaching, then you can stop the sales.”
Porter is chief editor of the proposal sent to the national Department of Environmental Affairs to convince the cabinet to seek the lifting of the 30-year ban on rhino horn sales by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
So far, the SA government has been sitting on the fence on whether to submit a formal proposal to the next Cites meeting in April – but if the new plan is to have any hope of making it on the global negotiating table, the cabinet would need to endorse the plan within the next few months as Cites requires that advance proposals are lodged before October.