Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife received unexpected support from a former US politician and conservationist, Ray Arnett, who applauded the organisation’s determination to try to convince the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) next year to legalise the sale of rhino horn.
“Your brave role needs the greatest support. I’m sure that a properly regulated trade in this commodity could very well lead to a halting of the disastrous rhino poaching taking place in your country,” he said in a letter to the body’s chief executive Dr Bandile Mkhize.
Arnett was the director of Fish and Game for the State of California and the Assistant Secretary for the Interior, a cabinet post dealing with national parks and conservation issues in the US.
He was also the director of the National Wildlife Federation for 17 years, as well as the director of the National Rifle Association.
Last month, local rhino conservationists 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 Johannesburg four times a year.
No formal negotiations have been held with prospective buyers, but the intention is to sell horns to Eastern pharmaceutical companies that make traditional Chinese medicine, in an attempt to drive down the black-market price by offering horns at a cheaper price.
“This legalisation of trading horn falls clearly into a policy of the wise-use of natural resources. Resistance to it shows little understanding of the importance of wildlife to any country. I am sure this regulated trade could also lead to the provision of substantial revenue to provincial (and) national parks,” Arnett said.
The State Fish and Game Commissions, he said, relied heavily on the sale of game licences, as well as the sale of firearms, ammunition and fishing tackle.
Past proposals by South Africa to Cites to permit a legal trade in rhino horn have not been accepted.
However, the 35-year Cites moratorium on rhino horn trade has been unsuccessful, as it has not curbed the poaching of rhino or stopped the illegal trade in the product.
Mkhize has organised to visit Nicky Oppenheimer in Johannesburg later this month to discuss the intricacies of trading the commodity.
“Mr Oppenheimer’s offer to discuss the practicalities of this with me will be another important step forward. The current price of horn at about R400 000/kg makes this discussion critical because we don’t have the state resources… to tackle such a lucrative target. Something has to change.”
He didn’t have the exact figure, but confirmed that South Africa had accumulated about 40 tons of rhino horn in natural mortality and poaching convictions. The 16th Conference of Parties to Cites is set to take place in March next year. – Daily News Reporter