Parliament - No decision has been taken yet on whether South Africa will seek permission from Cites to sell its 18-ton stockpile of rhino horn, Environment Minister Edna Molewa said on Thursday.
“There is no decision yet that says we should go this direction or that direction... we are still investigating,” she told reporters, speaking ahead of debate in Parliament on her department's budget.
Rhino horn can sell illegally on the black market for US60 000 a kilogram. At this price, the government's stockpile would fetch close to R11 billion.
Molewa said South Africa was looking to the 2016 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) conference to “promote sustainable utilisation as an integral part of conservation and economic growth”.
The 2016 conference of the parties (CoP) is set to be held in South Africa.
“The CoP will present an opportunity to open rational discussions on potential solutions that will enable countries and communities Äthroughout the world, not only in South Africa Ä and species to benefit from a sustainable-use approach, possibly including a well-regulated trade regime,” Molewa said.
At the same time, it would ensure that illegal activities were dealt with effectively and punitively.
Last year, Cabinet directed environmental affairs to investigate the desirability and feasibility of a proposal to legalise the trade in rhino horn, currently banned by Cites, as a potential intervention in the run-up to the conference.
An inter-ministerial committee is looking into the matter.
Molewa urged all interested parties to work with government to ensure that whatever position it adopted would be one that was “well researched, science based and adhered to sustainable utilisation principles”.
Speaking later in the debate, Molewa told MPs that poaching remained the biggest threat to South Africa's rhino population.
“There has been an alarming increase in rhino poaching countrywide.”
Figures show that the number of rhino poached in South Africa has risen each year since 2007. Last year, 1004 rhino were killed for their horns. That total appears set to be exceeded this year, with over 550 rhino killed to date.
Government's push to gain international permission for a legal, one-off sale of its rhino horn has sparked heated discussion among conservationists and wildlife organisations.