Johannesburg - South Africa risks huge embarrassment on home soil should it approach the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in 2016 with a proposal to legalise the international trade in rhino horn.
This is according to Will Travers, of the Born Free Foundation, who said this week that the country was likely to receive very little support from other countries should it submit a proposal to trade in rhino horn at Cites’ 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17), to be held in Durban in 2016.
“Let’s say SA does put through its proposal, and that it has a central selling organisation as part of its proposal with lots of safeguards built in. Perhaps there’s even some designated trading partners. That has to be approved by 66 percent or more of the attending parties to COP17. In total, there are 180 parties to Cites. But let’s say 160 parties turn up at the meeting.
“That means SA will have to get 107 votes for that to fly. At the moment, my understanding is the EU is against trade. That’s 28 votes. I don’t think the US is going to take it. Australia is going to say no. Kenya too. There’s a whole raft of countries against. We only have to tip up to 55 votes against, and the blocking minority prevents it.
“You know what I’d say to SA? ‘Don’t bother. Don’t do it.’ It’s hugely embarrassing to go to the conference and get 30 votes on the table. It’s happened in the past where people walk out sweating and feeling ill. And you’re the host country.
“The wisest thing now is for the government to listen to this audience, to work together, and come up with solutions that are going to truly protect rhinos, drive down demand, and address poaching… to walk away from this issue.”
Travers was speaking at a conference held by Outraged Citizens Against Poaching on the risks of a potential rhino horn trade in Pretoria this week. “Save a rhino. Kill a poacher,” read the poster leading to the venue.
Cites, said Mary Rice, executive director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, did not have an appetite for trade. “I don’t think SA can get enough support. The issue would be completely divisive at the Cites meeting.”
She didn’t know why South Africa was being so “tunnel-visioned”. “It may have something to do with the strength of the private rhino owners and their lobbying. And so it is in their best interests… they will benefit from any market.
“Legal trade does not work and can never work… It’s not about conservation. It’s about personal gain – or government gain in this case.”
South Africa needed to learn lessons from the debacle over the ivory trade. “You don’t legalise a high-value product like ivory… and then wonder why elephant poaching has gone off the charts. The same is true for rhino horn.”
South Africa could not act within a bubble. “They (the government) are talking about only their rhinos and only them. SA is part of a larger continent, a broader regional grouping. What SA decides impacts its neighbours, and also impacts people as far away as Asia. Asia has elephants and rhino as well,” said Rice.
‘Conduct regular audits’
South Africa should not lift the national moratorium on rhino horn, but should immediately start developing a secure national electronic permitting system to bring non-compliance issues under control.
This is according to a report on the viability of the legalisation of the trade in rhino horn in South Africa commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2010, and compiled by Endangered Wildlife Trust rhino expert Dr Jo Shaw and economist Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes.
The report finds that, if South Africa were to lift the moratorium, this could lead to the laundering of illegal rhino horn into the illicit international market, and could tarnish the country’s international conservation reputation. Rather, private rhino owners must be incentivised to continue protecting rhinos, and regular audits of stockpiled horns must be conducted to discourage illegal sales. – Saturday Star