Durban - Private owners selling rhino horns will only be allowed to engage in domestic trade that is regulated by permits and strict regulations.

This is according to the Department of Environmental Affairs, which detailed how the domestic trade could be carried out in a statement released at the weekend.

The department’s comment comes after it was reported last week that one of the world’s biggest rhino breeders, John Hume, from North West, is to hold a first-of-its-kind online rhino horn auction next month.

The Mercury’s sister newspaper, The Pretoria News, reported that Hume, who has more than 1500 rhinos on his ranch, plans to sell half a ton of rhino horns. It was not clear what rules would govern international buyers’ participation in the auction.

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The department said the commercial international trade in rhino horn remains prohibited in terms of the international protocols that South Africa is party to, particularly the Convention on International Trade in Species (Cites).

The department also said domestic trade in rhino horn was subject to the issuing of the relevant permits in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Nemba), Act No 10 of 2004, its regulations and applicable provincial legislation.

“In terms of Nemba, a permit is required to possess, transport and trade in rhino horns and any derivatives or products of horn. The Constitutional Court judgment in April confirming the setting aside the 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn retrospectively does not mean persons are allowed to trade (including selling, donating, or in any way acquiring or disposing of) rhino horn without a permit issued by the relevant provincial conservation department.

“The Environmental Management Inspectors of both the Department of Environmental Affairs and provincial conservation departments monitor compliance with the relevant regulations and requirements.”

The department added that it was considering comments made in response to a draft set of regulations - opened for public comment in February - that aims to manage the domestic trade in rhino horn.


Commenting on the regulations, rhino programme manager for the World Wildlife Fund, Jo Shaw, recommended that the government should retain the moratorium until control mechanisms are in place, and rather focus efforts on disrupting syndicates involved in rhino horn trafficking.

Humane Society International Africa executive director Audrey Delsink was also concerned about the “loopholes” the regulations could introduce for criminal syndicates that laundered horn.

“It might create an enforcement nightmare, both within the country and internationally. We do not have time to spare when it comes to the fate of rhinos, and we have to focus on shutting down the illegal trade rather than endorsing legal trade in rhino horn, which has significant enforcement challenges and poor capacity,” Delsink said.

The department added that an electronic database that would capture “extensive details” on all individual rhino horns in private and government-owned stockpiles had been created, and an audit into all existing stockpiles had begun.

“Through the audit, the department intends to ensure that every horn is tagged with a micro-chip and DNA tested.”