The Bull Rhino wakes up with a bandaged horn. Picture: Matthew Jordaan
The Bull Rhino wakes up with a bandaged horn. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

Rhino debate charges ahead

By John Yeld Time of article published Jan 31, 2012

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An intense debate is under way about whether the ban on rhino horn trade should be lifted as a way of tackling poaching.

A number of organisations and individuals say the ban, imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in 1976, is not working and is at least partly, if not mostly, responsible for the rocketing poaching figures. They argue that South Africa’s proposed moratorium on rhino hunting will have a similar effect.

There has been a national moratorium on the trade in individual rhino horns and any derivatives or products since February 2009, but this does not apply to horn obtained during a trophy hunt, which is still legal.

But others have argued that elephant poaching increased after Cites partly lifted its ban on ivory sales and rhino are likely to follow the same route.

Also, there is no guarantee that lifting the ban on rhino horn will reduce demand for the product, they say.

The debate was given impetus by last week’s public hearing on the issue by the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on environmental affairs.

In its written submission to the committee, KwaZulu-Natal conservation authority Ezem-velo KZN Wildlife said the effective management and protection of rhino breeding stock remained critical to the species’ survival.

It said people could buy a live animal at an auction for R300 000 and sell its horn for R1.5 million.

It argued that if the rhino horn trade was legalised, the risk to game and wildlife ranchers would diminish and they would keep an increasing number of rhinos.

“The increased demand (will be) likely to raise the price of live rhino, while promoting their growth and conservation,” it argued. “The supply of rhino horn would be guaranteed as the horns regrow and can be reharvested.

“It’s important to remember that using rhino horn for traditional medicine is a custom thousands of years old, and it won’t be changed overnight.

“But a systematic campaign in partnership with authorities can hopefully make a positive difference over time.”

It also said: “The bulk of those screaming against the legal trading of rhino horn are from countries that no longer possess a single rhino.”

In its written submission, World Wide Fund-SA argued it was important to address what was driving the rhino trade in countries that were the end users.

“Without a concerted and unified approach on the demand side, we stand the chance of losing decades of successful investments in rhino conservation.”

The Wilderness Foundation said a biodiversity management plan for white rhino had to be developed and more state funds had to be allocated to rhino task team law enforcement units.

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