File photo: Karen Sandison

Parties wait with baited breath to find out if two-thirds of the 182 parties at CITESCOP17 will vote in favour of legalising rhino horn.

The 17th meeting of the parties for Cites breaks tomorrow for two days, and early next week for some important votes to take place.

Swaziland submitted a late proposal to Cites for permission to introduce a limited, regulated trade in rhino horn. A ban on the international trade has been in place since 1977.

The iconic African species (Ceratotherium simum) is facing the possibility of extinction, with 100 000 rhino having been poached since then. Norman Owen-Smith, professor of ecology at Wits, said: “The most pressing issue at this Cites conference will be whether to allow legal trade in rhino horn.”

More than 6 000 rhinos have been killed in the last decade, with a total of 1 377 in Africa alone in 2015.

The Kruger National Park is “the eye of the storm”, according to Julian Rademeyer, author of a recent report on the transnational trade in horn.

According to the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA), some 23 African states have lost all their rhino and only a handful of southern African countries remain custodians of the white rhino.

"We need to show our support for Swaziland's proposal because the Cites ban on trade has clearly not helped to save the rhino," said chairman of PROA, Pelham Jones, adding that a better solution is needed.

PROA has published a document calling for the legalisation of trade in rhino horn, authored by a number of conservation experts, scientists, economists and individuals responsible for protecting rhino on a daily basis. These experts have 30 to 40 years' experience in their respective fields, unlike many anti-trade advocates.

Jones believes the Swaziland proposal will, at the very least, ignite debate about rhino-horn trade. "The NGOs at CoP17 do not own rhino and have no risk exposure, so it is easy for them to condemn legal trade as a model for conservation," he said.