File picture: Supplied

Johannesburg – Rhino horns will be able to be bought and sold legally in South Africa for the first time in eight years after a ruling by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday.

The court dismissed an appeal by the Department of Environmental Affairs aimed at maintaining a ban on domestic rhino horn trade, SA's Private Rhino Owners' Association said.

The association and other plaintiffs have waged a five-year court battle against the ban, which has been in force since 2009, the association's chairman Pelham Jones told dpa.

The decision of the Constitutional Court is now final, making it possible to legally sell rhino horn inside South Africa, Jones said.

The four-decade international ban on rhino horn trade remains in force.

The country has an estimated 20 000 rhinoceroses. Nearly 40 percent of the country's rhino population live on private game reserves, according to Jones.

Conservationists are concerned that relaxing bans on rhino horn trade could increase poaching.

About 1 050 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, down from 1 175 in 2015, according to official figures. The horn is often smuggled to Asia for use in traditional medicine.