Durban - The government has baulked at the massive cost of dehorning up to 10 000 rhinos to slow down the rate of poaching – but is looking into a separate plan to trade rhino horn on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
It has also emerged that South Africa may apply for special permission to hold two rhino horn auctions within the next year, instead of waiting another three years for the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Earlier this week, the Department of Environmental Affairs released the recommendations of the Rhino Issues Management (RIM) report which calls for the immediate dehorning of thousands of rhino in national parks.
Written by former SA National Parks chief executive Mavuso Msimang, the report argues that dehorning large numbers of rhino would demonstrate South Africa’s international commitment to preserving the species from possible extinction due to the increase in rhino poaching over the past five years.
Msimang noted that de-horning would be “extremely costly” and would have to be repeated every two to three years, as horns regrew at the rate of about 5cm every year.
“To dehorn 10 000 rhino at a rate of eight rhino per day will take approximately 1 000 days (almost three years) and cost in the region of R84 million,” says the report, noting that it costs about R8 000 to dehorn each rhino, to take DNA samples and insert microchips into the horn.
Despite record poaching levels, South Africa still has about 19 000 white rhino and 2 000 black rhino (which together account for nearly 75 percent of the global rhino population or 83 percent of the African rhino population).
The report acknowledges that male and female rhino use their horns for defence, while black rhino sometimes use their front horns to pull down branches to browse – but suggests that some of the potential problems could be avoided if all males in the same area were dehorned simultaneously.
However, the government made it clear this week that de-horning was a non-starter for now – except in smaller reserves.
Citing the results of a specialist study, senior Department of Environmental Affairs official Thea Carroll said de-horning was seen as a viable option for only small rhino populations because of the major and repeated expenses of dehorning large numbers of rhino in expansive areas such as Kruger National Park or Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
In a separate recommendation, Msimang urged the government to consider opening a rhino trading bourse possibly linked to the JSE.
The bourse could be run by a board of directors or a trust drawn from the public/private sector and civil society, generating income to offset the costs of keeping and protecting rhinos.
In her response, Carroll did not rule out this suggestion completely and said the feasibility would have to be investigated in collaboration with the Treasury and other relevant organisations.
Nevertheless, it seems highly unlikely that investors could be persuaded to trade horns until Cites makes a ruling on South Africa’s controversial proposal to end the 36-year-old world ban on international rhino product trading.
South Africa is expected to submit a formal proposal to the next Cites meeting, which will be held in South Africa in 2016.
But Msimang’s report, based on a series of workshops and meetings held last year, noted that South Africa might not have to wait so long to submit its trading proposal.
He said that although such proposals were normally considered at Cites meetings held every three years, there was a special provision under article 27 of the Cites rules which allowed for interim applications to be made in-between these triennial meetings.
The Rhino Issues Management report also recommends that the government lifts the moratorium on domestic rhino horn sales because it has had the unintended consequence of pushing up poaching levels by starving the illegal black market of horns. - The Mercury