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KwaZulu-Natal - Outspoken big-cat conservationist John Varty has added his voice to the rhino horn legalisation debate, calling for a one-off auction to try to stem the slaughter.

In an open letter to game farmer John Hume, the country’s largest rhino breeder, Varty asked Hume to request a meeting with the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs and Head of Department of Environment and Tourism.

“At the meeting you need to request permission for a one-off auction to sell all your rhino horn and rhino horn from other private individuals. Point out that the precedent was set in the eighties when South Africa’s National Parks had ivory auctions in which Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese buyers participated in the purchase of ivory from culled elephants in the Kruger National Park. The money from those auctions went back into the protection and conservation of elephants,” Varty wrote.

“You invite 100 private individuals who have rhino horn from dead or de-horned rhino to join you in the auction, [then] you hire the biggest and most efficient public relations company you can find and you create a global event of films, speakers, activists and the auction, rather like Ian Player’s wilderness congress some years ago,” Varty wrote.

“If you were on your own, the government could arrest you. I doubt the government could arrest 100 high-profile, private individuals trading openly in rhino horn and advertising the auction globally.”

In KZN, 38 rhino were killed in 2010, last year 34 were slaughtered, and 46 have been killed this year. National figures show an increase in rhino killings from 333 in 2010 to 448 last year. This year’s figure already stands at 399.

There are 474 black rhino and 3 411 white rhino in KZN.

Hume has been a champion of the rhino conservation cause, often sharing his views in newsletters and blogs.

“The future of the poor rhino is now in the hands of many organisation, foundations like Cites, Traffic, WWF and many others who actively discourage people from breeding rhino and therefore inadvertently help the illegal dealers and poachers. If the legalisation of the trade in rhino horn was to be unsuccessful in dramatically reducing the poaching it could always be reversed and very little harm done, but if it worked it would have a tremendously positive result in saving,” Hume wrote on the Save Rhino blog last year.

Musa Mntambo, spokesman for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said the body still stood by its position to legalise the trade, reiterated by the CEO, Dr Bandile Mkhize, this year.

“We believe that is the only way to monitor the sale of the rhino horns,” Mntambo said.

Mkhize said earlier this year that the legal trade should include only those horns from natural death, from court exhibits in poaching cases, and from the existing stockpile.

Mkhize said KZN Wildlife would add its voice to persuade Cites, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, to introduce regulated, controlled and legal trade in rhino horn.

The 16th Cites conference will be held in Thailand in March.

The idea, he said, was to undermine the impact poaching had on the species and the spiralling prices the commodity fetches, especially in the Far East.

Dr Ian Player, a pioneer in saving the white rhino from extinction, has also pushed for legalised horn sales under similar, strict control.

The stockpile of horn arising from natural deaths is believed to be worth more than R1 billion. - Daily News