Parliament - According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the time has come to sell rhino horn. Speaking in a Parliamentary portfolio committee on Tuesday, Minister Edna Molewa said there had been a moritorium on rhino horn sales since 2009 because the depatment needed to "clear its house".
But all the orders and regulations were in place, she said, a lot of work had been done and "people are asking why we need a moratorium". Those people, clearly, are rhino farmers and keepers of state stockpiles.
The backstory to her announcement is that last year the moratorium was challenged by private sector rhino breeders who won on a technicality. Molewa, took the result on appeal to the Constitutional Court.
Then, on February 8 – possibly contemplating losing the case – she announced new draft regulations to permit legal internal trade in rhino horn and setting out conditions favourable for its export. If passed, each person will be able to buy, own, sell or export two rhino horns. The public have 30 days from date of the gazette to make representations or objections.
Molewa did not give details of the "orders and regulations" that would warrant ending the moratorium. In fact the draft regulations suggest a need for future regulation, calling for a limiting of exit ports to OR Tambo Airport and a raft of DNA, microchip and document checking which the DEA has still to put in place.
Speaking after the minister, DEA biodiversity director Thea Carroll made a confusing distinction between commercial trade and trade for personal purposes. "What we are seeking to regulate in the proposed regulation is trade for personal purposes. We have made a distinction between commercial and non-commercial trade. And we will ask the importing country for legal assurance that the horn will not be used for commercial purposes".
According to environmentalist Ian Michler, "there is no realistic way of ensuring that the two horns per person do not end up being traded. The followup regarding trophy horns taken to other countries has been pathetic.
"I don't think any country, including the US, has ever systematically followed up on trophy hunters who have exported legally-hunted horn out of South Africa to check that they still have them and have not sold them on. We should demand that the Minister present evidence of this followup and not just say that will happen."
The DEA presentation failed to answer a number of pertinent questions:
Who did the minister consult in drawing up the draft regulations and how did she arrive at a figure of two horns per person?
How will an already stretched and under-funded regulatory and policing force cope with monitoring internal trade?
How will she ensure that the horns will not enter the illegal international markets?
And is this the first step towards SA putting forward a proposal for full international trade in rhino horn at the next CITES conference in 2019?
Much appears to hinge on the Constitutional Court finding on the legitimacy of the private challenge to the moratorium. If it finds against the minister, it is probable that the moratorium on rhino horn sales will be lifted.
If it also finds the moratorium infringed on the constitutional rights of arrested rhino traders, there will be a large number of people lining up to challenge their convictions and sue.
Lifting the trade ban would not be good news for rhinos because there's a demonstrable link between the sale of farmed wildlife and poaching. It would serve to stimulate almost limitless Asian markets through the sale of limited goods which would not take long to bleed into illegal procurement through poaching.