Chinese national found in possession of rhino horn and chucked abalone was arrested at the Cape Town International Airport. File Photo: Chris Collingridge

Durban - South African negotiators are getting ready to fight off a “catastrophic” proposal by the Kenyan government to bar South Africa from exporting any trophy rhino horns for at least six years.

South Africa argues that if the international ban is approved, local conservation agencies and private rhino owners could lose a major slice of the income they need to protect rhinos from poachers.

The Kenyan proposal is due to be debated later on Wednesday or early on Thursday, at the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Bangkok, Thailand.

In a submission posted on the Cites web page, South Africa argued that rhino poaching was no longer solely an environmental crime, but a “highly organised crime of sophistication that may also threaten national security”.

Kenya, on the other hand, argued that time was of the essence to halt the recent massive upsurge in rhino poaching, and that Cites members should take a precautionary approach by banning the export of all South African rhino trophies until at least 2019.

“Anything less will be seen by the international community as… unresponsive to the crisis,” Kenyan officials said.

Although the Cites secretariat has supported South Africa’s position by recommending against the adoption of the proposal, there is likely to be a divisive debate on the poaching crisis nevertheless.

Vietnam is also expected to come under strong attack from Cites members for its failure to control the importation of illegally poached rhino horns and bogus trophies from pseudo-hunters.

However, observers at the meeting are worried that if the current Cites rules on rhino hunts are amended, Vietnam could enter a “reservation” – a procedure which would allow it to opt out of the rhino horn amendments while remaining a member of Cites.


In its submission opposing Kenya’s proposal, South Africa said it was the single largest custodian of rhino in the world, conserving more than 90 percent of white rhinos and 35 percent of black rhinos. This was largely due to South Africa’s policy of “sustainable utilisation” of wildlife, which included legally hunting an average of 116 white rhino a year (about 0.6 percent of the national population of about 18 800 white rhinos).

By creating financial incentives for private land owners to buy, sell and hunt white rhinos, the private sector had now set aside almost 2.2 million hectares of land for rhino conservation and hunting. The private sector now owned about 4 300 rhinos (nearly 23 percent of the national herd). Government and provincial conservation agencies were also able to subsidise the cost of conservation by selling live surplus rhinos at yearly auctions, either for hunting or ecotourism.

“White rhino sales have been the biggest contributor to the total turnover at game auctions held by the conservation agency in KwaZulu-Natal province, where it accounted for 74.9 percent of the total turnover from 2008 to July 2011.”

However, if Cites members supported the proposal for a zero-export quota for South African rhino horn trophies, the auction price was expected to decline further. Recent prices had dropped from about R234 000 a rhino in 2011, to about R150 000 at the Vleissentraal game auction in September last year.

“This could be indicative of the disinvestment by the private industry in some provinces.”

So while the Kenyan proposal would not ban hunting outright, few foreigners would be prepared to hunt rhino if they could not export their trophies for at least six years. And those who were prepared to wait would presumably expect a discount for trophy hunts.

South Africa said it therefore agreed with a comment by the Swaziland government which had suggested that the Kenyan proposal “could be catastrophic for rhino conservation and may also result in reduced wildlife range being protected”. - The Mercury