File picture: Khalil Senosi/AP.
South African private, state and provincial rhino owners and managers in favour of legalising the trade in rhino horn will likely be ‘furious’ about the arrest of two men allegedly involved in one of the biggest rhino horn trafficking cases yet recorded in the country says NGO Save the Rhino.

Petrus Stephanus Steyn, 61, and Clive John Melville, 57, both residents of Port Elizabeth, appeared briefly in the Brits Magistrate’s Court this week after they were nabbed near Hartebeespoort Dam in possession of at least 167 rhino horn in a police operation last weekend. 

Police initially said that the rhino horns were destined for illicit South East Asian markets.

The duo had a permit to transport the horns from one location in Gauteng to another location in Gauteng, but this did not allow the transport of the horns to or through any other province.

They have been charged with violating the terms of the permit to transport the horns.

“Anything that throws doubt on the ability to police the legal domestic trade in rhino horn surely jeopardises the chance of continued domestic trade in rhino horn within the country, as well as efforts to legalise the international trade in rhino horn,” Save the Rhino said this week.

“eSwatini, which submitted an international trade proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) for consideration at CoP18 in May, must be holding its breath to see what the fallout from this case is.”

No other charges had yet been laid, said Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.

“Since there was a permit to transport the horns, they must come from one or more registered stockpiles, rather than being the products of a series of poaching incidents,” said Save the Rhino.

Pelham Jones, chairperson of the Private Rhino Owners Association, said: “The horns were 100% legally sold in full compliance of National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and Threatened or Protected Species regulations and the buyer had all required permits issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

“The horns did not come from poached animals. All that subsequently happened is they were taken out of Gauteng without an export or import permit to the North West. This is a minor permit violation and the two individuals involved have only been charged with this.”

The buyer would have received police clearance as part of the process, he said. “This was not a deal done on the back of a bakkie somewhere. The entire deal was scrutinised by authorities,” he said, adding his association discouraged “rogue trade”.

Spokesperson for the department Albi Modise could not comment further as “the matter is sub judice”.

Rhino owners, said Save the Rhino, may choose to de-horn their rhinos for several reasons, primarily, as a security measure, or to prevent an overly aggressive rhino from injuring other animals, or to harvest and sell the horn, whether now or in the future.

“At present, domestic trade within South Africa is legal, but all international trade is banned by Cites. There are very strict regulations regarding the de-horning, storing, transporting and documenting of rhinos in South Africa.”

A bail hearing for the pair will be held on April 26. “We expect that this will reveal the source(s) of the horns and the intended destination. Whether or not further charges will be brought, in addition to the one concerning the permit violation, remains to be seen,” it said.

Saturday Star