John Hume, the world's largest rhino breeder, walks among his rhinos at Buffalo Dream Ranch, North West REUTERS
The owner of the largest number of privately held rhinos, John Hume, has confirmed he legally sold 181 horns to a Port Elizabeth buyer allegedly linked to one of the biggest reported seizures of rhino horns in South Africa.

On Friday, Petrus Stephanus Steyn, 61, and Clive John Melville, 57, both of Port Elizabeth, appeared in the Brits Magistrate’s Court for a formal bail application.

Steyn was released on R20000 bail while Melville was released on R100 000 bail.

The pair are being charged with the illegal possession of rhino horns and contravention of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, said Captain Tlangelani Rikhotso, spokesperson for the Hawks in North West.

Two weeks ago, they were nabbed near Hartbeespoort Dam, where they were found in possession of at least 167 rhino horns, which the Hawks said had been destined for illicit markets in South East Asia.

Authorities had reportedly received a tip-off that a vehicle from a coastal province was carrying a significant number of horns.

They 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, such as North West, where they were intercepted.

Hume’s attorney, Ulrich Roux, said the suspects were arrested “while in possession of 181 rhino horns, which were lawfully purchased from our client. Said arrest pertains to the alleged violation of the terms of the required permits to transport the horns. Our client, when supplying the said suspects (Mr Clive John Melville and Mr Petrus Stephanus Steyn) with the horns set out above, was in possession of the valid selling permit,” issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Roux said the suspects were acting in their capacity as “agents” for the Port Elizabeth buyer, who was in possession of a valid buying permit, possession permit and transport permit.

“In terms of the agreement between our client and (the buyer), our client would receive payment for the said horns upon (the buyer) successfully selling same.

“Our client has accordingly not yet been paid for the said horns and the horns therefore remain his lawful and rightful property,” he said.

Hume, who is sitting on a six-ton stockpile from his 1600 dehorned rhinos, said it costs $5 million a year to safeguard and maintain the animals. He now claims bankruptcy.

The controversial breeder, who is a leading supporter of the legal, international trade in rhino horn, successfully challenged the government’s 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in 2017.

The ban on the international trade remains in place.

Conservation groups have expressed concern that South Africa’s reopening of the domestic trade risks creating further opportunities for leakage into the illegal trade.

The pair’s next court appearance will be on July 12.

The Saturday Star