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South Africa’s Rhino Horn Trade Proposal risks rhino extermination

 WESSA Communications

27 March 2015


This week rhino owners, conservation NGOS and other stakeholders had a chance to address the Rhino Horn Trade Proposal Committee of Inquiry with their support or concerns for re-opening of international trade in rhino horn. WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) voiced strong concerns against trade as it risks exposing our few remaining rhinos to heightened poaching pressure.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is considering requesting international wildlife trade regulator CITIES to allow restricted trade in rhino horn. It has established the Committee of Inquiry, a panel of trade, law and conservation experts to advise it on this proposal. DEA’s stance on this matter was evident when they elected a panel heavily weighted with pro-trade advisors, but later included more no-trade proponents after many conservation NGOs complained of its obvious bias. On 26 and 27 March the Committee of Inquiry heard public submissions from stakeholders and concerned organisations on this proposal that will have far reaching implications for conservation, community development and international relations.

WESSA warns that the current trade proposal carries an unacceptably high risk of being corrupted by the poaching syndicates and illegal horn traders, and that re-opening legal trade will encourage a growth in horn consumer demand and speculation buying. This will undoubtedly exacerbate rhino poaching above current levels, as was the case with the CITES approved once-off sales of elephant ivory in 1999 and 2008. Those ivory sales were intended to undercut the illegal ivory trade prices and hence discourage poaching, as well as to divert the illegal trade revenue into legally benefiting the conservation agencies that are protecting elephants. This is what pro-traders also intended with rhino horn trade. But global evidence shows that the very opposite occurred, with considerable stockpiles of poached ivory being laundered through loopholes in the legal ivory sales chain. It also relaxed social acceptance of ivory ownership in consumer countries, which in turn stimulated market demand for ivory. The Born Free Foundation reports that between 2008 and 2013 an estimated 30,000 and 50,000 elephants were poached each year.

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