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South Africa lifts its ban on rhino horn trade

After facing pressures of farmers and ranchers, South Africa decided to lift a ban on the domestic trade in rhino horns.

South Africa just made a controversial decision. Some say it’s a step backwards in the protection of one of the world’s most charismatic and threatened animals, the rhino, while others say it’s a necessary measure. South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal has legalised domestic rhino horn trade, lifting a ban established in 2009 and rejecting an appeal by the government.

 

Rinoceronte abbattuto dai bracconieri
Rhino killed by poachers for its horn

The lifting of the ban

International rhino horn trade has been banned by the 182 member countries of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) since 1977. The convention, however, doesn’t involve each state’s domestic trade. Therefore, South Africa was free to lift a ban, with the aim of ending poaching that is wiping out rhino populations. South Africa, which is home to the world’s largest rhino population, set a sad record in 2014, with 1,215 rhinos killed. These creatures are hunted for their horns that are sold on the black market at exorbitant price.

 

Corna di rinoceronte
South Africa has lifted the 2009 moratorium that banned domestic rhino horn trade

The legalisation will favour poaching

The decision of the Supreme Court comes after a lawsuit brought by two South African rhino ranchers. Farmers regularly saw the animals’ horns, stockpiling large amounts. The lifting of the ban will favour the smuggling of horn outside South Africa, such as to China and Vietnam where they’re (erroneously) thought to have medicinal properties.

Ranchers hailed the news with jubilation

The news has certainly cheered up South African billionaire John Hume, the man owning the highest number of rhinos in the world. His ranch in Klerksdorp is home to 1,300 rhinos, which made him stockpile about 5 tonnes of horns. His treasure was useless so Hume, along with safari operator Johan Kruger, sued the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (DEA) to invalidate the 2009 moratorium.

 

Jhon Hume e i "suoi" rinoceronti
John Hume in his ranch in South Africa © Brent Stirton/Reportage for National Geographic Magazine)

Will mutilating rhinos help save them?

There’s who thinks that legalising the trade in rhino horns will help reduce poaching. Some of them just have a conflict of interest (like Hume), while others are committed to safeguarding the species, such as Pelham Jones, President of the Private Rhino Owners Association. Effectively, data shows that poaching rates have significantly increased over the last few years, when domestic trade was banned. We’re sure that – over a barrel – rhinos would rather have their horn cut under anaesthesia by a team of vets than chainsawed by poachers. However, we’re also sure that rhinos would love have their horns where nature has put them, on their snout.

Translated by

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