Judge scraps mora­to­rium on do­mes­tic trade in rhino horn


A South African court on Thurs­day opened the way to al­low­ing lo­cal trade in rhino horns, alarm­ing some con­ser­va­tion­ists who warned the rul­ing leaves rhi­nos even more vul­ner­a­ble to poach­ers who are slaugh­ter­ing them in record num­bers.

South Africa’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry said it will ap­peal a judge’s de­ci­sion in Pre­to­ria to re­scind a nearly 7-year-old mora­to­rium on the do­mes­tic trade in rhino horns, mean­ing the ban is likely to stay in place pend­ing the out­come of that ap­peal.

The rul­ing by Judge Fran­cis Legodi in the North Gaut­eng High Court in Pre­to­ria stirred an of­ten ac­ri­mo­nious de­bate be­tween those who say le­gal­iza­tion will spur poach­ing in South Africa, and rhino breed­ers and oth­ers who be­lieve a reg­u­lated trade that al­lows the sale of horn stock­piles and the har­vest­ing of horns from liv­ing rhi­nos will un­der­cut poach­ing.

Legodi said the South African gov­ern­ment had failed to prop­erly con­sult the pub­lic be­fore im­pos­ing the mora­to­rium in 2009 and also ques­tioned its ef­fec­tive­ness, not­ing that rhino poach­ing surged to record lev­els af­ter the ban.

“What dis­as­trous im­pli­ca­tions would be brought about by the im­me­di­ate lifting of the mora­to­rium? I can­not think of any,’’ Legodi said in a 39-page rul­ing. He cited sta­tis­tics show­ing the num­ber of rhi­nos poached in 2008, be­fore the ban, was just be­low 100, com­pared to about 1,200 last year.

Also Thurs­day, the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry re­ported the ar­rests of 12 peo­ple, in­clud­ing three po­lice of­fi­cers, for al­leged rhino poach­ing.

South Africa is home to an es­ti­mated 22,000 rhi­nos, more than 80 per cent of the global rhino pop­u­la­tion.

Poach­ing syn­di­cates have in­creas­ingly tar­geted rhi­nos to meet ris­ing de­mand for their horns in parts of Asia, par­tic­u­larly Viet­nam. Con­sumers be­lieve rhino horn, which is ground into pow­der, has medic­i­nal ben­e­fits, but there is no sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sup­port the be­lief. The horn is made of ker­atin, a pro­tein also found in hu­man fin­ger­nails.

Two South African rhino own­ers took the South African gov­ern­ment to court seek­ing to over­turn a mora­to­rium on the do­mes­tic trade in rhino horn im­posed in 2009. One of them, John Hume, has four met­ric tons (4,000 kilo­grams) of legally ob­tained rhino horn and his in­vest­ment in rhi­nos and their horns is worth tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Pel­ham Jones of the Pri­vate Rhino Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion wel­comed Thurs­day’s rul­ing.

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