Saturday Star

DEA in 180º turn on domestic rhino horn trade


FOR NEARLY two years, the Department of Environmen­tal Affairs (DEA) fought court battles against private rhino owners to uphold the moratorium on the domestic trade in horn to stop illicit dealing.

Minister Edna Molewa eventually applied for leave to appeal in the Constituti­onal Court in a case that was to be heard in several weeks’ time.

But this week, the department surprised conservati­on- ists and environmen­tal activists with draft regulation­s that could restart the domestic market, under strict conditions.

The proposed regulation­s allow for a person from another country who visits South Africa to export no more than two horns for “personal purposes”.

“The department has done a 180º turnaround and we’re shocked,” said Allison Thomson, of Outraged SA Citizens Against Rhino Poaching.

“It spent two years fighting to justify the moratorium. Rhinos are not the only problem, we’ve seen a 300% increase in elephant poaching. We should be looking at solving this problem of organised crime.”

The draft regulation­s are vague, she argues. “The problem is that it’s not clear if it’s two rhinos per person per day, two per week or two in a lifetime. There is not enough detail to dissect this document.”

An online petition by the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, warned South Africa’s rhino are facing extinction. “An average three rhinos per day are losing their lives to poachers. Opening trade will escalate the extinction of this iconic species.”

Pro-trade lobby group, Rhino Alive SA, argues that legal trade provides “self-sustaining funds” to far mers to protect rhinos. But the WWF-SA argues there is no demand in this country, “so it’s inconceiva­ble that anyone would buy it”.

Lifting the domestic moratorium can only encourage illegal activity, it maintains.

The 2009 moratorium was challenged in court by Johan Kruger in 2012 and John Hume in 2015. Wildlife Ranching SA and the Private Rhino Owners Associatio­n of SA supported the applicatio­n.

This week, a study by a team of researcher­s from Cardiff University in Wales found how the black rhino – South Africa is home to nearly 40% of the population – is on the verge of extinction again because of unsustaina­ble poaching in its native range.

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