Fears of canned rhino hunting
Elise Tempelhoff, Beeld
Pretoria - The government is planning a scientific investigation into the sustainability and legality of allowing national and international trade in rhino horn.
This would be in an attempt to stop rhino poaching.
Game farmers, hunters, conservation authorities and interest groups decided on Wednesday at a two-day rhino conference in Pretoria, to task Buyelwa Sonjica, minister of environmental and water affairs, to order such an investigation.
Trade in rhino horn is prohibited by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
Delegates also decided that private rhino owners may dehorn their animals, where necessary and in keeping with legislation, as "an interim measure" to protect these animals against poachers.
The horns must be fitted with microchips and stored in a safe.
Both Wanda Mkutshulwa, SANParks communication chief, and Fundisile Mketheni, deputy director general of biodiversity at the department of environmental affairs, said no rhinos in national or provincial parks will be dehorned.
The majority of delegates made it clear that they were against placing a moratorium on rhino hunting.
Sonja Meintjies from the department of environmental affairs, when asked how many rhinos have been hunted so far this year, said the current number is 101.
Last year 107 rhinos were hunted.
According to Meintjies, most of the applications to hunt rhinos came from Vietnamese.
Conference delegates, who often became very emotional about various aspects surrounding the conservation and economic value of the animals, were also told that limiting rhino hunting has caused poaching to increase.
Mketheni said researchers will have to determine whether the legal trade in rhino horn will satisfy the demand and stop poaching.
He said South Africa can't make an independent decision on the matter, and that the report - should it find that the trade in rhino horn should be allowed - will have be given to Cites since the final decision lies with them.
John Hume, a well-known rhino owner, said during a presentation that he feels rhinos should be bred, their horns sawn off and sold.
He said he thinks this industry should be legalised and used to the advantage of the poor.
He pointed out that rhinos can be bred intensively on a relatively small piece of land.
"If the animals are dehorned, this could mean an enormous income for people," he said.
Mketheni's response was that he is "wary" of this suggestion, since it could result in a "canned industry".
Such breeding also threatens biodiversity, he said.
Referring to the canned lion industry which severely tarnished South Africa's image internationally, Mketheni said the country "can't afford a canned rhino industry as well".