Rhino breeder in SA plans online auction of horn

2017-06-27 10:51
Rhino horn seized at OR Tambo International Airport. (Supplied)

Rhino horn seized at OR Tambo International Airport. (Supplied)

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Johannesburg - A rhino breeder in South Africa is planning an online auction of rhino horn, capitalising on a court ruling that opened the way to domestic trade despite an international ban that was imposed to curb widespread poaching.

The online sale of rhino horn belonging to breeder John Hume will happen between August 21 and August 24 and revenue will be used to "further fund the breeding and protection of rhino", according to an auction website. Van's, a Pretoria-based auction house, is overseeing the sale and a "physical" auction will occur on September 19, it said.

Rhino breeders believe poaching would be undercut by a regulated trade in rhino horn, though critics say trade will spur poaching that has occurred at record levels in the past decade.

Poachers killed 1 054 rhino in South Africa last year, a 10% drop from 2015, according to the government. By some estimates, South Africa has nearly 20 000 rhino, representing 80% of Africa's population. Asia has several rhino species, including two that are critically endangered.

Hume has more than 1 500 rhino on his ranch and spends more than $170 000 (almost R2.2m) monthly on security for the animals, in addition to veterinary costs, salaries and other expenses, the auction website said.

"Each rhino's horn is safely and regularly trimmed by a veterinarian and capture team to prevent poachers from harming them," it said, adding that Hume has a stockpile of more than 6 tons of rhino horn.


Hume plans to sell half a ton of rhino horn in the upcoming auction, which is the first of its kind, said Johan van Eyk of the Van's auction house.

"We're not sure what people would prefer - it's just to give them the option," van Eyk said of the plan for both online and regular auctions.

He said the auction house supports trade in the horn of captive rhino because "you can farm the horn and it grows back on and you still have the animal, you still protect the species".

Some consumers of rhino horn believe it can cure illnesses if ingested in powder form, although there is no evidence that the horn, made of the same substance as human fingernails, has any medicinal value. Rhino horn is also seen by some buyers as a symbol of status and wealth.

The Constitutional Court rejected a government appeal to preserve a 2009 ban on the domestic trade, which was imposed as rhino poaching accelerated in response to growing demand for horns in parts of Asia, especially Vietnam.

An international ban has been in place since 1977.

Court setbacks

Responding to setbacks in the courts, the government has drawn up draft regulations for a domestic trade and limited export of rhino horns. Those guidelines would allow a foreigner with permits to export "for personal purposes" a maximum of two rhino horns.

Opponents of a legal trade argue that any exported horns would be hard to monitor and likely would end up on the commercial market, defying global agreements to protect threatened rhino populations.

They say legalisation will spur poaching as illegally obtained horns are laundered into the legal market, similar to the exploitation of elephant ivory. Hume and other breeders counter that a trade ban has not worked and that alternative policies, including a legal market, should be pursued.

On June 13, two travellers bound for Hong Kong were arrested and 10 smuggled rhino horn seized during an operation at OR Tambo International Airport. 

Some conservationists, however, say the conviction rate of suspected rhino poachers or horn traffickers is relatively low and have expressed concern about cases of possible corruption in law enforcement.

A suspected rhino poacher who was seriously injured in a shootout with authorities disappeared on Friday from a hospital in East London, and police are investigating whether he escaped because of the negligence of an officer who was supposed to be guarding him, News24 reported.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  rhino poaching

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