Judgment reserved on rhino horn trade moratorium

2015-09-23 20:02
Rhino horns (File, AFP)

Rhino horns (File, AFP)

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Pretoria - A full bench of the High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday reserved judgment in a bid by two rhino breeders to set aside the government’s moratorium on rhino horn trading.

John Hume has blamed the sharp increase in rhino poaching on the ban, which came into effect early in 2009. He is the world's largest rhino breeder, but said he would have to dispose of his 1 200-strong herd if the moratorium remained.

The moratorium was put in place to back up an international ban on rhino horn trading until regulations on how to deal with rhino had been created.

Hume and Johan Krüger maintained the moratorium should be set aside because Environmental Minister Edna Molewa did not give proper notice of her intentions to South Africa's 400 registered rhino breeders and owners.

Factors contributing to increased rhino poaching

Molewa’s advocate Isabel Goodman argued the moratorium was "a legitimate and rational conservation measure" based on extensive consultation.

She conceded the ban might be considered a factor contributing to increased rhino poaching, but said there were "other complex reasons involved".

This included dwindling rhino populations in neighbouring countries making South Africa an attractive destination. Improved economic conditions in Asia also meant more people could afford to buy rhino horn, leading to increased demand.

She pointed out the moratorium was in place because the domestic market and real permits were being used to smuggle rhino horn out of country, which was easy where stockpiles of rhino horn were not identified.

The moratorium was upheld so the department could check and mark rhino horn through regulations and conduct an audit of existing stockpiles.

The department's experts say it would be "disastrous" to lift the ban.


Goodman argued the "massively inflated prices" of rhino horn (now worth R650 000/kg) was driven by the unlawful international market and the two breeders had no entitlement "to engage in unlawful trade".

She said the breeders could fall back on hunting or ecotourism to sustain their breeding programmes.

She revealed there was presently no limit on the number of white rhino that could be legally hunted in South Africa, although hunters were limited to one rhino per year. In the case of the endangered black rhino, only five could be hunted in South Africa per year.

Goodman said even if the court found there had not been proper public consultation the department should be given leeway to develop the regulations and the moratorium remain.

1 225 rhino poached in 2014

If the domestic trade was revived, it would violate the international ban on the trade and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) treaty, she added.

Mike Maritz SC, for Hume, pointed out the minister had referred to the moratorium as temporary, yet six years later was still upheld.

He said the statistics were clear that, whereas 27 rhinos had been killed over two years prior to 2008, the figure had increased dramatically since then with 1 225 poached last year and figures already reaching the same levels for 2015.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  conservation  |  rhino poaching

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