At the CITES CoP17 held in South Africa during September/October 2016, it was clear that the vast majority of member states were against legalizing trade in rhino horn.
The proposal put forward by Swaziland, a move many felt was a proxy proposal on behalf of South Africa’s pro-trade lobby, was overwhelmingly defeated with the votes being 100 against trade and only 26 voting in favour. There were 17 abstentions.
In addition, almost every major international conservation agency is against trade. They believe that increasing efforts at education and demand reduction, increasing the effectiveness of policing and prosecution and strong global political lobbying are far better solutions to securing the future of rhino.
For opponents to trade, the link to a legal trade promoting illegal trade and poaching is clear. In addition, the economics produced by the pro-trade lobby to support their trade arguments has been discredited in detail by a number of economists as being poor, vague, out-dated and even useless.
However, and despite this outcome in October 2016, the South African Government announced new draft regulations last week to launch a legal internal trade in rhino horn. This move comes after the SA Government lost two court cases against the private sector rhino breeders who asked the courts to overturn the moratorium in internal trade imposed back in 2011.
These latest developments are of serious concern and for the following reasons:
1) The private sector breeders won their court cases on a technicality – the SA Government had not followed their own guidelines when announcing the moratorium. Why have the SA government just rolled over on this issue? And why have they not heeded the courts input and re-gazetted the moratorium by following set procedures?
2) As we understand, the case is still before the Constitutional Court – so why are the government drafting regulations before the final outcome?
3) Following on from this, are we to believe that the SA Government in fact supports the private breeders and has now joined forces with them to forge new regulations for easier internal trade?
4) With whom did the Minister consult when drawing up these draft regulations?
5) How will an already stretched and under-funded regulatory and policing body cope with this additional function of monitoring an internal trade in what has become the highest priced ‘commodity’?
6) Why have the SA Government done little to focus on the ‘kingpins’ and taking down the organized crime syndicates involved in the poaching of rhino and the illegal trade of horn?
7) In the new draft regulations, why has the SA Government allowed two horns per person to be exported as trophies? This is highly unusual and what role have the pro-trade breeding and hunting lobby played in pushing for this?
8) Given the history of abuse in the trophy hunting permit system, how realistic is it for the Minister to now believe the system will work? And that the horns will not enter the illegal international markets?
9) Given the severity of the poaching crisis, why has government not called for heavier penalties in these draft regulations for people convicted of poaching and illegal trade crimes?
10) And why have they made no distinction between black and white rhino, two species with a very different conservation status? Surely black rhino, listed as critically endangered should be treated with the utmost caution?
11) Given the SA Governments about face on internal trade, is this not the first step towards them putting forward a proposal for full international trade in rhino horn at the next CITES conference in 2019?