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Doomed Rhinos: South Africa Legalizes Rhino Horn Sale, Court Ruling Rejects Appeal to Keep Trade Ban

Apr 11, 2017 06:33 AM EDT
Rhino Translocation Project
Illegal trade in animal parts remains a lucrative business on the international black market. Among the most coveted animal parts used by Chinese as traditional medicine ingredients are rhino horns, elephant tusks, donkey hide and tiger parts.
(Photo : Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world's rhino population, is moving for the approval of the legalization of domestic rhino horn trade.

This is after the country's constitutional court dismissed an application to appeal from the government to keep a ban of the rhino horn trade in place. The ruling is likely the concluding decision in a long legal battle to ban all kinds of rhino horn poaching in South Africa.

Since 1977, an international ban on trade in rhino horns has been cemented. While the international treaty bans trade across borders, it does not prevent trade within a country. However, South Africa imposed a moratorium on the domestic trade in 2009.

The court's recent decision to overturn the moratorium will let the rhino horn trade commence as soon as the legislation is final.

National Geographic cited that some of the provisions drafted state that anyone with a permit will be able to buy and sell rhino horns and that foreigners will be allowed to export a maximum of two rhino horns for "personal purposes," which is an undefined term in the proposal.

Why is South Africa pushing for this?

National Public Radio cited that as per the report of Peter Granitz, a correspondent in Pretoria, "South African rhino breeders want the government to legalize the sale so, they say, they can flood the market and decrease the cost of rhino horn. They argue that would drive down demand for poached rhinos."

Smithsonian Magazine noted that The Private Rhino Owner Association argues that legalizing the rhino horn trade protects the animals because the horns of the rhinos will be removed "properly" without supposedly harming them. They also cited that with the proper process, the horns will regrow eventually.

Environmentalist and animal rights groups contend that the reasoning of the groups that call for the legalization of the domestic rhino horn trade is preposterous. They emphasized that there is no demand for rhino horns locally, and that these "businessmen" will likely smuggle the rhino horns outside the country to earn profits from the cruel trade.

Legalizing domestic rhino horn trade will only fuel more demand and risk an increase in illegal poaching. Last March, two armed men broke South Africa's Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage and shot two 18-month-old white rhinos, Impy and Gugu, before viciously removing their horns.

Poaching of rhinos in South Africa jumped massively from just 13 animals killed in 2007 to 1,215 in 2014.

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