A South African high-court effectively overturned a national ban on the trade of rhinoceros horns, a move that was celebrated by the country’s commercial rhino breeders but condemned by animal preservation groups.
It will soon be legal to buy and sell rhino horn within South Africa. The country’s constitutional court dismissed an application to appeal from the government to keep a ban on the trade in place, the South African government confirms.
The decision was a victory for commercial rhino breeders, who argued that a legal trade in horns would end the poaching of an endangered species and offset the costs of protecting the animals.
“We welcome the Constitutional Court ruling,” Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association of South Africa, which brought the case, told reporters.
Last year a Supreme Court stated the government’s ban on the domestic trade was illegal. The moratorium had been in effect since 2009. The appeal to the Constitutional Court was the government’s final attempt at protecting the ban through the country’s courts.
South Africa is home to about 20,000 rhinos, more than 80 percent of the world’s total population. About a third of those animals are believed to be owned by private breeders.
Wild rhinos are regularly killed for their horns, which are often used in traditional Asian medicine. The number of rhinos poached in South Africa increased 9,000 percent from 2007 to 2014, rising to a record 1,215 animals from 13, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Activist groups warned that any legalized trade would open the door to increased poaching.
“Given that there is no existing market for rhino horn in South Africa, lifting the domestic trade ban could very easily spur increased illegal international activity,” said Leigh Henry, the senior policy adviser for species conservation and advocacy at the World Wildlife Fund.
“South Africa must continue to focus its efforts where they matter most, stopping poaching and tackling the organized criminal syndicates involved in rhino horn trafficking.”
Unlike elephant tusks, rhino horns can grow back, but poachers typically kill the animals before removing their horns.
Demand for horns, which are made of the same material as fingernails, comes mainly from Vietnam and China, where they’re worked into valuable carvings and are erroneously used as a cure-all in traditional medicine.
A global ban on the horn trade, enforced by a United Nations convention, remains in place. Therefore, even if horns are obtained legally in South Africa, they cannot be exported or legally traded on the international market.
The South African government said it was reviewing the ruling but suggested that rules would be in place to regulate even a legal horn industry.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk