South Africa mulls legalising rhino horn trade

12 November 2014

South Africa is seeing success in combating rhino poaching in recent months and, to ensure the trend continues, the country is considering legalising trade in rhino horns to stop the killing of the animals.

Rose Masela, head of national wildlife information management at the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), said her department has covered some ground in slowing the rate of rhino poaching.

“If we hadn’t made the interventions that we did we’d probably be seeing the rhino population going toward extinction maybe in the next few years,’ Masela told journalists from the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Southern Africa yesterday at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office.

Adding, Masela said legalizing the trade in rhino horn is one solution government is mulling. She said this will drive down the price of rhino horns, hitting the poachers in the pocket in the process. “There’s very little we can do about the belief in the use of rhino horn that exists in other countries. Legalization would be a more medium-term solution,’ she said.

To date, the number of rhinos killed for their horns had increased to 979, from 37 in January 2014, with more than 200 people arrested countrywide, according to the DEA.

According to the DEA, the Kruger National Park continues to bear the brunt of rhino poaching in South Africa, having lost 489 rhinos this year. A total of 103 rhinos have been poached in Limpopo, 65 in KwaZulu-Natal, 47 in North West and 43 in Limpopo.

Masala said government has deployed the military to assist park rangers fight poachers, many of whom cross the border from Mozambique into the Kruger National Park. The South African National Parks (SANParks) said it has started moving rhinos from parts of Kruger near the border with Mozambique to safer areas within the park. There are also plans to auction some to private owners who can prove they have the means to protect them.

Masela said it is now time to “think out of the box’ and come with innovative measures to combat poaching. Already, the DEA has set up a panel to come up with proposals on legalising rhino horn trade. Work on the proposals is expected to be complete by March next year, the Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said in October.

The next step could be proposing to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international agreement between governments, that rhino horn trade be legalized, said Masela.

SAinfo reporter