South Africa’s rhino horn trade plan a gift to criminals?

On February 8, 2017, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) published draft regulations that would legitimise and regularise domestic trade in and, under certain circumstances, export of rhinoceros horn.

In addition, the DEA also published draft regulations that prohibit trade in powdered and shaved rhinoceros horn, but for a period of three years only. The public consultation period on the draft regulations comes to an end this week. The Species Survival Network, of which EIA is a member, has submitted detailed comments to the DEA; you can find a copy of them here.

South Africa is a Party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) under which international trade in rhino horn from South African rhino populations for primarily commercial purposes is strictly prohibited and only subject to narrow exemptions for non-commercial trade.

The proposed regulations have come as a shock to the international community – recently, a Committee of Inquiry set up by the South African Government advised against commercial trading of rhino horns and, at a major CITES conference in Johannesburg in October 2016, a majority of world governments firmly opposed legalising international trade in rhino horn.

The proposed regulations establish a system for permits to be issued for a person to “sell or otherwise trade in, give, donate, buy, receive, accept as a gift or donate, or in any way dispose of or acquire, a rhinoceros horn”.

While this system appears to be targeting so-called ‘domestic’ trade in rhino horn within the borders of South Africa, it is highly likely that such legal trade will be exploited to smuggle rhino horn to the key Asian markets where consumers are willing to pay top dollar to use powdered horn as a hangover cure, a party drug or in traditional medicine and whole horn as a material for carving cups and trinkets or displaying as a status symbol.

In addition, the proposed regulations also establish a permitting process for the export of rhino horn for “personal purposes” – this term has not been defined, making it easy for criminal syndicates to exploit such a massive loophole. Further, the regulations also specify that a foreigner who “owns a rhinoceros” in South Africa can “export the horn of such rhinoceros of which he or she is the owner”.

According to the proposed regulations, rhino horn can now also be sold by auction to the highest bidder, emphasising the commercial value of rhino horn rather than encouraging the public to value live rhinos in the wild.

Overall, the regulations establish a complicated and confusing regulatory mechanism with layers of bureaucracy and paperwork again raising concerns as to how criminal syndicates may exploit this system, particularly given the lack of resources among provincial authorities to enforce current wildlife laws and rampant corruption entrenched in the existing institutional framework for tackling rhino horn trafficking in South Africa.

While the regulations envisage reciprocal permits being issued by countries of import, this could prove to be a slippery slope because main demand countries for rhino horn – Vietnam and China – currently prohibit trade in rhino horn. If South Africa is intending to encourage these massive wildlife destinations to open up trade in rhino horn, this would have serious ramifications for the survival of the last remaining wild rhinos in Africa and Asia.

EIA is concerned that the regulations proposed by South Africa undermine the CITES international trade prohibitions which protect rhino populations globally.

A legal domestic trade in rhino horn provides an avenue for laundering illegal rhino horn, thereby increasing the burden of law enforcement authorities responsible for combatting rhino horn trafficking.

Further, the proposed regulations also seriously undermine campaigns to reduce demand for rhino horn and instead legitimise its consumption as a commodity. Rhino horn trafficking is carried out by organised criminal syndicates which smuggle rhino horn from South Africa and other rhino range countries to Asian end-destination markets.

The proposed regulations are in their draft form and are yet to become final law. You can ACT NOW to express your concerns about the proposed regulations and relay a simple message to the DEA: “I respectfully urge you to revise the draft regulations to prohibit domestic or international rhino horn trade. Please don’t put a price tag on rhinos!

Here are various ways to reach the DEA:

Twitter: @environmentza


Email: (addressed to Ms Magdel Boshoff)

Post: The Director-General, Department of Environmental Affairs, Attention: Ms Magdel Boshoff, Private Bag X447, PRETORIA

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