South Africa should consider lifting a domestic ban on trade in rhinoceros horns, authorizing commercial farming and trading the horn on the Johannesburg bourse, a Department of Environmental Affairs report showed.
The steps were proposed as part of an effort to halt poaching that is threatening eventual extinction for the animals. At least 514 out of a national population, that stood at 20,711 in 2010, have been poached this year, the department said in the report, which was released by e-mail today. Most of rest of the global population is spread across sub-Saharan Africa with the next biggest concentration being in Namibia.
“Some viewed the lifting of the ban on trade in rhino horn as the panacea that would end poaching and save the rhino from otherwise inevitable extinction,” the department said, referring to consultation on the measures. “This view was supported by market theorists who argued that in a market where rhino horn could be traded freely, market forces would automatically drive horn prices down, obviating the need for syndicates to face risks associated with poaching.”
A similar argument has been mounted about elephant ivory with Southern African nations including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana advocating legal trade in the product while Kenya and other countries oppose it. While elephants have to be killed to extract their ivory rhino horns can be removed without harming the animals.
South Africa should “consider opening a rhino horn trading bourse possibly linked to the JSE,” the department said, referring to Africa’s biggest stock and bond markets.
The surge in poaching comes even after the government deployed the army in the Kruger National Park, its biggest protected wildlife area, and has stepped up arrests of poachers. They target South Africa for the horns, which sell for more than gold by weight in Asia where they are believed to cure cancer and boost sexual prowess.
The government department also recommends asking for permission for auctions this year of rhino-horn stockpiles to help pay for anti-poaching initiatives, and to upgrade South Africa’s border with Mozambique along Kruger National Park.
Other measures to boost and protect rhino populations include dehorning wild rhino populations and the use of drones to protect the animals. Globally, in 2011, there were 28,195 rhinos of five different species in Africa and Asia.
South Africa’s rhino population has been under threat before. In 1895 the white rhino population sunk to 50 in South Africa after sustained hunting. In 2010 there were 18,796 with the rest of the population made up of black rhinos, a smaller species.
Still, the number of black rhinos in Africa fell from 100,000 in the 1960s to 2,400 in 1995 before recovering to 4,800 in 2011.
Czech Republic authorities seized 24 white-rhino horns and arrested 16 people yesterday in connection with wildlife trafficking, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The gang posed as hunters and then applied for export-import trophies that allowed them to export the horns as personal mementos, the group said in a statement today.
“Illegal trade alone is nudging rhinos to extinction,” Kelvin Alie, director of IFAW’s Wildlife Crime and Consumer Aware Programme, said in the statement. “Only international cooperation between law enforcement authorities will end illegal wildlife trafficking.”
Most rhinos, which weigh as much as 4.5 metric tons, are killed in the Kruger National Park, an area nearly as big as Israel that borders Mozambique, with a porous border that is easily crossed by poachers wielding assault rifles. Mozambique is the world’s 20th poorest nation, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“We remain unconvinced that legal international trade in rhino horn is a feasible approach for rhino conservation,” Jo Shaw, WWF South Africa Rhino Programme Coordinator, said in an e-mailed statement. “Uncertainty about how legal trade may in turn influence demand adds to the challenging complexity of the proposition.”