South African Rhino Ruling to Fuel Illegal Trade, Group Says

  • `It's hard to see any positive conservation benefits': WWF
  • More than 1,000 rhinos poached in South Africa in 2014

A South African court decision to allow the sale of rhino horns within the country will make it harder to enforce a global ban on the trade, the World Wildlife Fund said.

The North Gauteng High Court affirmed an earlier ruling that lifted a domestic ban on the trade of the horn, rejecting a government appeal. The decision comes the day before the release of official rhino poaching figures for last year in South Africa, which is home to 80 percent of the world’s population.

"There is no domestic demand for rhino horn in South Africa, so it is inconceivable that anyone would buy it -- unless they intend to sell it abroad illegally or they are speculating that international trade will be legalized," the WWF said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. "It’s hard to see any positive conservation benefits from lifting the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn."

The horn is typically sold in Asian countries, including Vietnam and China, where it’s used in traditional medicines. Rhino horn is composed chiefly of keratin, the same substance as a human fingernail, and there’s no evidence of its medicinal benefit.

More than 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2014, up from 333 in 2010. There are about 29,000 of the animals left in the wild globally, including 20,405 white rhino and 5,055 black rhino, according to Save The Rhino International, a London-based charity.

The international trade in rhino horn is banned under a global treaty known as CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

"Reopening South Africa’s national rhino trade will make it even harder for already overstretched law enforcement agents to tackle record rhino poaching," the WWF said.

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