Rhino poaching soars as South Africa ponders legalising trade

Rhino poaching soars as South Africa ponders legalising trade

south africa rhino

Horns look great on rhinos but at £250,000 value each many are being trimmed to save the animal from poachers.

Figures release by the South African government has shown that rhino poaching has soared in the first 6 months of 2012.  281 rhino has so far been killed by poachers with the Kruger National Park bearing the greatest losses at 164.

The Department of Environmental Affairs released the figures earlier today and it’s led  to projections of the years total reaching as high as 600. Last year South Africa saw 448 rhinos lost to poachers.

The figures are a big jump on those in the years leading up to 2008 when annual losses to poachers were as low as 15. The latest figures are a big concern to conservationists in South Africa.  While the number of rhino being killed for their horn is still lower than the birth rate of rhino if the trends continue as in the last couple of years then by 2016 poachers will be killing more rhino than are being born and the species will go back into decline.

In order to try and halt the killing of rhino a number of South Africa’s leading conservationists believe that restarting the trade in rhino horn – which was banned internationally in 1977 under CITES – could take some of the fire out of the black-market and relieve pressure on the wild rhinos. Currently rhino horn can fetch over £38,500 per kilo – or the equivalent of £256,000 per dead rhino –  and the conservationists believe that legal rhino horn could cause the price to crash so taking the profit out of poaching.

Many game conservancies already regularly trim or de-horn their rhino to prevent them from being killed and there are substantial stocks of rhino horn now in warehouses that have not resulted in the killing of the animal. The rhinos grow back their horns and some believe that a legal market can be sustainable.

Now one of the proponents of legalising rhino horn has drawn up a proposal that would demonstrate how South Africa could begin controlled sales through a central agency. The system is based in the one drawn up by De Beers to try and eliminate so called blood diamonds from the diamond market. The proposal aims to show how a new controlled market could introduce legal rhino horn into a market without it being used as a cover for poached rhino horn.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has not made any public statement on the newer proposals as the department is conducting a series of workshops under SANParks head Mavuso Msimang on the issue.

If the South African government is to try to get CITES to allow controlled sales of rhino horn then they will need to announce their intention before October. The next sitting of the relevant CITES committee will be in March 2013 and they need to have the proposals presented to them for consideration by October this year at the latest.

South Africa has tried on two previous occasions to restart the trade in rhino and with it needing a two-thirds majority to restart the trade it will not be easy.

Tackling the rhino poaching is essential if the species is not to go back into decline. A legal trade could see a sustainable source of horn that adds value to a living animal while illegal rhino horn results in the death of the animal – many times that death is  slow and painful as it bleeds to death after having its flesh hacked away with a chainsaw.

It will not be an easy choice to make but as rhino deaths surge the arguments for some sort of legalised and highly controlled trade are stacking up.

External sites:

Business Daily: Poachers have killed 281 rhinos this year.

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