SA's trade plan is 'reckless endangerment of wild rhinos'

In a special guest blog today, respected author and activist Judith Mills assesses the credibility and likely outcomes of South Africa’s decision to seek a legal trade in rhino horn and so cash in on its stockpiles.

Rhino poached for its horn in South Africa (c) AP SA

Rhino poached for its horn in South Africa (c) AP SA


An article posted on July 3 on Times LIVE estimates that South Africa’s proposed legal sale of rhino horns is worth more than US$1 billion.

Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa “admitted the department did not know whether the proposed sale would curb poaching,” the article says. It quotes her as saying: “We do not know what would happen. All of us, as the whole world, we are travelling in uncharted seas. We don’t know what is awaiting us there. But we do know that there’s a black market we can’t manage.”

Edna Molewa, via World Economic Forum

Edna Molewa, via World Economic Forum

Does it make sense to feed that unmanageable market? Would it not make sense to, at the very least, employ impartial experts to assess the potential size of the market if law-abiding consumers were added to the mix?

So far, the 2013 body count for South Africa’s poached rhinos stands at 461, of which 288 were taken from iconic Kruger National Park. “Experts believe the total for 2013 might reach the 1,000 mark,” according to Times LIVE.

Even John Hume, owner of South Africa’s largest private stockpile of rhino horns, is against the proposed one-off sale South Africa will request at the 2016 CITES conference in South Africa. “All the guy that buys the stockpile is going to do is to stockpile it again and drive up the price even further,” Hume is quoted as saying. “The only hope for the rhino is sustainable farming and regular, sustainable trade.”

He is right in the first instance and dead wrong in the second. Both scenarios will lead to the same end because the horns of wild rhinos are considered a superior medicine and a superior financial investment.

TRAFFIC’s Tom Milliken is paraphrased as saying: “the success of the sale in reducing demand should be carefully managed all the way to the end user.”


A wildlife icon – or just another commodity?

Minister Molewa made it clear at the March CITES conference in Bangkok that China is the identified recipient for this rhino horn. China has no intention of reducing demand. China’s wildlife protection law mandates the “domestication” and “utilisation” of endangered wildlife – and rhinos, with tigers and bears, are on a list of priority “economic” species targeted for domestication and commercial use since the 1980s.

“Though there was no escalation in illegal trade to Japan after the sale, there was an increase to China,” Tom Milliken is also quoted as saying in respect of ivory.

Tom is right and he was punished for presenting to CITES evidence of China’s direct link to escalating elephant poaching. The ‘one-off’ legal sales of ivory to China only stimulated a mass demand now being fed by Africa’s current elephant genocide.

Legal sale of ivory to China opened a Pandora’s box of demand and provided a ‘laundromat’ to help criminal syndicates supply that demand with poached ivory. The effect that legal rhino-horn sales to China would have on wild rhinos can be likened to the effect of sea-level rise on small island nations – it will be overwhelming and unstoppable.

Please do what you can to stop this reckless endangerment of wild rhinos.


JUDY MILLS (1)Judith Mills
Author & former head of the International Tiger Coalition

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  • Jim


    We agree with you and we would like to speak with you about our Rhino Letter Writing Campaign before we make our trip back to SA to meet with President Zuma later this year.

    Please let us know when you have some time to chat or Skype:

    Best regards from all of us at OMG.

  • I’m puzzled by what Milliken has to say abou “the success of the sale in reducing demand should be carefully managed all the way to the end user.”
    ??? Surely trade will stimulate demand, nor reduce it?

    Another puzzling conundrum is China’s involvement. WildAid say the Chinese government is involved with their demand reduction campaigns and yet this article states the China has no intention of reducing demand?

    I don’t know what to believe anymore. All I know is that rhino horn is a snake oil product and no civilised country should be involved in trading a fraudulent product even if it is in demand. That would be immoral. Also, to harvest rhino horn the rhinos have to be pursued and then darted with harsh and dangerous morphine based drugs and then have their horn sawn off which is invasive and detrimental to them. It seems that rhino horn has been identified as a valuable investment commodity and the authorities, including the scientists are hell bent on trading horn even if we provide evidence of the adverse effects of it.

  • Mike Gunn.

    The problem here is that there is no real regard for the well-being of rhino or any other species for that matter, amongst the vast majority of Africans. Africa has long been plagued with a notable lack of concern for the future. The notion of Humans being the custodians of the planet for our children, hold very little water in Africa. Again the vast majority believe that our children must make do with what is left, if anything. Plan for today and perhaps into next week. Is the norm. So learning from history in terms of similar situations i.e. the last one off sale of ivory, has no place in the planned one off sale of rhino horn. It is more like, ” Let’s hope it works but a billion dollars is a lot of mulla” This is the bottom line, so very unfortunate.