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.