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Rhino Horn Trade in South Africa

In early February, the Government of South Africa put forth a proposal to allow domestic trade in “rhino horn, parts, products or derivatives.”  Following an invitation for comment, the International Rhino Foundation, along with many international and local conservation organizations, submitted formal objections to the proposal. Yesterday, South Africa’s top court dismissed an appeal by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to continue the current moratorium against trade, essentially opening up the sale of rhino horn within South Africa. 

The IRF applauds all rhinoceros range states’ (countries in which rhinos exist in the wild) efforts to manage their own natural resources, which includes maintaining healthy rhino populations as well as raising money for the important work of protecting and conserving these assets. Wildlife-based land use in Africa requires substantial funding to meet associated conservation costs. There is an urgent need to explore many economic options to protect endangered species, while also recognizing that the challenges associated with land-use and wildlife conservation issues are real and must be seriously considered.  


The challenges faced by South Africa’s DEA are enormous and complex.  Just prior to the CITES Conference of the Parties 17 (CoP17) held in September 2016, a South African Government-appointed Committee of Inquiry undertook a comprehensive process to examine the viability of legalizing international commercial trade of rhino horn. There is insufficient evidence demonstrating that the necessary conditions with respect to governance in South Africa have, to-date, changed significantly enough to ignore the Committee’s recommendation against trade. 

Implementing legalization of trade also requires that appropriate laws and regulations be in place and functioning in potential importing countries.  It is unclear as to how adoption of appropriate laws would be demonstrated and how capacity to enforce these laws would be demonstrated, and in what timeframe, at an internationally acceptable level.   

The IRF believes that legalizing any trade in rhino horn at this juncture has a very high probability of having a detrimental impact on all five rhino species in the wild. Our position is that legal trade should not be considered until there are convincing data indicating that legalization could enhance conservation efforts for wild rhinoceros populations around the globe, particularly the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros, both of which number fewer than 100 individuals.
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