Under threat, Rhinos. Pictures: Gallo Images
Locally, the call to legalise rhino horn to combat its illicit trade on the black market has been growing over the last few years, but an international NGO is disputing the logic behind such calls.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said recently in a statement entitled, Greed beats logic: Why a legal rhino trade won’t work, that first and foremost, if trade in rhino horn is legalised, “…it would effectively be legitimising a huge transnational crime, rewarding the kingpins and middle men for their persistence in outlasting the forces of law and order.”
Prominent conservationist Ian Player has for a number of years now been asking the government to lobby the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to legalise sale in rhino horn. South Africa’s horn stock piles could then be told, the proceeds of which could then go towards greater protection of the rhino specie that would now have a commoditised price.
This, believes Player, will effectively flood the black market and drive down the price, taking power out of the hands of the syndicates and creating one centrally controlled point of sale of rhino horn.
Paul Newman, communications officer for the EIA argues that, “South Africa is a long way from exhausting all its options in fighting the rhino wars – and throwing in the towel to cash-in on the desperation and ignorance of the Vietnamese should never have been on the table in the first place.”
The EIA believes that legalising rhino horn would be tantamount to telling the Vietnamese what so many of them want to hear due to a lack of medical options. “Yes, you can now legally purchase and take rhino horn for your cancer or other ailment,” said Newman.
The EIA said that similar calls were made at a time when elephant poaching was at its highest. Much the same case was advanced in favour of allowing CITES-sanctioned ivory stockpile auctions to go ahead, undermining the 1989 ivory trade ban.
“And if the evidence of rocketing levels of elephant slaughter in recent years isn’t sufficient indication of the failure of this strategy, the evidence against it mounted even further recently when the Chinese media reported the conviction of a government-accredited ivory trader in Fujian and his accomplices for their role in an international ivory trafficking scheme that smuggled nearly eight tonnes of ivory out of Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria,” said the EIA.
The fact is that a legal ivory trade has done nothing to stem poaching but has instead directly helped stimulate demand, said the EIA. It confuses consumers, and provides the perfect cover for poached ivory to be laundered onto the market.
The EIA said: “With a few notable exceptions, it’s fair to say that South Africa has a poor record of enforcing CITES recommendations and protecting its iconic wildlife. Under the guise of legitimate legal hunting, it has recently presided over the farcical and clearly criminal phenomena of ‘pseudo hunting’ in which middlemen arranged permits for Thai bar workers and other individuals to hunt rhino; the resulting ‘trophies’ could then be legally exported, most often to Vietnam.”
South Africa is home to 83% of the continent’s rhino with about 18 900 white and just over 2 000 black rhino remaining.