Edna Molewa. File picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Edna Molewa. File picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

Even though the Constitutional Court recently rejected an appeal by the government to preserve a 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn, the international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited.

Earlier this year, the Court dismissed Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s application for leave to appeal the High Court’s decision to set aside the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn.

Speaking during a media briefing on Monday to provide an update on the latest rhino poaching statistics, Molewa said the commercial international trade in rhino horn remains strictly prohibited in terms of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

An international ban on trade in rhino horns has been in place since 1977. "SA is a signatory to CITES. The … draft regulations [focused on domestic trade] published for public comment relate to a proposed domestic trade," Molewa said.

Rhino breeders argue that poaching would be curbed by a regulated trade, while critics believe that trade will drive up poaching. The Department of Environmental Affairs has developed a set of draft regulatory measures, focusing primarily on the domestic trade, but also including specific provisions relating to the export of rhino horn for non-commercial purposes, such as personal use, hunting trophies, research or education and training, as provided for by CITES.

These were published for public comment in February. All inputs are being considered as part of the current approval process, said Molewa.

"To facilitate the national co-ordination of permits for the domestic trade in rhino horn, I will be the issuing authority for permit applications relating to the selling and buying of rhino horn within the borders of the country. However, this arrangement is dependent on the written agreement of MECs responsible for the conservation of biodiversity in the nine provinces," the minister said.

To be in possession of rhino horn, individuals need a permit in terms of the National Environmental Management, Biodiversity Act as well as applicable provincial conservation legislation.

There had been a slight decrease in the number of rhino poached nationally, Molewa said. A total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos.

"With regards to the Kruger National Park which, as you know, has traditionally borne the brunt of poaching, a total of 243 rhino carcasses were found between January and the end of June 2017. This is compared to 354 in the same period in 2016. This represents a decrease of 34%," Molewa said.

Most of the world’s rhino live in SA, where they are heavily poached. The poaching has been driven by the demand for rhino horn, particularly in Asian countries, such as Vietnam. The horns are also used as an aphrodisiac and in traditional medicine, with suggestions that some in Vietnam believe they cure cancer.

Rhino poaching is a national priority crime‚ with their conservation and protection involving the Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African National Parks‚ the Department of Defence, the South African Police Service and its Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks)‚ the State Security Agency (SSA)‚ the South African Revenue Service (SARS)‚ the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development‚ as well as the provincial conservation authorities.

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