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WWF welcomes the South African government’s decision not to submit a proposal requesting the legalisation of the international trade in rhino horn to the CITES CoP17 in Johannesburg in September and October 2016.
We recognise the complex nature of the issue and commend the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, and the Cabinet for the robust assessment process that was undertaken prior to making this decision and the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry to investigate priorities for rhino conservation, including the feasibility of legal rhino horn trade.
As a network, WWF is supportive of the concept of sustainable use of wildlife where it leads to benefits for conservation and communities. However, this paradigm is only practical in scenarios of strong governance, where controls are rigorous and legal products can be clearly separated from illegal ones in consumer markets and throughout the supply chain.
Given the current unacceptable levels of rhino poaching, the scale of the illicit activity associated with the trafficking of rhino horns by international organised crime networks and the extent of the illegal domestic markets in Asia, we do not believe that a well-managed legal trade is feasible without negative impacts for wild rhinos at this time.
Furthermore, a greater understanding of the demand for rhino horn both as a status symbol and for its perceived medicinal value - as well as the national and transnational criminal networks currently used as illicit supply chains - is required in order to be confident that any future trade could have positive consequences for rhino conservation.
Opening up a premature debate on the legalisation of an international trade in rhino horn at the forthcoming CITES CoP would distract attention from the priority efforts that need be made globally to protect Africa’s rhinos, through increased enforcement actions in both source and consumer countries. Wildlife trafficking is now recognised as a serious economic and security threat as well as a conservation concern and needs to be addressed as such.
Rhino poaching losses across Africa were the highest in decades in 2015. It is clear that enhanced and sustained commitment to rhino conservation is required. Fundamentally, countries and conservationists need to address the relationship between people and parks to ensure that local communities receive existing sustainable legal benefits from wildlife resources.
Meanwhile, targeted and strengthened law enforcement activities are required to tackle poaching in Africa, trafficking of horns internationally and consumption in Asia as well as legislative gaps, lack of enforcement and corruption along the entire chain. At the same time, the principles of good biological management of rhinos to maximise population growth rates and aid species recovery must be maintained.
In the absence of income for rhino conservation from the sale of stockpiles of horn, there is an urgent need for significant alternative sources of funding to be sourced globally to address the current challenges and secure Africa’s rhinos for future generations.
WWF will continue to support these efforts and urges government and non-governmental partners to do the same.
Dr Colman O Criodain, WWF Wildlife Trade Analyst:
WWF welcomes the South African government’s decision not to submit a proposal for legal international rhino horn trade to CITES CoP17. Reopening the legal trade in rhino horn under current conditions would have been counterproductive and increased the risk of even more rhinos being poached.
While WWF supports the concept of sustainable use in principle, we do not believe that a well-managed legal rhino horn trade could be feasible until effective measures are put in place to tackle the international organised crime networks driving the rhino poaching crisis and reduce the growing demand in Asia that is fuelling it.
Legalising the trade in rhino horn is not the answer to the poaching crisis we face right now and opening up a premature debate would have caused unnecessary controversy and distracted attention from the priority actions that need be taken to protect Africa’s rhinos from poachers - particularly increased law enforcement efforts in both source and consumer countries, including enhanced responses to address transnational wildlife trafficking.
Addressing these threats along the entire illicit supply chain is an expensive business and there is an urgent need to find significant alternative sources of funding to the potential income from the sale of stockpiles of horn and so secure Africa’s rhinos for future generations.
Dr Deon Nel, WWF Director of Conservation
After an exhaustive process, the South African government has taken the correct decision on a very complex issue. Legalising the international trade in rhino horn could have provided vital funds for rhino conservation, but it could also have paved the way for yet more rhinos being poached – a gamble that they rightly could not afford to take.
Rhino poaching losses across Africa were the highest in decades in 2015. Countries and conservationists need to find a long term solution by transforming the relationship between people and parks to ensure that local communities receive sustainable legal benefits from wildlife resources.
Targeted and strengthened law enforcement activities are required to tackle poaching in Africa, trafficking of horns internationally and consumption in Asia as well as corruption along the entire chain. At the same time, rhino populations must be managed to maximise growth rates. All this costs money and WWF urges the international community to help find the necessary funds – and show that existing stockpiles of horns do not need to be sold to help finance rhino conservation in this time of crisis.