WWF applauds government decision to appeal ruling to lift ban on national rhino horn trade

Posted on 26 November 2015
Desert black rhinoceros at Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape
© naturepl.com / Mark Carwardine / WWF
WWF regrets today’s decision by South Africa’s High Court to lift the ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn, and fully supports the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ prompt announcement to appeal the decision.

The court ruling was issued in response to a case lodged by two private rhino owners against the moratorium, which was imposed in February 2009.

The decision means that it is now possible for individuals to buy rhino horn within South Africa. However, international trade in rhino horn remains prohibited under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“This ruling is a blow to the government, which imposed the moratorium in 2009 in response to a sharp rise in rhino poaching and concerns that the national trade was facilitating the illegal international trade in rhino horn,” said Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF South Africa.

“It is hard to see any positive conservation benefits from this court ruling, particularly at a time when rhino poaching figures are at record highs,” said Dr Colman O Criodain, WWF Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst. “There is no domestic demand for rhino horn in South Africa, so it is inconceivable that anyone would buy it – unless they intend to sell it abroad illegally or they are speculating that international trade will be legalised.”

The South African government has not yet decided whether to request a resumption of the international trade in rhino horn at next year’s 17th CITES Conference in Johannesburg. Nor is it evident that the Conference would agree to such a request.

“Lifting the domestic moratorium can only encourage poaching and illegal activity, especially as it is likely to be misconstrued as a lifting of the current international trade ban,” said Shaw. “Efforts should rather be focussed on good regulation of existing private rhino horn stockpiles and increased capacity at ports of entry and exit to detect illegal wildlife products.”

“We welcome the Minister’s prompt decision to appeal today’s High Court decision as this will help to minimise the fall-out from this ruling,” said O Criodain. “Reopening the national rhino horn trade will make it even harder for already overstretched law enforcement agents to tackle record rhino poaching.”
Desert black rhinoceros at Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape
© naturepl.com / Mark Carwardine / WWF Enlarge
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