South Africa has made a move that will not please rhino conservationists. It’s a move that may soon seek lifting of the global world ban on rhino horn trading, something that has been in place for 34 years.
The Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa last month placed two advertisements on its tenders website to initiate a series of studies that could pave the way for a resumption of controlled rhino-horn trading. These are ostensibly meant to include a detailed assessment of whether there are “options and opportunities available to South Africa to access a legal market.” Another study is expected to look into the feasibility of dehorning thousands of rhinos as a way of saving them from poachers’ bullets.
Vivek Menon, Executive Director of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), reacted, “South Africa has been having the worst ever bout of rhino poaching now. To think that making it legal will reduce poaching is a perverse logic. Any attempt at reopening trade will impact all thee Asian rhinos by stimulating demand. Two are critically endangered and while ours is only vulnerable. It is important to note that past experiences (Manas, Laokhawa) have shown that one spurt can wipe out entire populations.”
International trade in rhino horns was banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) after a wave of poaching threatened to decimate rhino populations in Africa and the Far East. South Africa, which still allows trophy hunting under a permit system, also imposed a moratorium on the domestic sale of rhino products and horns in 2009.
Since January 1 this year, poachers have killed 279 rhinos in South Africa. Of this, 169 were poached in the Kruger National Park (KNP). There are about 18,800 white rhino and 2,200 black rhino in South Africa.
The current population of the greater one-horned rhinos that is found in India is 2,949. This Asian rhino species is found only in a few protected areas in India and lowland Nepal. Although the greater one-horned rhino population has been slowly increasing, these rhinos remain under threat of being killed for their horn.