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South African Court Says Selling Rhino Horn is Legal

An appeal by the Department of Environmental Affairs was recently dismissed by South Africa’s Constitutional Court. The appeal was to retain a moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horns.

According to a source, Pelham Jones, who is the chairman of South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA), was named as one of the respondents to the appeal case. Jones told Reuters that the court’s decision means that the selling of rhino horn is now legal in South Africa.

Jones commented on the situation saying that “We welcome the Constitutional Courts ruling, we believe it is a right we have been entitled to.”

Even though the Constitutional Court says that selling rhino horn is now legal, it’s important to note that a global ban on rhino horn trade is still in place. The ban was put in place by a U.N. convention. Basically, it means that any rhino horn that is acquired legally in South Africa cannot be exported out of the country.

It was only last summer that South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals met and dismissed the government’s decision to uphold the ban on domestic rhino horn which had been put in place back in 2009. In a last stitch effort, the appeal went to the Constitutional Court who is the last judicial option on the matter.

Many private rhino ranchers and other associations claim that they need the right to sell rhino horn in order to afford extra security costs. Things like armed patrols, helicopters, and electric fencing can get to be pretty costly. Those costs are probably why ranchers and associations were the main initiators of the court action.

Yet PROA says that it’s estimated that nearly 6,500 rhinos are owned by private ranches and associations throughout South Africa. That makes up more than a third of the national population.

Rhinos regrow their horns after they have been cut off. Usually, rhino horn is harvested from a rhino that has been tranquilized. While the South African government won’t say how large of a stockpile of rhino horn it has, PROA believes that it members have over 6 tons. PROA also estimates that the state could possibly have as close to 25 tons. The two together total enough rhino horn to equal $2 billion.

Yet when it comes to obtaining the very pricey material, there are worries from conservationists who believe that harvesters could be exporting to countries like Vietnam and China. Both countries use the rhino horn as the main ingredient in medicines and their demand for it has rippled the poaching waters.

Last year the number of rhinos being poached for their horns actually dropped by 10 percent to an estimated 1,054. It was the second year of decline as noted by the government. While this is good, conservationists still believe these numbers to be far too great.

The poaching of rhinos in South Africa rose drastically from 83 in 2008 all the ay up to 1,215 in 2014. It’s predicted that this dramatic increase in rhino poaching was to keep up with trade in Asian markets who have a high demand for the horn.

It’s no secret why South Africa is a main circuit for the poaching and trade of rhino horns. South Africa holds over 80 percent of the rhino population. Both the white rhino, who’s population is estimated at 18,000, and the black rhino, who’s numbers have dwindled to 2,000, call South Africa home.

Yet Jones and PROA are making steps toward better security that will prevent the sale for “blood horns” in the market. He told a source that his group was in the process of “setting up a domestic trade desk.” He also said that PROA would be “consulting with economists to determine market prices.”

While the Constitutional Court says that trade of rhino horn is legal, it will still be subject to the regulations set by the government. The government will have to issue permits to those who want to be part of the domestic trade. It would seem that those who plan to buy the rhino horn are those believe that rhino horn can grow in value and those who will use it for decoration.

So far, a spokesperson for the South African Department of Environmental Affairs has not made any comment but should be issuing a statement on the matter soon.

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