In an unexpected and controversial move, a South African court handed down a ruling legalizing the rhino horn trade within South Africa in order to curb rhino poaching
Judge Francis Legodi ruled in favor of John Hume and John Kruger, two men who own massive rhino breeding operations in South Africa, in a lawsuit that throws out the previous South African law banning the rhino horn trade in South Africa.
South Africa has more rhinos than any other country in the world and is home to thousands of black and white rhinos. While many rhino live in government owned preserves, such as Kruger National Park, thousands of others live on privately owned farms scattered throughout the country. Mr. Hume, who owns over 1,200 white rhino on his massive rhino breeding farm, owns more rhino than any other person in the world.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Hume and Mr. Kruger argued that with the rhino horn trade being illegal in South Africa, they had no economic incentive to spend the millions of dollars necessary to maintain their rhino populations. Mr. Hume spends in excess of $2.9 million a year to protect his rhinos from poachers and another $1.7 million annually for other costs such as food, veterinary costs, staff and fencing for his rhinos.
Proponents of legalizing rhino horn trade argue that farmers could legally harvest rhino horns from their rhino and sell them. They argue that this would satisfy the demand for rhino horn in the world and would give farmers an economic incentive to keep rhino on their lands, which they currently lack.
A key part of legalizing the rhino horn trade is the fact that this would allow rhino farmers to harvest rhino horn without harming the animal. Rhino horn is similar to fingernails: it grows back and cutting it off does not do permanent damage to the animal.
Obviously, this is extremely different from the rhino poaching that is currently running rampant in South Africa where poachers kill the animal before hacking off the horn.
Critics of legalizing rhino horn trade argue that legalizing rhino trade would be damaging to efforts already in place to protect rhino. Specifically, some people fear that legalizing rhino horn trade within South Africa would actually feed the illegal trade, increase demand for rhino horn in Asia, and end up leading to even more rhino poaching.
One thing is for certain: we are in the middle of a serious rhino poaching crisis in Africa. Due to the extremely high cost of rhino horn on the black market (up to $100,000 a kilogram, or more than its weight in gold), poachers are still killing rhino at a record rate despite increased anti-poaching enforcement and even the involvement of the South African Army to help protect the rhinos in the country.
2014 was a record year for rhino poaching with 1,215 rhino killed in South Africa. The rhino poaching has gotten so bad that the South African government has stopped reporting the number of rhino poached, so we’re really not even sure how many are currently being killed. However, experts estimate that there will be no rhino left in a few years if something isn’t done to stem the tide of rhino poaching soon.
The current decision only legalizes rhino horn trade within South Africa and a government permit would be required to sell rhino horn. International rhino horn trade is still illegal.
What do you think? Is it a good decision to legalize rhino horn trade in South Africa? Or will this ultimately be harmful to the species in the long run?