South African Court Just Legalized Rhino Horn Trade After A Seven-Year Ban Protecting Rhinoceroses

South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal has just legalized the rhino horn trade in South Africa again after a seven-year ban. The South African Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the government to keep the ban on rhino horns in a move that is sure to doom the species, according to National Geographic.

International rhino-horn trade is still banned, and has been since 1977, but local trade can and will begin again. Some have said this move will save the species as illegal poaching of rhinoceroses on South African land is on the rise. Having the rhino horn trade legalized means that the horns will hopefully be removed without killing the animals.

South African
A horn removed from a rhino on a South African ranch. [Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images]

Rhino horns are mostly sought after by people in China and Vietnam who believe that the horns can cure everything from hangovers to cancer; they take it in powdered form. It is also sold as an aphrodisiac, and having horns in one’s home is seen as a status symbol for the middle and upper classes.

Julian Rademeyer, a senior fellow at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, notes that as the rhino trade is still illegal internationally the horns will most-likely be taken from the rhino legally but will most certainly be smuggled out of South Africa to Asia illegally.

“Given the levels of corruption in some provincial permitting offices, there are certainly concerns that legal domestic sales could become a conduit for criminal networks to obtain horns which can be smuggled out of the country and sold on the black market. We saw as much prior to 2009 when middlemen for Vietnamese syndicates traveled the length and breadth of the country buying up ‘loose stock’ of horns from game farmers,” Rademeyer said.

The push to start trading rhinoceros horns in South Africa again came mainly from a rhino farmer that has almost 13,000 rhinos on his property for the sole purpose of cutting off their horns. John Hume, the farmer, estimates he has already stockpiled roughly five tons of rhino horn. Hume, along with safari operator Johan Kruger, sued the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (DEA) to invalidate the 2009 moratorium keeping the rhino’s somewhat safe.

On South African ranches, farmers raise rhinos like westerners raise dairy cows. However, rather than taking the animals milk, farmers periodically tranquilize the rhinos and saw off their horns. If a rhino’s horn is removed above the root properly and the animal is kept alive, it will grow back. Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same protein as in hair or fingernails, and it grow backs the same way. Essentially, rhino horns are lumps of keratin to people but to them are a source of defense, balance, and a digging tool.

Hume’s lawyer, Izak Du Toit, is excited by the prospect of the rhino horn trade and said he hopes that a rhino horn trade will be able to exist between South Africa and Swaziland.

“Swaziland could become the most popular country in the world for live rhino!” he said.

Despite the Supreme Court of Appeal’s rejection of the government’s bid to keep the domestic moratorium protecting rhinos in place, Hume remains skeptical about whether he will be able to sell his rhino horns.

“You never know with this government,” he said. “In the next day or two we will apply for a few permits and see.”

Buyers and sellers of the rhinoceros horns need to get permits to trade. Either way, lifting the ban on the trade will end some of the stigma that surrounds the rhino trade and ultimately raise demand. The number of rhinos killed for their horns is already on the rise.

“Last year, 1,175 rhinos were poached – 40 fewer than in 2014 but still significantly higher than the 13 killed in 2007,” National Geographic reported.

South Africa is home to the world’s largest rhino population with nearly 80 percent, or 20,000, of the world’s white rhinos living there. Five thousand of those rhinos are in private hands and have a life of constantly having their horns sawed off, according to NPR.

Supporters of the rhino horn trade say that legalizing the trade means there will be less “blood horns” on the market and that money earned could be used for conservation and to pay for security.

The government has said it is still studying the judgment, which was handed down last week, and that South Africa has vowed it will not legalize international trade in rhino horn, according to the Daily Mail.

[Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images]