While Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa would explore the viability of introducing trade in rhino horn in the run-up to next year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting, a proposal would not be made until the following Cites meeting, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Thursday.
The sale of rhino horn, some believe, will remove the black-market trade and therefore decrease the level of poaching. However, by the time of the next Cites meeting - expected to be held in 2016 - South Africa’s rhino population could be in decline, with more animals being poached than are being born.
Markus Hofmeyr, wildlife veterinary services head at South African National Parks (SANParks), says if the current rate is not curbed, the species could go into decline from 2016, and could become extinct in the wild by 2050.
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Ms Molewa, who mentioned the possibility of a trade application in her budget vote speech this week, said there were too many legal obstacles for South Africa to make a considered proposal to Cites next year.
A two-thirds majority was needed for any such proposal to be passed. Cites banned rhino horn trade 30 years ago but demand from Far Eastern countries has sparked a rise in poaching since South Africa changed its hunting laws in 2008. Rhino horn fetches an estimated $60 000/kg.
South Africa’s estimated 20700 rhino had a population growth rate of 6% a year but rhino poaching had escalated by 35% between 2010 and 2011, according to statistics from SANParks and rhino expert Michael Eustace.
Poachers in South Africa had already killed 199 rhinos this year and this was expected to reach 600 by year-end.
Ms Molewa said South Africa was poised to sign memoranda of understanding with both Vietnam and China over steps that can be taken to stop the slaughter of rhinos in SA, and the sale of the horn in those countries.
Ms Molewa explained last month that Vietnam and China were important to any Cites proposal because South Africa would have to show it had prospective trade partners.
South Africa would also need to get backing from the European Union, which held 27 of the 95 votes needed to approve trade.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s rhino strategy co-ordinator, Jabulani Ngubane, said the provincial parks authority was already working on a trade proposal because, despite security being increased, poaching had not been brought down to a manageable rate.