Specialised Wildlife Information
February 11, 2002
South Africa is seeking permission to trade in white rhinoceros
horns, a move sure to draw heated criticism from animal welfare
Trade in the horns and other body parts of all species of rhino
has been prohibited since 1977 under the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
"It (the trade) would enable South Africa to have limited
sales of white rhinoceros horns," said Phindile Makwakwa, speaking
for the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
A final draft of the proposal is expected to be presented to the
Cites secretariat in June ahead of the next Cites meeting, which
is to be held in Chile in November.
Conservationists say the ban has stemmed the slaughter of the endangered
animals, whose horns are prized for use as dagger handles in Yemen
and as traditional medicines in south-east Asia.
South Africa maintains its population of white rhinoceros is
healthy, growing and well-protected and that the cash raised will
be used for conservation programmes.
On the brink of extinction a century ago, the southern African
sub-species of white rhino was saved by conservation efforts in
South Africa. Its global population now stands at over 8 000, with
most inhabiting South African game parks and reserves.
Animal welfare activists say lifting the ban would create a legal
market that poachers could exploit to sell illegal horns.
"We see this as a global issue," said Jason Bell, the
director of the southern African branch of the International Fund
for Animal Welfare.
"We just don't see it as a matter of South Africa saying we
have good enforcement measures in place. The bottom line is that
many other countries don't have these measures and so their populations
could be at risk. The people who deal in these products are unscrupulous,"
He added that lifting the ban could threaten rarer species of rhino, such as the black rhino of Africa and the great one-horned rhino of Asia.
Other controversial draft proposals being mooted by South Africa include one to sell the stockpile of ivory from elephant
tusks at the Kruger National Park. The 1989 ban on ivory sales is
credited with halting widespread poaching of Africa's elephants.
Conservationists say recent "one-off" ivory auctions
by Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe have led to more poaching by criminals
intent on laundering "dirty ivory".