Moratorium on Rhino Horn Trade Lifted Just as Poaching Levels Fall in South Africa

January 25, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Grazing Grass (White) Rhino.
Photo credit: Steve Garvie/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The numbers still remain unacceptably high.

For the first time since 2008, the number of rhinos poached in South Africa decreased in 2015.  Last year 1,175 rhinos were killed, which is 40 fewer than in 2014, but it is still ridiculously high compared to the 13 poached in 2007.

“Considering that this is despite escalating poaching pressure, and in the face of an increased and relentless rise of poaching activity into protected areas — this is very, very good news, and offers great cause for optimism” said Edna Molewa, the minister of South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, who announced the statistics on January 21.

However, poaching in Kruger National Park, home to over 8,400 endangered rhinos, has been on the rise.  Molewa said that 202 poachers were arrested in the park last year, and another 115 were arrested just outside it.  Rangers in the park killed over 82 poachers in 2015, making the total number of hunters killed in the park over 500.

SEE ALSO: Northern white rhinoceros on cusp of extinction

South Africa is home to roughly 19,700 rhinos, which is about 80 percent of the world’s population, and despite this small drop in rhino killings, the numbers still remain too high.

“As governments like South Africa continue to ramp up efforts to stop wildlife poaching, these numbers remind us of the urgency to swiftly address this crisis across all fronts,” said World Wildlife Fund’s Ginette Hemley in a press release.

Unfortunately, this slight dip in South Africa was offset by the increasing rhino poaching in Zimbabwe and Namibia.  TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group, estimated that the number of rhino deaths in Africa was at least 1,305 in 2015.  “For Africa as a whole, this is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching,” said TRAFFIC’s Tom Milliken in a press release.

So what is driving these inexcusable killings?  Demand.  Most of the demand for rhino horn is from Vietnam, where some people believe the horn holds medicinal properties.  However, rhino horn is made of the same ingredients as our fingernails — a fact that park authorities and conservationists are trying educating the world about.  Rhino horn holds no medicinal benefits.

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs first introduced a moratorium on domestic rhino horn trade in 2009 due to concerns that the legal domestic trade was helping feed the illegal international trade.

Recently, two South African rhino farmers — who between them have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the horn — sued the government, and in December the court ruled the moratorium invalid.

Molewa applied to appeal the ruling, but unfortunately, on January 20, South Africa’s High Court in Pretoria denied her leave to appeal.  Consequently, the domestic moratorium is no longer in place, but international rhino horn trade is still illegal.

However, Molewa is not giving up so easily.  Her and her legal team will be going to the Supreme Court of Appeal, and once they have filed their application to appeal, the moratorium will go back into effect.  Thank goodness.

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