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UPDATE - August 28, 2017: South Africa’s first auction of rhino horn ended on Friday, with significantly less horn sold than anticipated by rhino breeder John Hume. Hume blamed a last minute court standoff between him and South Africa’s Department of Environment as having discouraged participation in this round of sales, which he says will only be the first of many. IFAW is delighted by the poor sales. Says Dr Joseph Okori, Director of IFAW Southern Africa: “Legalising sale of rhino horn will not reduce demand. As long as a legal market exists, criminals will attempt to launder horns to reap the profits. Currently, no system exists in South Africa or elsewhere in the world, where sufficient checks and balances exist to prevent rhino horn from leaking onto the black market and stimulating illegal wildlife trade.” The less legal rhino horn on the market, the better.
UPDATE - August 21, 2017: A High Court decision in South Africa yesterday ordered that a controversial online-auction of rhino horn be allowed to go ahead, overturning a decision by the Minister of Environmental Affairs not to issue a permit. According to media reports, the auction, due to start today (Monday), has been delayed and will now start at 14h00 on Wednesday August 23.
UPDATE - August 18, 2017: Will or won’t it (happen)? South Africa’s first ever legal auction of rhino horn, due to start midday Monday, is a likely non-starter. Rhino breeder John Hume has taken the Department of Environmental Affairs to court, alleging they have issued but not yet handed over permits for the sale. The case has been postponed until Sunday to allow the DEA to respond. Hume wants to sell 500 kgs of horn (over 250 horns).
On Monday, the first ever legal online auction of rhino horn will be held by a South African auction house. The horn to be sold belongs to South Africa’s biggest commercial rhino farmer, John Hume.
But, although this auction is selling off South African bred rhino horn, the potential buyers it courts are not necessarily South African. This vigorously marketed sale has an English-language home page, but also ones identical in Vietnamese and Chinese languages – Vietnam and China are, respectively, the number one and number two consumers of illegal rhino horn, which many falsely believe to have medicinal powers to fix all manner of ailments.
Clearly Mr Hume has a broader market in mind, and this calls into question his motive – in my mind, to sell horn, non-lethally harvested over the years from his more than 1,500 rhinos, and for no other reason than to realise a vast profit of potentially millions of dollars. Despite his protestations that some of the funds will be used to protect his rhinos, the truth is there is no conservation value in what he is doing. This is a matter of profit, not protection of one of the world’s most endangered species.
Currently, no system exists in South Africa or the rest of the world, where sufficient checks and balance exist to prevent rhino horn from leaking onto the black market and stimulating illegal wildlife trade.
Yet, this legal trade, which came about after the highest legal authority in South Africa, the Constitutional Court, upheld a successful court challenge by Hume to a 2009 moratorium on trade by Government, makes it possible for anyone to buy, sell and keep rhino horn in South Africa – so long as they have the correct permits. South Africa does not allow commercial international trade, however international non-commercial export is permitted subject to the issuing of permits by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
To IFAW, it seems almost inexplicable that it is possible to hold an auction – legal or otherwise - to sell off the horns of one of the world’s most iconic and endangered species.
With the prospect of this auction less than one week away, we hope most sincerely that the South African Government is being absolutely rigorous in interrogating each and every application for the issuing of permits for local private ownership; the same goes for the CITES permitting authority.
Right now, poor governance in source, transit and consumer countries is already making enforcement of legal international trade in wildlife and derivatives difficult; there is no reason to believe regulating, monitoring and enforcing a legal rhino horn trade would be easier or more effective.
In the past decade, more than 7,000 rhinoceros have been poached for their horns in the bloodiest and most brutal fashion, most of those in South Africa. Within the first six months of this year, 529 rhinos were poached across South Africa. Poachers have become ever more violent, and countless brave men and women have died or been maimed while protecting rhinos.
This auction makes a mockery of all of that. It should not be happening.
SEE ALSO: Newsweek's First ever legal rhino horn auction in South Africa has just begun, to the dismay of conservationists and CNN's South Africa's controversial rhino horn auction gets underway. Listen on BBC News Hour.