South African court rules against rhino horn moratorium

The ruling against the rhino horn ban seems counter-intuitive when one considers that the South African Government decided not to submit a proposal to trade in horn at this year’s CITES conference.Based on a number of court rulings over the years, it seems that the odds are stacked against animal welfare and conservation in South Africa, even though the nation’s constitution is hailed as one of the most progressive in the world.

It is not too distant a memory when South Africa’s then Minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism brought a case to the High Court to ban the practice of the captive breeding of lions to supply the cruel and unscrupulous canned hunting industry.  The Court unfortunately ruled in favour of the Captive Breeders Association, asserting that it was their constitutional right to a livelihood.  This was extremely controversial at the time and subsequent cases followed suit. 

Now, we have the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling in favour of commercial exploitation, this time lifting the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn.

This is totally counter-intuitive considering the South African Government decided not to submit a proposal to trade in horn at this year’s 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), held in Johannesburg later this year.

Lifting a moratorium on domestic trade is a step towards facilitating international trade, so something doesn’t add up.  Is it just a case of the Constitution prioritizing economic incentives and the commercial exploitation of South Africa’s rhinos over animal welfare, conservation and international relations?

Or is there something more sinister afoot?

The bottom line is that this ruling not only sets another dangerous precedent in South African law, but also sends a very dangerous message that it is okay to trade in rhino horn, albeit domestically, when rhinos need all the protection they can get. 


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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