Swaziland’s CITES proposal on rhino horn trade puts it out on a limb

Swaziland has proposed to alter the existing annotation on the Appendix II listing of Swaziland’s white rhino to permit a limited and regulated trade in white rhino horn.Just when we were all expecting South Africa to take the lead in proposing trade in rhino horn at this year’s 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Swaziland took us by surprise in being the only country proposing to do so. There had been such a long debate in South Africa about whether to submit a proposal to CoP17 or not that its landlocked neighbour was quietly forgotten.

While there was a great sigh of relief when the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, announced that South Africa would not submit a trade proposal, it was short lived when Swaziland’s rather bold and outrageous proposal hit the table.

Swaziland has proposed to alter the existing annotation on the Appendix II listing of Swaziland’s white rhino, adopted at the 13th Conference of Parties in 2004, so as to permit a limited and regulated trade in white rhino horn which has been collected in the past from natural deaths, or recovered from poached Swazi rhino, as well as horn to be harvested in a non-lethal way from a limited number of white rhino in the future in Swaziland.

There are so many things wrong with this proposal, all of which definitely leave Swaziland out on a limb at CoP17.

Firstly, current poaching rates have effectively stalled further growth in rhino numbers at the continental level. Illegal trade in rhino horn has also reached the highest levels since the early 1990s and in 2014 nearly 2,000 rhino horns are estimated to have gone into illegal trade. Comparatively speaking, the illegal supply of rhino horn out of Africa is now over 30 times greater than what was observed in the early 2000s. Secondly, the notion that demand could be furnished through legal sales is fallacious and cannot be substantiated at all. Quite on the contrary, experts suggest that legal trade will increase demand, which could have serious ramifications for wild rhino populations.

Swaziland’s proposal is not only biologically unsound, but politically naïve too. The international community has made it clear that there is no room for discussion when it comes to proposing trade in rhino horn in any form whatsoever. South Africa seemed to heed this call and most certainly seems to be more politically astute than its neighbour.

Swaziland’s proposal to CoP17 flies in the face of global efforts to protect the last remaining wild rhino populations, and IFAW urges Parties to OPPOSE this proposal.


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