The international trade in rhino horn, regulated by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), has been banned since 1977. However, individual countries may write their own laws that regulate the sale of rhino horn within their boundaries.
Most countries have modeled their laws after CITES’ rule and endorsed an outright ban on the domestic rhino horn trade, but South Africa, home to 70 percent of the world’s 29,500 rhinos, has taken a different approach.
A South African constitutional court struck down the ban on the sales of rhinoceros horns in 2017 after poaching incidents were thought to have been reduced to negligible number. According to National Geographic, the threat of poaching was previously enough for the government’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to enforce the ban on those who raised rhinos like livestock, but the rhino farmers appealed the law.
The rhino farmers argued that a steady supply of legal rhino horn would bring prices down and dissuade poachers. Now, anyone with a permit can buy or sell rhino horns
Rhino poaching has slowed since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted travel restrictions, but hundreds of rhinos are still being being poached each year. Vietnamese and Chinese importers are fueling demand for the horns, which are eventually sold as carvings or ground up in spurious medical treatments. Some rhino horns will fetch up to $300,000 on the illegal market.
According to NPR, the number of rhinos killed from 2014 to 2017 has been between 1,000 and 1,200 annually, equivalent to approximately three rhinos per day.
“These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing to get their hands on rhino horn,” South Africa Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said of poachers in the region.
Legalizing the rhino horn trade has not helped prevent poaching, In fact, it has only increased the killing of rhinos for their horns. Unemployment and lifted travel restrictions are now adding fuel to the fire, and poachers may soon return in full force.
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