The reported move of South Africa to legalize the domestic trade of rhinoceros horn and start limited exports has left the conservationists worried. Mixed reactions are coming from the government and trade circles.
The new regulations drafted by the Department of Environmental Affairs have been notified in the government gazette.
Rhino breeders in South Africa have been pressing the government to make rhino horn trade legal so that supply can increase and the price will come down and address the poaching problem, according to reporter Peter Granitz.
The new regulations have many specifics. One is that foreigners have to obtain a permit for exporting horns with a maximum of two horns for "personal purposes." However, the draft is silent on what constitutes personal purposes.
It is also insisted that in transporting horns, the O.R. Tambo International Airport must be the outlet for travel. Also, the horns should not be carried in the hand luggage and freight agents must collect relevant information on the horns' genetic profile.
Also, the rhino horns should not be powdered for three years as it makes identification difficult.
Minister Cites Poaching
South Africa had been the epicenter of poaching and in 2016, more than 1,000 rhinoceros were killed, according to official figures.
"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," said Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.
It is reported that 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rhino horn in the black market is sold for nearly $54,000.
John Hume, a rhino breeder in South Africa, said the legalizing of horn trade is positive as banning the trade in 2009 made the horn pricier.
High Demand, Ruthless Trade
Trade in rhino horn is completely illegal. But, heavy demand, coming mainly from Vietnam and China has set off a black market which is led by poaching, threatening the survival of rhinos.
Rhino horns are made of Keratin, which is the same substance as human fingernails. The demand is abetted by myths like the cure of a senior Vietnamese figure from cancer, giving rhino horns a cult symbol and image of a hangover tonic.
In China, rhino horns are most sought for medicinal applications, especially in traditional Chinese medicine. The use of rhino horns for ornamental carvings is also driving up its prices.
At astronomical prices and low penalties, it is a field day for organized crime networks to indulge in illegal trade with the backing of international syndicates. According to estimates, wildlife trafficking is only surpassed by smuggling of drugs, arms, and people.
"The criminal networks involved have shown themselves to be far more innovative and utterly ruthless," said Julian Rademeyer, an expert on rhino horn at Traffic, a leading wildlife trade monitoring organization.