Citation: Taylor, A., Brebner, K., Coetzee, R., Davies-Mostert, H., Lindsey, P., Shaw, J. and ‘t Sas-Rolfes, M. (2014) The Viability of Legalizing Rhino Horn Trade in South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Pretoria, South Africa
South Africa is facing a major rhino-poaching crisis. If poaching continues to escalate, a tipping point may eventually be reached forcing the population into decline for the first time in 50-100 years reversing one of the greatest conservation success stories.
The trade-sceptics, i.e. most rhino range states outside southern Africa, many influential international NGO’s and a number of Parties to CITES are at loggerheads with the pro-trade lobby. Both trade or no trade scenarios carry risks that could negatively impact South Africa’s rhino populations. Taking into account the facts that the mechanisms for controlling a legal trade in South Africa are not yet in place, that the number of rhino horns in private stockpiles are uncertain, and that some private rhino owners are not yet compliant with permitting regulations, it is likely that lifting the moratorium at the present time will lead to laundering of illegal horn into legal stockpiles as well as smuggling of horn out of the country.
A secure, national electronic permitting system and rhino database for all permitting issues for live rhinos and rhino horn, including the marking and identification of horn using DNA profiling, and the full disclosure of horn stockpiles of private rhino owners must be operational at least one year before the 17th Conference of Parties that is due to be held in 2016. Many Parties to CITES are unlikely to vote in favor of lifting the international trade ban before this happens Economists must also decide on a system to control and regulate trade in rhino horn. This should be done for both national and international trade because legalizing international trade may turn out to be the only way to reduce poaching in the future if law enforcement continues to fail.