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South African Court Upholds Effort to Legalize Domestic Rhino Horn Trade

Investigators inspect the carcass of a poached white rhino in Kruger National Park, May 2015 (Adam Welz/WildAid)

WildAid is deeply concerned that South Africa's moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn was effectively lifted today in a Pretoria court, on a technicality related to incorrect government procedures. 

The court rejected the government's appeal against a judge who had found that, while a ban may be prudent, the government had failed to follow its own procedures for soliciting public comment. The South African government, concerned that domestically-sold horn would leak out into the international market, had attempted — but failed — to prevent the moratorium from being lifted.

"There is little, if any, consumer demand for rhino horn within South Africa, and we agree with the government that horn sold domestically will likely be laundered into the international market, increasing the already serious threat faced by rhinos," said Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid. “We urge them to take the correct procedural measures in a timely way in order to reinstate the moratorium."

There have been persistent reports that prominent private rhino owners who contested the moratorium hope to attract east Asian citizens to South Africa to consume rhino horn in-country as a form of "medical tourism." The lifting of the domestic trade moratorium facilitates this scenario. 

“Despite the fact that it is mostly keratin, rhino horn is believed by some to be a cure for serious illnesses," Knights said. "Promotion of these disproven properties will not only increase demand in Asia, but customers also will be tempted to take their 'medicine' back with them or have it shipped out illegally. Facilitating such fraudulent 'medical tourism' would damage South Africa’s reputation at a time of increasing unemployment and economic uncertainty."


South African Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa will appeal the ruling with the nation's Supreme Court of Appeal.