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CITES, Don’t ‘CoP’ Out On The Rhino!

CITES, Don’t ‘CoP’ Out On The Rhino!

South Africa’s proposal to legalise the rhino horn trade is a regressive step in the bloody battle to protect these ancient mammals. The proposal must be vociferously opposed and defeated at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 17th Conference of Parties (CoP) meeting. Rhino horn is expensive; more expensive than gold and cocaine. It is deadly; in 2014, in South Africa, home to 80 per cent of the world’s wild rhino population, 1,215 of these magnificent animals (and innumerable rangers) were slaughtered by poachers. And its trade is illegal; the international trade in rhino horn has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) since 1977, and a moratorium on the domestic trade has been in place since 2009.

For years transnational conservation efforts have focused on increasing protection in Africa while reducing consumer demand in Asia, where China and Vietnam serve as the biggest markets for rhino horn. In these countries, the keratinous derivative is used as an ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCMs) and is erroneously believed to treat a plethora of illnesses including cancer. But the success of conservation efforts through the years has been debatable. Though rhinos have so far escaped extinction, rhino poaching continues to rise in South Africa with 778 rhinos being slaughtered for their horns within the first eight months of this year.

Now, in a preposterous move, the South African government has announced that it will propose the legalisation of the rhino horn trade at CITES 17th Conference of Parties (CoP) meeting that will be held in Johannesburg in 2016. Here, to move this proposal forward, South Africa will need to win the support of two-thirds of CITES 181 member countries. South Africa maintains that by regulating the trade, the market can be controlled and substantial funds be made available to boost security for the species. The proposal is being vociferously opposed by most conservation organisations, but supported by a number of private reserve owners, many of whom have stockpiles of rhino horns, sheared off rhinos to protect them from poachers, that are worth millions of dollars in the international black market.

Legalising the rhino horn trade will certainly serve to fill the coffers of a select few, but will it genuinely aid conservation efforts? All evidence points to the contrary. Here’s why we believe that legalising the rhino horn trade will be disastrous to the species:

1. Legalising the trade will undo years of work on consumer awareness in east Asia and will serve to increase demand for the product. Less than 25,000 rhinos remain in South Africa, whereas current and potential consumers of rhino horn products run into the millions. Thus a sustainable balance between supply and demand is impossible.

2. Wildlife crime syndicates will exploit the legal market by laundering illegally-sourced rhino horns through it. The legalisation in South Africa will further jeopardise rhino populations in other range countries, including India where rhinos are already facing pressure from poachers in the Northeast.

3. The legalisation of rhino horn will be an endorsement of its supposed medicinal properties. It has been proved again and again that rhino horn has no such properties and is nothing more than agglutinated hair. Supporting the misplaced economical value of a wildlife derivative on the basis of a misconception about its medicinal benefits is unethical, and exploitative of consumers.

4. While South Africa purports that a one-time sale of its rhino horn stockpiles (which are in excess of 18,000 kg.) will satiate the market, cause prices to fall and help save more rhinos, history has shown differently. Similar ‘one-off’ sales of stockpiled ivory to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008 respectively backfired, leading to a spurt in consumer demand and consequently an increase in ivory prices and poaching.

If South Africa is serious about protecting its rhinos (which it has done admirably for many years) it will channel funds and energy into better protection, effective prosecution and community conservation over the long-term. It will not choose to legalise a trade based on the economic exploitation of a derivative from an endangered species of wildlife; a species that is massacred for its most iconic feature.

Quote Unquote

“Legalising trade in a product belonging to an animal that is highly threatened would prove disastrous and accelerate rather than curtail rhino poaching in all of Africa.” – Dr. Philip Muruthi, African Wildlife Foundation

“Legitimising and promoting demand for rhino horn would inevitably create a far larger consumer base and once this genie is out, we could never re-cork the bottle if the experiment went wrong.” – Peter Knights, WildAid

“Powerful commercial interests in South Africa are seeking to cash in on their stockpiled horn at the expense of the conservation and survival of South Africa’s rhinos. Legalising rhino horn trade will reward the criminal kingpins behind the poaching, pushing rhinos inside and outside of South Africa ever closer to extinction.” – Mary Rice, Environmental Investigation Agency


State your protest:Sanctuary readers, you no doubt oppose the legalisation of the rhino-horn trade. Please join us in writing to South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs stating your opposition to the trade based on the points given above. Address your e-mails to

Edna Molewa
C/o Claude Mogambrey Nadasen
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With a copy to:

John Scanlon
Secretary-General, CITES
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And: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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