South Africa to propose rhino horn trade

South Africa has announced that it will officially push for rhino horn trade at the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (2016), using horn from rhinos that have died of natural causes. Here’s my take!

Even taken at its most optimistic… 3% natural mortality (whatever that is), from circa 20,000 rhino, equalling 600 horns with an average weight on 5kg per horn (3,000kg in total) and using the dosage weight proposed by Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes of 1.5 grammes per dose (meaning 3,000kg would equate to 2,000,000 doses), such a plan would, in all likelihood, barely touch the surface of demand (which, recall, is currently being serviced – unsuccessfully – by 668 poached rhino in 2012 and possibly as many as 900+ rhino in 2013). Therefore, in my view, poaching will continue and possibly increase since poachers will undercut whatever the legal price is set at (which is likely to be high to generate income and, supposedly, drive down demand – which it won’t).

Furthermore, creating a legal market has one other devastating impact. It will confirm in the minds of many purchasers that using rhino horn has medicinal validity – even when we know it does not. Minister Molewa, the Chair of the Private Rhino Owners Association of SA, the Chair of the Professional Hunters Association of SA, the Secretary General of CITES, the SA Ambassador to Thailand and Johnny de Lange MP (amongst others on the panel) were asked – by me in person, directly at a South Africa-hosted CITES side event on the 7th of March – (quoting The Mail and Guardian, 22nd March 2013) ‘to raise their hands if they believed rhino horn had medicinal benefits or could cure cancer. None of them did.’

So what are they saying by legalising rhino-horn trade? Here is a product that every sensible scientist says has no significant impact and they are going to sell it at huge cost to a public that is ill-informed. I wouldn’t go to sleep at night if I thought I was selling something like that to a Vietnamese family who have scrimped and saved every cent to buy rhino horn for their dying grandmother, who then goes and dies.

SA seems determined to push for legal trade at CITES CoP17 in 2016. But they will need to get the support of 66% or more of the 178 CITES Parties. I can only hope and pray that common-sense and a degree of morality prevail, and that the proposal is soundly defeated. They need as many as 117 Parties to agree with their misguided proposal and we need to persuade those Parties to say NO!

There is nothing sensible, logical, ethical or acceptable about legalising rhino horn trade – from natural mortality or anywhere else.

Read a full account of my intervention at the South Africa-hosted CITES side event on the 7th of March here .

Blogging off


10 Responses to “South Africa to propose rhino horn trade”

  1. Andrea Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Will. Another serious negative spin-off of legalising trade in rhino horn, or in any other wild animal body parts, is that it lends further support to the widely held attitude that wild animals are merely commodities to be killed/traded/abused/exploited by mankind.

  2. Maren Dallmann Says:

    This is complete madness!!!! I sincerely hope that they don’t somehow manage to convince enough parties that legalising the trade in any way will stop the poaching. In my opinion it’ll increase demand

  3. belle petite fleur Says:

    Will…this smells of bribery and corruption.An open invitation for poaching,finding a way around it,to make this haenous crime look legal.Its not what you fight so hard for.All you can do is step up protection.Maybe its time to raise more awareness again by going on uk tv once more.And raise more funds to pay for more wardens!

  4. Claudia Says:

    This suggestion really doesn’t deserve the attention because it’s so crazy and wrong for so many reasons. Obviously, it needs all the attention to succeed in defeating SA government in this move and make sure it doesn’t stand a chance at the 17th CoP CITES. Only education will help to stop the ill-believe that rhino horn or bear bile or …. help cure illnesses.

  5. Maree Collier Says:

    I’m in total agreement. I think poaching will increase. The SA Gov doesn’t give a toss about conservation and environmental affairs. All they are thinking about is getting their greedy little hands on the money to be made. Any one who believes that the money from the one-off sale of our stockpiles will go to combat poaching is naive. Too much corruption. I’m South African by the way. I hope SA does not succeed!

  6. gill gilbey Says:

    This is a disgusting suggestion and if CITES doesnt come down in no uncertain terms against it then CITES is a dead duck,and I despair for the future of rhinos and elephants especially.

  7. Katherine Pedinelli Says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous. There is a petition doing the rounds. Link below.
    Can we try also to address the disgrace of trophy hunting in South Africa.

  8. gill gilbey Says:

    Just an Add-on,South Africa was one of the first countries to be visited by the new Chinese President.

  9. Rosemary Wright Says:


  10. Aneesa Says:

    I’m participating in a debate about this very issue tomorrow, and this article was hugely helpful in my preparation. Thanks!