Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Making a killing

18 July 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Wildlife Trade News

Grotesque rhino horn auction to take place in South Africa

On 21st August 2017, rhino horn stockpiles belonging to John Hume, South Africa’s largest rhino farmer and owner of more than 1,500 rhinos, will be put up for sale in an online auction.

The auction has been made possible by the decision of South Africa’s High Court to overturn a domestic moratorium on commercial horn sales, which had been in place since 2009. The decision, which was upheld by the Constitutional Court in April of this year, followed a legal challenge to the moratorium by Mr Hume and others.

While the international ban on commercial trade in rhino horns remains in place, the opening up of commercial domestic trade within South Africa, coupled with the possibility that owners of horns may be able to take them out of the country for ‘personal purposes’, raises the likelihood of the auction attracting buyers intent on making a profit by selling horn into illegal international markets in Vietnam, China and elsewhere.

According to the auction website, Mr Hume currently owns more than 6 tonnes of rhino horn, largely obtained by ‘trimming’ the horns of live rhinos. It is not clear how much of this stockpile will be offered for sale in this first auction, although a second, physical auction is planned for September.

Born Free’s Associate Director Dr Mark Jones said: “This is a deeply cynical move by Mr Hume that is clearly designed for the sole purpose of turning an enormous profit from his rhino farming activities. The blatant disregard for the potential consequences for wild rhinos across their range is staggering.”

The website advertising the Auction has been translated into Mandarin and Vietnamese, further fuelling fears that its principal target is international buyers.

“Those profiteering from this auction claim the sales will be regulated by the need for potential buyers to obtain permits from the South African authorities”, continued Jones. “However, the only reason people may want to bid for these horns will be to sell them on for profit, and the only way they can do that is by smuggling them out of South Africa and into lucrative illegal Asian markets. We have no confidence that the proposed permitting and marking system will prevent this from happening. If it is allowed to go ahead, this auction will inevitably stimulate demand for horn, which in turn will put more pressure on beleaguered wild rhinos. We implore the South African authorities to step in and put a stop to this.”

Only around 29,000 rhinos belonging to five species remain across the world. South Africa is home to approximately 20,000, more than a quarter of which are privately owned.

Poachers target rhinos for their horn, which are then trafficked into some Asian countries by organised criminal gangs where they sell for astronomical prices for use in traditional medicine, as a status symbol and as an investment. More than 6,000 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa alone over the past decade, and poaching levels are on the rise in other countries including Namibia and Zimbabwe. Poachers pay no regard for the welfare of the animals they target; many rhinos have endured horrendous suffering and many dependent calves have been orphaned.

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