South Africa rejects rhino horn legalization

Posted on Apr 22, 2016 in Jamie's blog
South Africa rejects rhino horn legalization


Media contact: Andrew Harmon, WildAid Communications Director


CAPE TOWN (April 21, 2016) – Ending months of speculation, South African officials said Thursday that they will not submit a proposal to legalize trade in rhinoceros horn to the 17th Conference of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to be hosted in Johannesburg in September.

The proposal to open international trade in rhino horn, championed by private rhino owners, remains highly controversial. Proponents of legal trade argue that they can tightly control the trade by limiting it solely to horn legally taken from living rhinos and legitimate stockpiles and use the revenue to support anti-poaching.

Opponents – including WildAid – warn that legitimizing the use of rhino horn by promoting trade can massively increase consumer demand in Asia for a product that is falsely claimed to cure cancer, hangovers and other illnesses. A huge increase in consumer demand would not be controllable and would result in sharply increased rhino poaching. Legal trade mechanisms can easily be used to launder poached horn. They point to a similar experiment undertaken by CITES in 2008, when 108 tons of elephant ivory were auctioned off to Japanese and Chinese buyers, stimulating a continent-wide poaching epidemic that saw the loss of 30,000 elephants a year and recently prompted China, Hong Kong and the United States to announce a ban on domestic ivory sales. There are only about 20,000 White and 4,000 Black Rhino surviving.

The trade proposal would have required the support of a two-thirds majority of the 180-plus countries expected to attend the Conference in order for it to succeed. This would have been highly unlikely given the low numbers of rhinos, the catastrophic outcome of the ivory experiment and the on-going failure to control poaching within South Africa. International opinion is increasingly against the trade in wildlife products derived from threatened species.

WildAid CEO Peter Knights said: “This decision is in the best interests of South Africa and all rhinos. It will have wide international support and now the government can unite the world at the CITES meeting in cracking down on the trade in rhino horn. The focus must be on higher-level prosecutions in South Africa and Mozambique to break up the poaching syndicates and on reducing consumer demand in Vietnam and China. This will be easier with the distraction of international legalization off the table.“

Comprehensive demand reduction efforts have proven effective. During the last rhino poaching crisis, which ravaged Africa between 1970 and 1993, Taiwan, then the world’s largest consumer of rhino horn, banned the trade under pressure from the international community and strongly enforced that ban. Media coverage of the government’s action, combined with large public education campaigns, all but eradicated rhino horn use in Taiwan, resulting in negligible rhino poaching between 1994 and 2008. Rhino poaching has surged in recent years following criminal syndicates’ efforts to stimulate consumer demand among newly-wealthy consumers in Vietnam and mainland China.


Note to editors: WildAid ( is an international NGO that has pioneered major wildlife public education projects in Africa and demand reduction programs in Vietnam and China, featuring icons such as Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, David Beckham and other celebrities and business leaders. Surveys indicate that since 2012 awareness of rhino poaching in Asia has increased by 50%.

Official South African Government press release on this issue.

savingthewild_the_rhino_orphanage_ (35)Photo credit: Ryan Roux @ The Rhino Orphanage, Limpopo / Saving the Wild

In related news…

The Game Changers – Arrest a prominent Asian figure for rhino horn possession

By Jamie Joseph / January 2016

A significant part of the problem is that almost nobody in Vietnam or China has been arrested for consumption or possession of rhino horn. If they were to arrest one senior government official or one prominent businessman for this heinous crime, publicly, the impact would be massive.

But it’s an uphill battle because the Asian officials are saying that the South African government are positioning themselves to trade with rhino horn, so in their minds there is no point in cracking down on their citizens. It gives them the excuse to do nothing at all.

The South African government could be leading the demand reduction charge, and the whole world would get behind them. If South Africa goes ahead and proposes trade at CITES in September, all the international journalists will lead with corruption, and that will be the story. The irony is that they will never get the CITES votes anyway; it’s all such a horrific, bloody waste of time, with a rhino now being poached every eight hours.

#2016YearOfTheRhino – Read the full story on Virgin Unite.

savingthewild_thula_thula_rhinos__ (2)Photo credit: Jamie Joseph / Saving the Wild

Sir Richard Branson leads the charge in race to save rhinos

By Jamie Joseph / November 2015

Says Sir Richard Branson, “Listening to 25 of the country’s leading entrepreneurs around the table, it is promising to hear that the issue has already become part of a national conversation which is bringing shame to a country of 90 million people entering the global market space. The wheels of politics turn slowly, coupled with a lack of interest in conservation, but the younger Vietnamese do not want to be associated with this vile trade, and here lies an opportunity for mobilization.”

Read the full story on Saving the Wild.

Photo credit: WildAid VietnamPhoto credit: WildAid Vietnam

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