Commoditisation of Rhino Horn Trade ‘Self-Approved’ in South Africa

On 26 November 2015, South Africa’s, Pretoria High Court ‘approved’ a challenge by two rhino farmers (John Hume and Johan Kruger) to sell their stockpiles of ‘harvested’ rhino horn, overturning a 2009 moratorium on such trade.

Note: For those not familiar with John Hume’s rhino harvesting approach, this has been previously summarised and attached at Appendix 1 below. I can assume (until further study is undertaken), that Johan Kruger’s approach is identical.

The 2009 moratorium was overturned in the High Court on a convenient “technicality” that the moratorium had not been well advertised to the public and lacked ‘public consultation’ – so this “oversight” has been taken as a potential ‘self-approved’ South African route to defy the standing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ban on commercial trade in rhino horn.

The High Court’s 26 November 2015 ruling is now reportedly being challenged by South Africa’s own Environmental Affairs Department. In an ironic twist, if this challenge fails, the Environmental Affairs Department will be ‘forced’ to regulate and issue permits for this farmed rhino horn trade.

This latest form of ‘canned’ commoditisation is presumably deemed as ‘conservation’ so the Environmental Affairs Department can ‘facilitate’ the ‘trade.’ If you recall, the Environmental Affairs Department was ruled (by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal, November 2010) to have no jurisdiction over ‘canned’ lion farms, as these farms were deemed to offer no conservation benefits. Hence, the ‘canned’ lion (and other big cat species) farming industry has developed into the deceitful ‘commoditisation’ business model recently highlighted in ‘Blood Lions.’

The National Council of SPCAs is not convinced by the High Court’s 26 November 2015 ruling and has been quoted as saying via an NSPCA statement:

“We fear that if the judgment stands, a further consequence will be our rhino will become farmed animals. Unethical practices may be used to increase profits, which are likely to include confining animals to the smallest spaces possible, feeding animals unnatural diets, and physically altering or maiming animals to prevent them from injuring one another when confined in limited spaces.”

“Above all, rhinos are wild animals. Captivity, confinement and manipulation are foreign and stressful to them”.

Could the farming of rhino horn help reduce poaching? The NSPCA think not:

“South Africa cannot control the domestic trade or prevent it from leaking on to the international market and facilitated horn laundering. Legalising domestic trade will undoubtedly allow operations at lower costs, yet this trade is not sustainable and is unlikely to reduce poaching. The risk is the legal trade will stimulate demand and increase poaching.”

The Born Free Foundation also thinks that this move will increase demand and poaching, not reduce it.

Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand, October 2015 – “We find that a legal trade will increase profitability, but not the conservation of rhino populations” –  By Douglas J. Crookes, James N. Blignaut , Journal for Nature Conservation.        

So, how will/can CITES seek to impose its authority if this ‘trade’ is not a CITES sanctioned exemption? How can South Africa proceed and still be a party to CITES and host next year’s Conference of Parties to CITES for crying out loud!? Did CITES permitting the ‘legal’ export of permit/Trophy Hunted rhino horn just encourage this latest ‘development?’

Appendix 1

The South African farm owned by John Hume has the largest privately owned rhino herds in the world.  The farm harvests a rhino’s horns under ‘safe and painless’ anesthetised conditions, after which the rhino is released back into the farm’s protection. The rhino’s horn eventually grows back after about two years. The harvested horns are micro-chipped and currently stock-piled in a very secure vault. Under South African law only rhino horn extracted by a permit (concession) Trophy Hunt, can the resulting rhino horn ‘legally’ be exported.

As John Hume’s argues that under the current law “We are basically telling the Vietnamese that it is fine to kill an animal because our tradition of cutting off a rhino’s head to put on a wall as decoration is acceptable. But your tradition of cutting off its horn to use as ‘medicine’ is abominable

Legalising the rhino horn trade may be one of the approaches that helps reduce poaching. In theory,  ‘legal’ farm supplied rhino horn being released from stock-piles to meet demand will mean that prices paid will fall, thus making poaching less viable, plus making farms like John Hume’s more commercially viable. Changes to the governing law are being mooted in the South African government. There are several different options for extending the ‘legalised’ trade in rhino horn:

  1. One off sale of rhino horn stockpiles
  2. Domestic trade in rhino horn
  3. (Semi) permanent international CITES regulated sale

On John Hume’s farm, the rhinos’ existence is perhaps rather ‘synthetic’ but better than no existence. However, under the current climate, even on John Hume’s farm the rhino are not safe from poachers, with regular incursions.  Either way, there is no doubting the human ‘commoditisation’ or ‘canned’ business opportunities presented by the plight of the rhino.

In terms of rhino horn, then harvesting the horns (in a sustainable way, that doesn’t kill the ‘donating’ rhino) and allow legal export from farms ‘might’ help reduce illegal poaching, but what sort of world is that we are condoning? On the other hand, pandering in any shape or form to the preposterous demand side is not any sort of long term answer to anything. It will not necessarily save the rhino from poaching – I can see that a ‘South African sanctioned, farmed rhino horn trade’ could also be infiltrated/corrupted easily by the poachers if the profit share is favourably ‘negotiated’ via this dubious ‘self-approved route’ somewhere within the supply chain.


South Africa Lifts Rhino Horn Ban,“ IOLScitech, 27 November 2015

Rhino Horn Trade Ruling Divides Opinion,” Saturday Star, 28 November 2015

Legalising Rhino Horn Trade Will Add to Poaching – NSPCA,“NEWs 24, 30 November 2015

The Economics of Poaching, Trophy and Canned Hunting,” IWB, 2 September 2015

2 thoughts on “Commoditisation of Rhino Horn Trade ‘Self-Approved’ in South Africa

  1. internationalwildlifebond1 says:

    It has also been suggested that this ‘self-approved’ South African route for rhino horn (if not successfully challenged) could also set a precedent for ‘canned’ lions (and any other target species) to become exclusively farmed used/abused/exploited to increase profits from the ‘trade’ for hypothetical ‘medicines.’

    If support for ‘canned’ lion and big cat hunting is truly being withdrawn ( this could be the South African animal exploitation fall-back position.

    The message this ‘strategy’ sends to the poachers, is that it’s OK to farm and make money meeting the preposterous (and increasing) Asian demand for unsubstantiated ‘medicines’ made from animal parts, so why should the poacher be deterred from also continuing to try to ‘cash-in?’


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