It would be impossible for South Africa to supply the demand of the Asians markets – 60 000 horns a year for China alone – if it were to legally dispose of its stockpile and harvest the horns of living rhino.
This was the message from several high-profile speakers at a conference about legalising the trade in Pretoria.
More realistically, experts agreed, would be stricter law enforcement, effective prosecution, and harsher penalties for poachers and crime syndicates.
International conservation associations, diplomats and NGOs from the United Kingdom, Kenya, the US, Mexico, Vietnam and South Africa gathered for the Outraged Citizens Against Poaching conference, to assess the risks of rhino horn trade. This comes in anticipation of government’s proposal to legalise the trade in 2016.
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) were auspicious in its absence – a point of contention, especially soon after its failure to attend the recent pi-votal London conference on illegal wildlife trade.
Also absent during the debate, were pro-traders.
A strong focus fell on the role of corruption, collusion and the leniency in law enforcement – both locally and internationally – with a call made for increased pressure on especially Mozambique to address the lack of arrests and prosecution of poachers and syndicates.
Lax law enforcement in Vietnam makes it a poor trading partner, said Duong Viet Hong, a Vietnamese conservationist. This comes amid speculation that Vietnam will be SA’s partner in its trade proposal. Great strides had been made in Vietnam to combat the illegal trade, including a ban on legal trophy imports and special training of prosecutors. “Now is the wrong time to be talking about legalising it,” she said.
Kenyan conservation expert Paula Kahumbu stressed it has been proven that legal trade only provides an avenue for laundering funds generated through the parallel illicit trade.
The DEA did not respond to questions.