News 26.11.2015 10:02 am

‘An army needed to protect rhinos’

The world’s last male northern white rhino. Picture: ANA

The world’s last male northern white rhino. Picture: ANA

Game farmer who had brought the application says it is a ‘monumentous’ day for the survival of the animals, and that costs of defending the rhino has sky-rocketed.

From today it will be legal to trade in rhino horn in South Africa after the High Court in Pretoria this morning set aside government’s 2009 ban on domestic trade in rhino horn, with those supporting the move arguing it is the only way to prevent the otherwise-inevitable extinction of the animals.

Judge Francis Legodi read out his court order in less than five minutes before handing down his 37-page judgment in the application by Malelane game farmer John Hume and Limpopo farmer Johan Kruger. Although government is expected to appeal the ruling, Hume said he hopes “sanity would prevail”.

Rhino breeder John Hume’s attorney Izak du Toit gave an indication of what it is like trying to protect rhino from poachers. “You really need an army to protect your rhino,” he said. You need soldiers with automatic firearms, night vision, helicopters… If you don’t, you’re simply outgunned.”

Meanwhile, Hume was very happy. “This is a momentous judgment. I would just hope that the world understands that if I don’t sell rhino, my whole rhino herd would be dead within the next ten years.”

He said the security costs of safeguarding his rhino had gone up dramatically and was at this stage costing far more than feeding or any other costs.

“It (the court order lifting the moratorium) is not a magic wand that has been waved. You still need a permit to sell and we will have to ask government what their conditions are.

“Hopefully government will also eventually understand that unless we get that money, we will have many dead rhinos.”

Hume said he would fight any appeal by the government, but hoped that sanity would prevail and that they would not drag out the process any further.

In his judgment, Judge Legodi said: “The applications by the applicants for the review and setting aside of the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horns are hereby granted and the moratorium … is hereby reviewed and set aside for substantial non-compliance with consultative and participatory process by the members of sections 99 and 100 of NEMBA (The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act).”

The Judge said the exact percentage attributable to the moratorium is not known, but clearly its role in adding to the surge in poaching could not be excluded.

“Furthermore the extent of smuggling or illegal export of rhino horns due to lack of implementation of the applicable measures is not known.

“The next question is, on what basis should this court suspend the setting aside of the moratorium?

“Put differently, what disastrous implications would be brought about by the immediate lifting of the moratorium? I cannot think of any.

“The solution appears to lie in the effective implementation of applicable and envisaged measures,” Judge Legodi said.

Hume’s legal representative GF Heyns said he did not want to speculate what the Water and Environmental Affairs Minister planned to do with the ruling and if there would be an appeal, but for now regulated domestic trade in rhino horn was legal.

Hume, who farms in the area south of the Kruger National Park, is the largest rhino farmer in the world, but told the court he could no longer afford to spend R5 million a month to preserve his herd and would be forced to dispose of 1200 rhinos if the ban remained in place.

He maintained the moratorium was directly to blame for a sharp spike in rhino poaching since 2008.

His advocate argued in court that it was a “cold hard fact” that our rhino would be extinct by 2021 under the present government regime.

Kruger’s advocate argued that the moratorium should be set aside as the Minister failed to comply with her obligation to properly notify the public about the proposed ban or to give members of the public a chance to make meaningful submissions.

The Minster conceded that a notice of the proposed ban was never published in a national newspaper, but maintained there was “substantial compliance” through publication in the Government Gazette and news articles in newspapers in the Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

The court was told that rhino horn was selling for as much as $65 000 per kilogram.

Only 5 black rhino may be hunted in South Africa per year, but an unlimited number of white rhino may be hunted, although individual hunters may only hunt one white rhino per year, the court was told.

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