Rhino horn pro-trade versus anti-trade debate

Rhino in Kruger National Park. Photo: Richard Prinsloo

MBOMBELA – Those opposed to the trading of rhino horn had to register before they would be allowed to make any presentation to a committee of inquiry investigating the feasibility of its trade.

The deadline was March 13 and the first stakeholder meeting to be hosted by the committee would take place at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Boksburg on March 25 and 26, Lowvelder reported.

Various anti-trade lobbyists registered, including Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching (Oscap), Youth for African Wildlife, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, veteran conservationist and wildlife tourism expert, Colin Bell, and an ecotourism operator writer, Ian Michler, were to present information for consideration by the committee.

During a recent debate in Cape Town on the topic of anti-trade versus pro-trade, Bell and Michler, as anti-traders, squared up against pro-traders, Braam Malherbe, a rhino activist, and economist, Dawie Roodt.

During the debate they all agreed it was unrealistic to expect any changes to the legislation for trade in rhino products, at least within the next decade, at which point, based on current poaching statistics, rhino in the wild would likely be extinct.

With this consensus reached, the four lobbyists agreed to produce a strategy to work together and were in accord that it would be necessary to create a multipronged approach that allowed for different areas to be addressed and acted upon concurrently. Roodt and Bell agreed on one thing: “As long as we are fighting each other, we are aiding and abetting the poachers.”

These four decided to set aside their specific agendas of their respective camps and to focus on working together as a united front to come up with a multifaceted plan to conserve rhino in the wild.

They also acknowledged that about one in seven South Africans were dependent on a thriving tourism industry. Malherbe added: “If rhino become extinct, the country’s tourism industry will suffer and by default, so will the country’s economy and its people.”

In 2013 the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, said the country would back “the establishment of a well-regulated international trade” in rhino horn and seek permission from Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 2016 for a once-off sale of stockpiles worth about US$1 billion.” International trade in rhino horn had been banned since 1976.

Many international opponents to trade, such as Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency, Suzy Watts of the Humane Society International and Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation, felt that not enough was known about the market to prove that flooding it would have a positive effect.

Legalising trade could remove the stigma attached to consumption and open up the market, rather than reduce it, trade challengers suggested.

Before the end of March, there it will be much clearer which route the South Africans will embark upon to protect and save the rhino from extinction, but people close to this debate say whichever way they choose, it will require strong political will to make it work.

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