Cape Town – The first online rhino horn auction set to take place on 21 August 2017, has put South Africa's domestic rhino horn trade parameters as set by CITES to the test, even though the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) states that it does not allow rhino horn to be traded internationally.
Global animal protection organisation, Humane Society International’s (HSI) Vietnam branch, is calling on the South African government “to honour its commitment to protect rhinos by refusing permits for an online auction of rhinoceros horns”, saying that it “appears to be targeting buyers from the world’s two largest destinations for trafficked rhino horn, China and Vietnam”.
Humane Society International says that the auction by John Hume - the world’s largest rhino farmer – is listed on a website with both a Vietnamese and Chinese language option in addition to English.
SEE: First online auction of rhino horn to test SA rules as DEA issues compliance warning
The DEA has issued compliance warnings to make the parameters of the sale clear – saying that international trade in rhino horn remains illegal – to dispel any confusion about the auction on social media, especially with advertising being translated into Chinese and Vietnamese.
"It is important to note that the content of various websites, some of which have been translated into Chinese and Vietnamese, as well all other Social Media sites, is misleading and creates the unfortunate impression that South Africa has approved of, and is promoting, the international trade in rhino horn," says the statement issued by the DEA in July.
"The Department would like to emphasise that such action, that is, international trade would be illegal in terms of domestic regulations and South Africa’s international obligations," adds the statement.
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However, HSI believes “there is a significant risk that horns from this auction, even if purchased legally in South Africa, may end up being trafficked to Asian consumer markets by organised criminal syndicates”.
Similarly, local conservationists have have also raised the question "why anyone would want to buy rhino horn if it could not be onsold illegally to dealers in Asia where it’s worth more per kilogram than gold or heroin?"
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Traveller24 did a poll to find out what the public thought of the rhino horn online auction. The results indicated that 4 675 votes were cast saying that, like ivory, the online auction won’t work to reduce illegal trade and poaching, 2 975 votes agree that this auction would actually create a loophole for illegal trade (like the HSI’s concern), and a total of 1 369 votes suggested that this auction will decrease rhino poaching.
Meanwhile, the DEA believes that with a number of long-term sustainability interventions it has in place, including the proposed regulatory measures for the Domestic Trade in Rhino Horn, it will decrease rhino poaching.
SEE: +40k tonnes of rhino horn in hand, DEA confident it can regulate domestic trade
According to HSI and following the “suspicious language options” on the online auction website, “the Vietnamese government has reiterated in an official statement that according to Vietnamese law, rhino horn purchased at this auction could not be legally exported to Vietnam for commercial, medical or personal purposes”.
Vietnam prohibits all rhino horn trade
Manh Tien Vuong, deputy director of the Vietnam CITES Management Authority, says that “Vietnam prohibits all trade in white and black rhinoceroses and their products with only narrow exceptions for purposes such as law enforcement, political, scientific research, and zoological display.”
HSI warns that the auction “comes at a time when rhino poaching is at crisis point, with poachers killing 1 054 rhinos in South Africa last year”, but the DEA says that according to its latest report on the status of rhino poaching in SA between January 2017 and June 2017, there has been a "slight decrease" in poaching nationally - stating 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, with four months to go until the end of the year.
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But this does not deter HIS’s firm belief that “any trade such as this auction will encourage poaching, and that any exported horns will be difficult, if not impossible, to monitor”.
“Horns illegally obtained through poaching can all too easily be laundered into the legal market, circumventing efforts to protect threatened rhino populations”, says HSI.
Reducing demand for rhino horn
Phuong Hong Tham, executive director of HSI/Vietnam, says that “HSI and the government of Vietnam have been cooperating successfully to reduce demand for rhino horn within Vietnam. While this auction seems intent on targeting Vietnamese and Chinese nationals, HSI stands with the government of Vietnam in sending a strong message that rhino horn has no medicinal benefits, consumption and ownership of it contributes only to the extinction of rhinos, and those caught smuggling rhino horn into Vietnam will face up to 15 years in prison. We hope that the South African government will play its part by denying permits for this auction to go ahead.”
Ishaam Abader, DDG at Legal Authorisation Compliance and Enforcement, said at briefing on the DEA’s report on Monday 24 July, that the ballpark figure of the rhino stock piles weighs "less than 45 tonnes", and that regarding the process of assessing the permits for the upcoming online auction of rhino horn, "none have been issued" at that time.
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“Regulations to manage South Africa’s recently-legalised domestic trade in rhino horn still do not exist, and the proposed regulations rely too heavily on provincial South African authorities that have historically been wrought with corruption,” says HSI.
HSI’s Africa executive director, Audrey Delsink, says “South Africa’s legalised domestic rhino horn trade is a disaster waiting to happen.”
“The proposed system will be all too easily taken advantage of by poachers and traffickers, who can bribe corrupt officials to launder horns from poached rhinos into the legal market. It is in the best interest of both South Africa and Vietnam, and of course the future survival of rhinos, that this auction does not proceed,” he adds.
“It sends entirely the wrong message about trade in rhino horn, and threatens to undermine years of work by the government of Vietnam, Humane Society International and others to reduce demand in rhino horn.”
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