First online auction of rhino horn to test SA rules as DEA issues compliance warning

2017-06-30 12:55 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - An online auction set to take place in August this year is about to put South Africa's domestic rhino horn trade parameters as set by CITES to the test, with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) stating that it does not allow rhino horn to traded internationally.

The DEA issued a statement saying "international trade in rhino horn is, and remains, illegal, and that steps will be taken against any individual or group attempting to illegally move rhino horn purchased on the domestic market out of the country."  

"We wanted to make that message clear so there is no confusion, even on social media," says DEA spokesperson Albi Modise.

SEE: Rhino breeder in SA plans online auction of horn

The DEA says it has noted with concern "misrepresentation of facts on aspects associated with rhino horn trade". 

A rhino breeder in South Africa this week announced plans to hold an online auction of rhino horn, capitalising on a court ruling that opened the way to domestic trade despite an international ban that was imposed to curb widespread poaching.

SEE: New trade ruling spells end for rhinos say conservationists

AFP reports the online sale of rhino horn belonging to breeder John Hume will happen between August 21 and August 24 and revenue will be used to "further fund the breeding and protection of rhino", according to Van's auction site. A "physical" auction is also set for September 19, according to the Pretoria-based auction house. 

Rhino breeders believe poaching would be undercut by a regulated trade in rhino horn, though critics say trade will spur poaching that has occurred at record levels in the past decade - as has been the case study with stockpiles of Ivory.

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: COP17 ivory trade proposal at risk of repeating 2008 mistake - study

The department says draft regulations for domestic sale of rhino horn in no way allows for the commercial international trade in rhino horn - which remains, prohibited in terms of the international protocols that South Africa is party to, particularly the Convention on International Trade in Species of fauna and flora (CITES).

Modise says the draft regulations, which were open for public comment until March 10, are in place "so as not to circumvent any CITES process, which would be tantamount to non-compliance", affirming that the planned sale would have to be for domestic trade only and subject to the relevant permit application processes as per the the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No 10 of 2004) (NEMBA). 

Specific concerns however exist around the draft inclusion, which would allow a foreigner with permits to export "for personal purposes" a maximum of two rhino horns.

SEE: Minister of Environmental Affairs welcomes arrest of rhino horn traffickers

However, the DEA says its permit application process includes the need for applicants to present corresponding A to B import and export permits and authorisation. 

"A key requirement is that an import permit must be issued before an export permit can be issued. Furthermore, an import permit can only be issued if the CITES authority of the state of import is satisfied that the specimen (rhino horn) is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes," says Modise.

SA regulations require application forms for permits to authorise the regulated activities to be submitted in the province in which the applicant intends to carry out the restricted activity - for instance selling, trade in, buying, giving, donating or accepting as gift, possession, conveying, movement, transport etc.

"Ccommercial international trade in rhino horn would not be authorised in terms of any domestic regulations."

Modise says exports would only take place under very specific circumstances, "consistent with the provisions of CITES, namely for primarily non-commercial purposes – and only if specific stringent conditions or requirements can be met".

"In addition to the import permit, the draft regulations require that the country of import must confirm in writing that it has legislation in place that will ensure that the horn will not be used in contravention of CITES requirements.  If this cannot be provided, an export permit will not be issued," he says.

'Added measures to ensure CITES compliance' 

Opponents of a legal trade however argue that any exported horns would be hard to monitor and would possible end up on the commercial market and defeating the intention to protect the threatened species.

Hume and other breeders maintain that a trade ban has not worked and that alternative policies, including a legal market, should be pursued. 

But conservation bodies counter that legalisation will spur poaching as illegally obtained horns are laundered into the legal market, similar to the exploitation of elephant ivory.  On June 13, two travellers bound for Hong Kong were arrested and 10 smuggled rhino horn seized during an operation at OR Tambo International Airport. 

Micro-chipping of stockpiles

In response the department says it has "developed an electronic database that will capture extensive details on all individual rhino horns in private and government-owned stockpiles and all newly acquired horns, which will be entered into the database on a monthly basis".

"In order to populate this database, the Directorate of Biodiversity Compliance and Enforcement in the Department (“the Directorate”) is conducting an audit of all existing stockpiles of rhino horn," says the DEA.

The department says it intends to ensure that every horn is tagged with a micro-chip, that DNA testing has been conducted on the horn, and that all horn is measured, weighed, marked and captured on the national database.

To date it says it has conducted audit inspections of government-owned rhino horn in all provinces and of privately-owned horn in two provinces.

"Six provinces have conducted audit inspections in respect of privately-owned horns. The Department is currently conducting ad hoc inspections to verify the provincial audits. One province is still in the process of inspecting privately owned rhino horn stockpiles. Once the inspections and audit are complete, department will conduct ad hoc inspections to verify the information." 

"This will ensure that the Department has full and accurate information on the number of horns in South Africa at any given time and the registered owner of each horn. This is vital to prevent the smuggling of illegally-obtained horn out of the country."  

Smuggling continues and conviction rates too low 

Conservationists continue to raise concerns about the conviction rate of suspected rhino poachers or horn traffickers, said to be relatively low - with cases of possible corruption in law enforcement suspected.

SEE: Minister of Environmental Affairs welcomes arrest of rhino horn traffickers 

Hume who reportedly has more than 1 500 rhino on his ranch, reportedly spends more than $170 000 (almost R2.2m at R13.05/$) monthly on security for the animals, in addition to veterinary costs, salaries and other expenses, the auction website said.

"Each rhino's horn is safely and regularly trimmed by a veterinarian and capture team to prevent poachers from harming them," according to the Van's website, adding that Hume has a stockpile of more than 6 tons of rhino horn.

However the issue of rhino horn protection was further placed in the spotlight, when a video of a hippo attacking and killing a rhino without a horn raises debate around the continuous impact of man on nature - whichever side of the line you're on.

EXCLUSIVE: Hippo kills baffled rhino in bizarre 'bulldoze' sighting   

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- EXCLUSIVE: Hippo kills baffled rhino in bizarre 'bulldoze' sighting

- Dehorned rhino killed by 'bulldozer' hippo at a disadvantage - Poll

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