Wildlife Act responds to John Hume ahead of delayed online rhino horn auction

2017-08-23 06:30 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town - It is confirmed that the much-anticipated and highly debated online rhino auction will take place on Wednesday 23 August at 14:00 pm.

The auction was meant to take place on Monday 21 August, but was postponed following legal challenges after the permit for sale was issued to auction organiser and rhino breeder John Hume, "in error" by a Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) official.

“Permits have been issued and the online auction will go ahead on Wednesday at 2 pm,” confirms Izak du Toit, Hume’s attorney. The official website for the auction has also been updated with adjustments to the date and time of the auction.

ALSO SEE: UPDATE: Online auction of 264 rhino horn postponed due to legal challenge

On the brink of the auction, Dr Simon Morgan - co-founder of Wildlife Act – responds to Hume’s justifications to trade in rhino horn.

“Following the lifting of a ban on domestic trade in rhino in South Africa, private rhino owner John Hume is controversially set to auction 500kgs of rhino horn online,” says Wildlife Act.

The conservation group says that although Hume can’t post the rhino horns he sells to international buyers, as it has to be legally kept in SA, he has “been marketing to an international audience – having translated the auction site into Mandarin and Vietnamese”.

ALSO SEE: Vietnam NGO calls on SA government to shut down rhino horn auction

Rhino Horn Auction, the official site for information about the online rhino horn auction, issued a response in early July on the public’s concerns surrounding the auction.

The site says that "after going through all the comments posted on social media in relation to the rhino horn auction, we noticed a few primary concerns about the legal trade in rhino horn. We’d like you to know that we have heard all of your concerns”, and then proceeds to state the concerns and attempts to justify how the online auction is in fact benefitting the rhino species instead of creating more harm.

With the online auction being met with these concerns, Traveller24 conducted a poll to find out what the public thought of the rhino horn online auction.

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Rhino horn online auction pros and cons, readers respond

However, Wildlife Act has responded to Hume, explaining why the “concerns” are “invalid and carry no weight”.

Here are the concerns:

John Hume’s concern #1: There are not enough rhinos to support the demand

Wildlife Act responds: “You agree we don’t have enough rhino to feed the current demand, let alone the new markets you will create … but you think the black markets which are currently thriving are going to politely listen to us when we tell them that there is an annual limit to the horn that can be traded?” The conservation group goes on to call the notion “ridiculous” saying that it is in fact “an illegal demand that is driving this”.

The group also believes that by translating the auction site into Mandarin and Vietnamese, “is only increasing that market rapidly and undoing all the good work of conservation organisations in Asia, who are working tirelessly to reduce the demand”.

“You are sending mixed messages from South Africa, in their own language, telling end users that buying rhino horn is a good thing … What a pity and a shame for rhino in South Africa and elsewhere”, says Wildlife Act.

SEE: Vietnam NGO calls on SA government to shut down rhino horn auction


John Hume’s Concern #2: A legal trade in rhino horn will promote illegal trade in horn by creating a channel for it

Wildlife Act responds: “The concern is that people will counterfeit legal certificates and bribe officials to pass through illegal horn using the legal channels you want to open up – meaning we are just opening up yet another channel.”

Wildlife Act points out the issues of bribery and corruption. “This will make it easier to pass illegal horn off as legal product - fancy DNA system or not - and we will end up with increased volumes of rhino horn moving out the country.”

SEE: +40k tonnes of rhino horn in hand, DEA confident it can regulate domestic trade

John Hume’s Concern #3: A legal trade won’t help – we need better law enforcement to save our rhino

Wildlife Act responds: “If you look at the combined efforts of all the conservation organisations that are fighting this, you will also note that law enforcement is but one of the many approaches to saving the rhino.”

“It has always included demand reduction, garnering greater political will and enforcement in consumer countries, legislation and judiciary controls in Africa to persecute poachers effectively along with community engagement and many more angles.”

SEE: 7th key rhino horn bust in SA for 2017 as Zim woman nabbed at OR Tambo


John Hume’s Concern #4: Legal trade didn’t work for ivory

Wildlife Act responds: “Trade is trade – whether you harvested from a live animal or dead animal. What you are missing John is the reason why the ivory trade didn’t work – which was that it increased and created new markets as the Chinese government promoted the products; same thing will happen with rhino as we don’t have enough to go around – as you pointed out before.”

Wildlife Act goes on to say that “it also became harder for authorities to distinguish legal from illegal” trade which reduced the risk of detection for illegal traders, linking back to bribery and corruption.

SEE: New trade ruling spells end for rhinos say conservationists


John Hume’s Concern #5: Private rhino breeders’ primary goal is to make money from rhino horn trade

Wildlife Act responds: “And when has the aim not been about making money from rhino – that’s sustainable utilisation? Making money and trying to grow your own numbers in your care, not the wild.”

SEE: SA sees 'slight decrease' in rhino poaching in 2017


John Hume’s Concern #6: We can’t risk the experiment of legalisation because if it fails we will lose all of our rhinos

Wildlife Act responds: “We are not trying to do the same thing over and over again – we have been “sustainably utilising” rhino and their horn since 1968 … this is the change that needs to happen.”

Wildlife Act says there was “a massive upsurge in poaching of black rhino, with their populations being decimated across Africa as we were happily ‘sustainably utilising’ white rhino in South Africa and seeing their populations increase while wild populations of rhino elsewhere plummeted”.

The conservation group poses that we should rather concentrate on having wild rhino “than bigger populations with a lot of them restricted to farm conditions that are ultimately promoting illegal utilisation of wild populations like we are seeing now”.

Online auction to go ahead due to approval error

Hume applied for a permit for the sale of 264 rhino horn and on 10 August, "the selling permit was issued by an official in the DEA, in the belief that she had the delegated authority to issue a selling permit". However, the permit was not handed to Hume, says the DEA.

On Sunday 20 August, the Pretoria High Court ordered the DEA to issue the pre-approved permit.

The confusion on authority to issue permits within the DEA might have undermined both the minister and the department’s attempt to ban the online auction – however the high court ruling has indicated that the department must now be granted access to the online auction to do the necessary compliance monitoring.

The permit was issued with the following conditions:

  • The permit holder can only sell rhino horn to a person who has a permit issued in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 authorising him/ her to buy rhino horn from Hume (i.e. a buyer’s permit).
  •   The permit does not authorise international trade in rhino horn.
  •   The Department must be granted access to the online auction to do the necessary compliance monitoring.

"The Department wishes to reiterate that the commercial international trade remains prohibited by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). South Africa is party to CITES," adds the DEA.

Compliance monitoring

Despite its failed attempt to ban the auction by not issuing the permit approved in error, the DEA aims to follow its mandate of compliance management.

These are the requirements for the legal export of rhino horn:

  • The horn must have been subjected to DNA profiling
  •   The horn must be marked by means of a microchip and a ZA-serial number (as prescribed in the TOPS Regulations)
  •   The information of the owner of the rhino horn, and information relating to the markings of the rhino horn, must have been recorded in the national database
  •   A CITES export permit, which also needs to make provision for the export as a Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) specimen that has to be endorsed at the port of exit prior to exportation.

On Friday, 18 August - before the urgent court application by Hume - Molewa issued a statement saying, "Legislative provisions are in place to ensure the domestic trade in rhino horn is strictly controlled and that the prohibition of the commercial international trade by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is not violated."

What to read next on Traveller24:

7th key rhino horn bust in SA for 2017 as Zim woman nabbed at OR Tambo

Vietnam NGO calls on SA government to shut down rhino horn auction

+40k tonnes of rhino horn in hand, DEA confident it can regulate domestic trade