South Africa, which is home to about 90 percent of the world’s rhino population, on Thursday lifted a ban on domestic trade of rhino horns in a lawsuit filed by local rhino breeders, Xinhua reported, according to BusinessStandard.
The court’s decision was handed down after 12 suspects including three police officers were arrested earlier this week for rhino poaching.
Rhino horn is a prized ingredient in traditional Asian medicines, according to WorldWildlifeFund.
The South African government imposed a moratorium in 2009 on rhino horn trading to curb rhino poaching.
The two top private rhino breeders in South Africa, John Hume and Johan Kruger, filed a lawsuit arguing the ban had caused a rhino poaching crisis.
Hume owns more rhinos than any other person on Earth — about 1,200 of them, LATimes reports.
Poachers killed 749 rhinos in South Africa between January and August this year, according to government data. A record 1,215 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa in 2014, compared to 13 killed in 2007.
Opponents of the court’s decision say dropping the moratorium will put more pressure on stressed rhino populations, LATimes reports. Proponents say illegal poaching has increased since the moratorium was enacted in 2009, and argue throwing out the moratorium will discourage poaching.
An international ban remains, meaning South African farmers cannot trade with China or Vietnam, the main markets for rhino horn.
“We need to encourage everyone in the country to breed rhino and the only way to do that is to legalize the trade,” Hume said, according to a report in FightForRhinos, a U.S. nonprofit that supports rhino conservation.
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“We need to accept that conservation will only be successful when people stand to gain from it on socio-economic levels,” Hume said.
In the wild, a rhino’s range is anything from 1 square mile to 39 square miles, according to FightForRhinos. On Hume’s rhino farm, 80 rhinos are packed into 1000-acre fields. That’s 0.02 square miles per rhino.
Here’s how Hume describes his job, according to an interview in Job Shadow: “Most of my time is spent on trying to save the African rhino from extinction and managing my other businesses which afford me the income required to look after the rhino.”
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said she intends to appeal the court’s decision, BusinessStandard reported.
“The decision of the court should not be construed to mean that the domestic trade in rhino horn may take place in an unregulated fashion,” Molewa said.
All domestic trade of rhino horns needs relevant permits as required by law, despite the ban being lifted, Molewa said.
Global trade of rhino horns remains prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.