Minister Edna Molewa moves to restate government position regarding the domestic trade in rhino horn

17 August 2017


The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa has noted with concern the continued misrepresentation by the media and a number of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) on the processes associated with the domestic trade in rhino horn.

The primary claim is that the Republic of South Africa does not have systems in place to ensure that any prospective domestic sale of rhino horn takes place in a strictly regulated manner - and does not contribute to an increase in the illegal international trade.

The Department of Environmental Affairs wishes to place the following on record:

  • Legislativeprovisions 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;
  • The current regulatory regime includes, amongst others, NEMBA, TOPS Regulations, Rhino N&S and provincial;
  • Additional measures are being taken to tighten legislation with regard to the domestic trade in rhino horn;  
  • This is evident from the publication in February 2017 of three sets of regulatory measures which were published for public comment. 

The notices related to, inter alia:

  1. draft regulations to regulate / control the domestic trade in rhino horn;
  2. the prohibition of the intentional powdering or shaving of rhino horn and the domestic sale and export thereof; and
  3. the listing of the Eastern Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) as a protected species in South Africa.  
  • The Department is processing the comments received during the public participation process, and has subjected the draft regulatory measures to the cooperative governance system, after which the Parliamentary process for approval will commence. Once approved, the draft regulatory measures will be published in the Gazette for implementation and a  commencement date will be announced;

Addressing the claim that the Minister is ‘acting irresponsibly’ by allowing the on-line auction, or any sale/ trade domestically in rhino horn

  • The Constitutional Court, by not granting permission to the Minister to appeal a High Court order issued in 2015, confirmed the setting aside of the 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn with retrospective effect;
  • The Department has received applications for the domestic sale of rhino horn, including by means of online auction, and such are still being considered;
  • Government has a Constitutional mandate and a duty in terms of the NEMBA to regulate the domestic trade of rhino horn;
  • To this effect, the Department’s responsibility encompasses the evaluation of each application on its own merits, making a decisions based on information submitted by the applicant, taking into account existing legal requirements, and has the right to refuse or issue a permit with or without conditions;
  • The Department places value on the need to monitor the movement of the horns, and for this reason systems are in place to enable us to do that and such include the permitting system, marking requirements, maintenance of a national database for rhino horn, and the DNA profile of each horn;
  • It should be emphasized that the planned sale of rhino horn by private rhino owners is for domestic trade only;
  • Domestic trade in rhino horn is subject to the issuance of the relevant permits in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No 10 of 2004) (NEMBA), its regulations and applicable provincial legislation;
  • In terms of NEMBA a permit is required to amongst others possess, transport and trade in rhino horns and any derivatives or products of horn;
  • Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) of both the Department of Environmental Affairs and provincial conservation authorities monitor compliance with the relevant regulations and requirements;
  • It is important to note that international trade in rhino horn for commercial purposes is prohibited and regulated in terms of Article III of CITES, which is legally binding on all Parties;
  • As of today, (Wednesday, 16 August 2017), no permits have been issued by the national Department of Environmental Affairs to sellers or buyers of rhino horn in terms of the permitted domestic trade.

Until the aforementioned draft regulatory measures that were published in February 2017 (presently being finalised) are implemented, NEMBA, the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations (TOPS) and CITES Regulations, and provincial conservation legislation are in place and are being strictly applied in the consideration of all permit applications.

Addressing the claim that the domestic sale of rhino horn will contribute to an increase in rhino poaching

  • Claims that the legalization of the domestic trade in rhino horn will result in increased illegal trade in rhino horn is speculative in nature, particularly since there has been no such sale of rhino horn since poaching started increasing in 2008;  
  • The Department is working closely with the South African Police Services (SAPS), South African Revenue Service (SARS), Defence, Military Veterans, State Security Agency, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, National Prosecuting Authority, Correctional Services, alongside the, SANParks and provincial conservation authorities and other stakeholders to implement the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros Approach, which is focused on the protection of rhino;
  • The Approach has, in the past year, delivered a number of successes. The mechanisms being utilized in terms of the Integrated Strategic Management Approach could also be applied with regard to other wildlife crime;
  • South African authorities have improved their ability to track the movement of rhino hornthrough the implementation of a national database and systems relating to the marking of rhino horn and genetic profiling;
  • We have further improved our detection ability at ports of entry and exit by increasing awareness, human capacity, technology and skills. This is evident in the increased number of confiscations, arrests and convictions.

Addressing claims of a link between the lifting of the moratorium and increased poaching

  • No evidence has been presented to date that indicates that a causal link between the introduction of the moratorium and rhino poaching exist;
  • Since the implementation of the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in 2009, the Department has introduced a number of legislative measures and mechanisms to regulate/control and manage rhino horn, populations and stockpiles in South Africa;
  • Amongst the steps taken was the implementation of the Norms and Standards for the Marking of Rhinoceros and Rhinoceros Horn and the Hunting of Rhinoceros for Trophy Hunting purposes in 2012, which replaced the norms and standards of 2009, Biodiversity Management Plans for Black and White Rhinoceros respectively, the Rhino Issue Management Process and the Committee of Inquiry into the feasibility, or not, of a legal international rhino horn trade;
  • A National Database has been established, which is required in terms of the Norms and Standards, as well as a genetic profiling system for live rhino and rhino horn;
  • The increase in the confiscation of rhino horn at points of entry and exit, and the arrest of alleged smugglers, is not an indication of an increase in illegal activities, but rather a demonstration of the country’s improved detection capabilities, as well as improved reporting, includingreporting by other countries;
  • In terms of NEMBA, the Minister may prohibit an activity that may likely have a negative effect on the survival of a listed Threatened or Protected Species;
  • There is presently no scientific evidence that the domestic sale of rhino horn will have a negative impact on the survival of the species.

South Africa’s track record for species conservation

  • South Africa is considered one of the most mega-biodiverse countries in the world
  • South Africa has a respected and strong conservation track record;
  • South Africa’s policies relating to conservation and sustainable use have contributed to its successful conservation track record;
  • Conservation in South Africa is a success story, having brought not only the rhino back from the brink of extinction, but also other species such as the Cape Mountain Zebra and the Bontebok;
  • The country’s conservation track record is recognised internationally with its conservation practices often used as examples by other countries in the introduction, and implementation, of initiatives aimed at conserving their natural heritage;
  • South Africa’s conservation approach is based on sustainable utilization principles.
  • Species conservation and sustainable use are key aspects contained in the Department’s programmes through the implementation of economic, social and environmental plans contained in the National Biodiversity Economy Strategy and the National Development Plan’s Vision 2030;
  • Well-regulated and scientifically-based trade is part of our conservation model;
  • South Africa is a responsible international player, is conservation-orientated, and committed to the 3 pillars of sustainable development (social, economic and ecological).

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Moses Rannditsheni
Cell:082 448 2450