We’re about to see history repeat itself.
Ten years ago CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) party nations suspended a ban on trading ivory to allow South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to sell more than 100 tons of ivory to China and Japan. Proponents argued that flooding the markets would drive prices down and reduce poaching. That didn’t happen. Instead, poaching increased and elephant populations are in such rapid decline that they could be extinct in 15 years unless things change.
Officials in South Africa are going down that same path with rhinos this year. Meanwhile, poaching there is ramping up with potentially dozens of rhinos killed just in the past few weeks and slaughtered for their horns. The government says 529 rhinos have been killed in the first half of this year.
Rhino horn trade ban lifted
The South African government, at the urging of rhino breeders who have been stockpiling horn harvested from their rhino herds, have lifted the ban on rhino trade in that country. One of the biggest breeders plans an online auction of horn next month. Unlike elephant tusks, rhino horns grow back and breeders cut horns off. But dehorning can be painful if not done right, and poachers just kill the animals before taking the horn.
Since there really is no domestic market for rhino horn, the horn no doubt will find its way to Vietnam and China, where it’s a popular but completely ineffective treatment for hangovers, cancer and other ailments. International trade in rhino horn is illegal, but that hasn’t stemmed the flow of horn into Asia. Even though horn can be removed from rhinos without harming them, poachers are expected to be more active now that they have to compete with legal sales.
The South African government claims it has measures in place to ensure that the rhino horn is not sold internationally, but enforcement is unlikely given the limited resources and lack of priority for officials there. And breeders don’t care where the horn ends up; they benefit from wider sales.
Rhinos are already at risk and this will only make things worse for them, despite the hollow assurances from the breeders and the government. South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the rhinos in Africa. Poaching has been accelerating there. Just 13 rhinos were poached there in 2007, 83 in 2008 and 1,175 in 2015, according to estimates reported by National Geographic last year.
Recent rhino slaughters
The killing shows no signs of stopping. In early July, poachers went on a hunting spree in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, killing more than 20 rhino and maybe 30 or more, according to reports. Another nine were killed on a private farm in the Northern Cape, six white on a game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, and an endangered black rhino mother and her calf were killed on a Limpopo farm, the reports said.
“Since 2007, more than 6,000 rhinos have been shot and butchered for their horns in South Africa,” the UK’s Daily Mail said. “The majority of those have come in the last four years with around a thousand being killed every year since 2013,” or about three per day.
Private rhino breeders in South Africa have been trying to skirt the law by organizing trophy hunts on their property in which wealthy Americans pay tens of thousands of dollars to shoot big game. But international efforts are thwarting some of that activity. Just a few weeks ago, Dawie Groenewald, known as the “Butcher of Prachtig” for treatment of rhinos on his ranch, and his brother Janneman Groenewald were arrested by Interpol accused of illegal rhino hunting and face extradition to the U.S. Dawie Groenewald and cohorts face 1,872 charges related to illegal rhino hunting and dehorning and had been arrested in 2010, but that case was postponed until January 2018, according to News24.