On August 21 2017, South African businessman John Hume held the first legal auction of rhino horn. It was the culmination of 8 years of court battles to over turn the moratorium on domestic sales. He planned to sell 500kg of horns in an online auction that day and subsequently a second auction was held. Information seems tightly guarded in respect to price and amount sold, but it appears that far from the frenzied buying anticipated, sales have been slow and underwhelming. Despite the catalogue being translated into Chinese and Vietnamese it seems the buyers did not descend in droves. The CITES ban on international trade still creates significant barriers to legal movement of horn.
The question is, is legalizing the rhino horn trade being considered for financial or conservation reasons? Does South Africa have the funding, capacity or expertise to regulate a legal domestic trade and continue to police an illegal one? Save the Rhino believe the sale of stockpiles of rhino horn is fraught with problems including sabotaging the demand reduction programs underway, artificially maintaining inflated prices, undermining our credibility and international funding for rhino protection to name a few.
John Hume, and other game farmers who hold stocks of horn, believe that legal sales will help save the rhino and undermine poaching by regulating supply. Most of the conservation world disagrees. We remember the disastrous impact of one-off sales of elephant ivory and its impact. In 2008, CITES gave the go ahead for the legal sale of ivory stockpiles by four southern African countries to China and Japan. Within a year, elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade boomed to its highest levels in history. Opening legal trade increased demand exponentially and this is equally likely to be the effect of increased access in the countries where rhino horn is sought after. Even Vietnam’s conservation community are calling on South Africa “to honour its commitment to protect rhinos by refusing permits for an online auction of rhinoceros horns”