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EIA Condemns Establishment of Rhino Horn Trade Desk

By Taylor Tench, Assistant Policy Analyst

EIA condemns the establishment of Rhino Horn Trade Africa (RHTA), an initiative launched yesterday by the South Africa-based Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA). The RHTA describes itself as an “entity created to provide a legal, managed and efficient market place for the sale of legally acquired rhino horn” with a goal of ostensibly securing the long-term survival of rhinos. Despite its stated objective, the RHTA is out of step with global rhino conservation efforts and the PROA risks inciting a renewed wave of rhino poaching by overlooking or downplaying serious flaws associated with legal rhino horn markets. Legal trade in rhino horn, both domestic and international, will serve only to increase demand and exacerbate poaching of rhinos throughout their range in Africa and Asia.

There is no market for rhino horn in South Africa, and international trade in rhino horn has been prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1977. Parties to CITES recently reaffirmed their commitment to upholding in the international trade ban in rhino horn at the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, where a proposal by Swaziland to rescind the international trade ban was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 100 against and only 26 for (with 17 abstentions).

Moreover, rhino horn trade remains illegal in China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, which have historically driven the demand for rhino horn. In fact, Vietnam implemented a new Penal Code on January 1st, 2018, that criminalized rhino horn possession and significantly increased penalties for rhino horn crimes. Just last year Vietnam’s CITES Management Authority issued a notice declaring their steadfast commitment to fighting rhino horn trafficking and reminding the public of the laws prohibiting trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory.

Given the absence of a market in South Africa, a majority of countries firmly behind the international trade ban, and domestic trade bans in place in demand countries, it begs the question as to whom constitutes the PROA’s target consumer base. It is no secret that highly-organized criminal syndicates are associated with rhino poaching and horn trafficking in South Africa, which in turn facilitates corruption and fuels deadly violence. South Africa has struggled to convict these poaching and trafficking kingpins, and one of the PROA’s most high-profile members, John Hume, has previously expressed no concerns about potentially supplying criminal syndicates with product to be trafficked abroad when discussing his controversial online auction held in August 2017 (at which, despite much fanfare, zero rhino horns were actually sold). The very existence of the RHTA, a voluntary entity, provides opportunities for unregistered rhino horn owners and criminal traffickers to undercut the RHTA’s corner of the market and offer rhino horn at a reduced, but still substantial, price that would continue to drive poaching.

China, Vietnam, and other destination countries along the rhino horn trade chain have spent significant resources in recent years on demand reduction efforts and are committed to educating the public about the threats rhino horn trade poses to the survival of rhinos in Africa and Asia. Promoting domestic legal markets for rhino horn and lobbying for international commercial trade undermines these demand reduction efforts and complicates the already difficult job of customs and enforcement authorities.

EIA strongly supports a global ban in rhino horn trade, both domestic and international, supported by effective enforcement to ensure lasting protection for the world’s rhinos.

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