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February 14, 2017

Proposed regulation to allow rhino horn trade and export in South Africa could worsen trafficking crisis, says Humane Society International

Humane Society International

  • Only about 29,000 rhinos remain in the world, with about 90 percent living in South Africa. iStockphoto/Duncan Noakes

Amidst a continuing rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking crisis, last week South Africa proposed a new regulation to allow domestic trade and export of rhino horn purchased in the country.   

Audrey Delsink, Humane Society International/Africa executive director, says: “While the global community is working to save rhinos from poaching and to eradicate the illegal trade in their horns, South Africa’s proposed regulations will not only open a loophole for criminal syndicates to launder poached rhino horn, but also create an enforcement nightmare, both within the country and internationally. We do not have the luxury of time to spare when it comes to the fate of rhinos, and we have to focus on shutting down the illegal trade rather than endorsing legal trade in rhino horn which has significant enforcement challenges and poor capacity.”

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Rhinos are poached for their horns, which are sold on the black market for high prices and consumed as medicinal tonics, despite not having any medicinal value that’s scientifically backed. It is also purchased to demonstrate wealth.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) bans the international trade in rhino horns for commercial purposes. And the two main destination countries, China and Viet Nam, also ban domestic trade in rhino horn. But significant illegal trade exists and this demand drives poaching and trafficking.

Private rhino owners in South Africa have hailed the proposed regulations, as they would allow them to sell their vast stockpiles of horns that they have removed from the animals, ostensibly to protect them from poachers. Under the proposed regulations, they could sell the horns to people from other countries who travel to South Africa, thereby creating loopholes and weak spots for an already failing system.


  • Only about 29,000 rhinos remain in the world, with about 90 percent living in South Africa, where 1,175 rhinos, or the equivalent of about three rhinos per day, were poached in 2015, a 9000 percent increase since 2007 (2016 numbers have not been released yet).
  • South African banned domestic trade in rhino horn in 2009, but private rhino owners challenged this in 2012. The case went to the Supreme Court, which overturned the moratorium in late 2015. However, the government appealed that decision and the moratorium is still in effect.
  • Private rhino owners in South Africa hold approximately 6,200 rhinos.
  • The South African government holds a stockpile of approximately 25 tons of rhino horns.

Media contacts:
US: Raúl Arce-Contreras, rcontreras@humanesociety.org, +1 301-721-6440 

For interviews, please contact Audrey Delsink at adelsink@hsi.org, +2782 417 6065

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