Over 1,000 Rhinos Poached Every Year as SA Government Struggles to Implement it’s Own Ban or Find a Solution

TRADE OF RHINO HORN, GOING FORWARD. The recent Constitutional Court dismissal of the Department of Environment’s appeal to keep the ban to trade in rhino horn in place, has become a very controversial subject. The South African government is struggling with a rhino poaching crisis and their attempt to achieve a solution has only seemed to worsen the crisis.

The trade ban was put in force in 2009, in the hope that it would halt the poaching, but obviously this has not worked. Poaching has steadily increased since then, and on average a 1,000 rhino are poached every year.

Poachers have almost decimated the rhino populations in the National Parks, where they are considered ‘wild’, and are targeting private owners more frequently than before. The rhino owners’ security costs have increased, phenomenally, and as they have continued to invest heavily in rhino, and in the breeding of rhino, the game farmers obviously would like to see a return on their investments, whether this is through hunting, ecotourism or dehorning, or all of the above.

The concerns that the rhino de horning process, is cruelty in many ways, and as this has not been challenged through the South African courts, this needs to be pursued aggressively. The Animal Protection Act SA, is extremely outdated, and is falling short with regards to the protection of wildlife, especially the rhino. Research must be done, to see the effects this process has on a rhino, and one can imagine, that the ongoing darting, and sawing off of horn, (the sound alone of a chain saw, sends fear into many humans, surely the same fear to rhino?) every two or three years, must be detrimental to the animal’s welfare. Legislation needs to include in the Act, that this process is cruel. A call for an independent study, must be put to the South African government, however the following results taken from the study done by the Zoological Society of South Africa has exposed the following:

Stress steroid levels and the short-term impact of routine dehorning in female southern white rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum simum)

“Routine dehorning procedures resulted in a short-term stress response expressed by a significant increase in fGCM levels 48 h post-dehorning, with stress steroid levels returning to pre-dehorning concentrations 72 h after the procedure.”  (faecal glucocorticoid metabolite).

On this basis, we can conclude that the rhinos do indeed suffer stress during the dehorning process, and we would agree that more trials would need to be done to prove the effects of long-term dehorning of rhino.


Stress cutting horn


A hunter will shoot an animal, and it normally takes a single shot, and the animal is dead. The Animal Protection Act SA, will kick in, if the animal is tortured, or if it is dying an agonizing death, because the shooter doesn’t know what he is doing, and it’s taking four or five bullets to kill it. Anyone is allowed to shoot his animal, even his own dog, but it must be done as humanely as possible. How is it, that a rhino, is forced to have prolonged agony and stress meted out to it, every two to three years, for the whole of its lifespan, and this is not considered cruelty to animals? This must be challenged through the court system, in South Africa.

The pro traders use the argument regarding the farming of crocodiles, (for meat and skins) and the farming of ostriches (meat, skin, and feathers), along with rhino. These are wild animals, and they are farmed because of the demand by people all over the world, to own a crocodile skin handbag, or a pair of crocodile skin shoes, and the same with the ostrich. You are able to buy meat in the supermarkets, and be served the meat in fancy restaurants. How many of you, (we are asked) have been to a cabaret, or a show, and seen the women wearing these massive head crowns, consisting of ostrich feathers? If we are going to cry ‘foul’, regarding the rhino, why are we not extending the same outcry to these other species? Crocodiles are still dangerous, and are still considered wild, even if they are kept in captivity. The traders are using the same argument on the rhino. The properties where rhino are being kept, are huge, (some measure in excess of 35.000 hectares) and as the rhino are not kept in small enclosures on most farms, they can be considered wild. They have to forage, and survive without any assistance by humans to survive, as is the case in the National Parks. Obviously, if nature is not playing ball, and the wildlife on these private farms are going to die, of course the farmer will protect his wildlife so as to not lose any, through lack of food or water. The APA SA plays a big role, in the prevention of cruelty, and farmers must adhere to the laws and regulations, however few there are, in this regard.

dehorned rhino award winning photo
Award winning photographer Brent Stirton says the things he’s seen have dented his faith in humanity.


With the exception of John Hume’s farm, and Johan Kruger’s farm,( two who challenged the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa) and as the author cannot say that the rhino are in pens, and are kept in total captivity, one realizes that the rhino are being bred either for the bullet, or for the de horning business, or both. Some farmers are operating Eco tourism safaris on their farms, and perhaps they also operate hunting safaris as well. It’s all about the money, to be made, nothing more, nothing less.

South African game ranch owners have invested billions in this ‘commodity’(rhino) and according to the South African Constitution they have every right to be allowed to trade and make money on their investment. At present

There are approximately 7,000 (seven thousand) white and black rhinos, privately owned and protected on 330 game farms and reserves in South Africa.

The vast majority of these owners belong to the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA) and have pointed out to the Minister and the Department of Environmental Affairs, that they are bound by law to allow these farmers the right to trade nationally or INTERNATIONALLY, rhino horn!

Citing Section 24 (b) of the Constitution of South Africa, it guarantees everyone’s right to have the environment protected through reasonable legislative and other measures that:

  • Promotes conservation;
  • Secures ecologically (here is that word again) sustainable use of natural resources, while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

Southern African wildlife has been traded for a very long time, especially since the inception of CITES. The rhinos have been exported to zoos all over the world, to a life of never experiencing what makes them ‘African’. Living in condition’s, totally alien to them, and suffering from diseases brought on by this captivity. ( often being experimented on). Zoos must be shut down. They, like circuses, are cruel. Outdated, old fashioned, and are of no benefit in saving wildlife. Like the rhino horn usage is purely for human pleasure, so are zoos. Animals are forced to exhibit, purely for the entertainment of school children.

Child put into rhino enclosure in Dublin Zoo for photo

Baby rhino are being exported to a life of misery, and to be bred and ultimately to be dehorned, to Vietnam and China. This has been happening for many years. Rhino are also exported to the USA, and to the European Union. CITES has of course allowed this trade, and permits are issued if the destination countries are able to satisfy certain requirements. (CITES falls under the United Nations Environment Program consisting of 183-member countries, who every three years, gather at the Conferences of the Parties (CoP) and decide which commodities (yes wildlife falls under the term “commodities’) can be traded, or not. The decisions are taken, sometimes in secret, and this is possibly why the southern white rhino, was not considered important enough at the recent CoP17, to be debated over, publicly. Perhaps it is time to begin questioning the role of CITES, and if they are behind the constant growing demand of the planet’s resources. They are in it for the money of course. The more trade, the more money they as an organization, earn. The more rhino that can be exported, for whatever reason, the more money can be made. The fact that the possession of rhino horn and ivory is illegal in these countries, being on the Appendix 1 listing (critically endangered) has not forced CITES to become more resistant to issuing permits, of even to inspect the destination countries for infractions regarding the trade in wildlife. There is a growing feeling that CITES, is not doing enough to stop the illegal trade in many species of not only wildlife, but also plants and trees. Is CITES still effective enough?

The increase in human populations, both in China and Vietnam, and the increase in disposable income, within these populations, in these Asian countries, since before 2009, are the key drivers in the demand for rhino horn. The fact that the horn itself has absolutely no medicinal value, and even with the proof being supplied to the end consumers, the demand has not decreased. Powerful syndicates are finding more ways to sell their product. Status symbols, ornaments, sexual enhancers are but a few of the use’s rhino horn is being peddled to these ignorant end users. A Vietnamese minister said it cured his cancer, yet the South African government did not ask the minister to prove such claims. The wildlife activists and media have been working on reducing the demand for many years in these countries and have had some success, especially in Vietnam. If the demand decreases, the poaching will as well. However, as more and more middle- income users hit the work place, so the demand increases.

The illegal trade of rhino horn has been unstoppable, and the South African government has not been able to stem the tide. Hence the questioning of how the legal trade will stop the poaching? There is no domestic demand for rhino horn, and it must be remembered that the moratorium was implemented, because there was growing evidence that, although the trade in rhino horn was legal, (up until 2009) the horn was finding its way out of the country, (smuggling) to international destinations. We also need to bare-in-mind that the international trade ban has been in place since 1977. This too was because of the illegal trade.



How will the legal trade be controlled now, given that it was not satisfactorily controlled back in the day, and leading up to 2009? The loopholes that existed then are still in existence today.

Will the South African government close these loopholes?

What assurances are there being given by the SA government, to all stakeholders, that the illegal trade, will not continue, or that the legal trade will not be used as a conduit for the syndicates network to continue?

How will the legal trade benefit the poor communities?

How are the black communities able to gain access to the trade? If it was about saving the rhino, then surely, the black, disenfranchised communities should be able to benefit financially as well?

What is government doing about this, given that this will go a long way to stopping the poaching, if these communities have a financial interest in saving their wildlife?

The trade in rhino horn, is set to benefit only the white private land owners and rhino owners, yet if the South African government has the interests of the poor black communities in mind, then the solution to alleviating so much poverty in the ‘hot spots’ in and around the borders, of National Parks, and poor farming communities, is obvious.

Poachers are impoverished, poor people, and although the public wish to see the end of these poachers in sometimes the worst ways possible, it is not the solution.

Empowering these communities through the ownership of land, and custodianship of wildlife, is the solution to much of these woes, especially regarding the rhino. Increasing the landmass, and of course the numbers, even more, should be extended to all South Africans, and not to the elite few.

Lawyers, attorney’s and advocates are seriously needed, and who should at the very least, offer discounted deals to NonProfit Organizations, who are realizing that to win any war, against the constant decimation of all species of wildlife, they will have to start challenging the government, and the archaic laws and regulations in the wildlife industry, through the court system. If the pro traders can do this, and argue their cases, then surely the activists who are against the corrupt system, can do so as well. These organizations are being denied access to forums and meetings in government, although Parliament has instructed the Department of Environmental Affairs to be more inclusive, towards all stakeholders.

Alliances must be formed with trustworthy partners, and think tank seminars to be held, with great urgency, to begin to take up these challenges going forward.

If we do not do this, then the fight to protect all animals, will be lost. Many people are becoming more and more overwhelmed, as each day passes, as the demand is increasing, with no solutions in sight. Hence the urgency in beginning a targeted, well-funded initiative to challenge the government and laws regarding the safety and well-being of South Africa’s wildlife. This is the only hope, because the next Conference of the Parties is looming, and we cannot gamble on the fact that the international ban in rhino horn remains in place.

Time is of the essence.


by Alexia Abnett, SAffr

See also: China lifts ban on rhino trade, sparking conservation fears! Were this one of the deals that Cyril made with China, what else are they going to steal from us? – China Africa!


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