Commoditisation of Rhino Horn Trade ‘Self-Approved’ in South Africa

Stephen Wiggins Article, Petition 21 Comments

Update, 17 March 2016 – South Africa attempts to surreptitiously ‘legalise’ rhino horn harvesting – South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa “pre-empts” recommendations of on-going ‘Committee of Inquiry’ with Department of Environmental Affairs budget documents stating that “South Africa will submit its rhino horn trade proposal at CITES COP 17.”

Last May, a group of international wildlife conservation experts warned that even the suggestion of opening the global trade in rhino horn would almost certainly increase the risk of poaching.”


On 26 November 2015, South Africa’s, Pretoria High Court ‘approved’ a challenge by two rhino farmers (John Hume and Johan Kruger) to sell their stockpiles of ‘harvested’ rhino horn, overturning a 2009 moratorium on such trade.

Update: “A 2012 report by TRAFFIC (reference: “The South Africa – Viet Nam Rhino Horn Nexus“) on the global rhino trade found that when South Africa did allow domestic horn trade, before 2009, much of the privately owned horn went unaccounted for and may have ended up in illegal hands, trafficked outside the country.

“It found that abuses and poor compliance in managing horn stockpiles in government and private hands had helped create a “perfect storm,” attracting criminal networks into lucrative rhino poaching” – “Debate over rhino horn trade ramps up as South Africa ban is lifted,” Los Angeles Times, 26 November 2015

Some hunters have been abusing permits to shoot rhinos and export illegally obtained rhino horns – probably poached and directly linked to organised crime – as “hunting trophies”” – “South Africa freezes rhino horn trade,” TRAFFIC, 9 June 2008

Note: For those not familiar with John Hume’s rhino harvesting approach, this has been previously summarised and attached at Appendix 1 below. I can assume (until further study is undertaken), that Johan Kruger’s approach is identical.

The 2009 moratorium was overturned in the High Court on a convenient “technicality” that the moratorium had not been well advertised to the public and lacked ‘public consultation’ – so this “oversight” has been taken as a potential ‘self-approved’ South African route to defy the standing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ban on commercial trade in rhino horn.

The High Court’s 26 November 2015 ruling is now reportedly being challenged by South Africa’s own Environmental Affairs Department. In an ironic twist, if this challenge fails, the Environmental Affairs Department will be ‘forced’ to regulate and issue permits for this farmed rhino horn trade.

This latest form of ‘canned’ commoditisation is presumably deemed as ‘conservation’ so the Environmental Affairs Department can ‘facilitate’ the ‘trade.’ If you recall, the Environmental Affairs Department was ruled (by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal, November 2010) to have no jurisdiction over ‘canned’ lion farms, as these farms were deemed to offer no conservation benefits. Hence, the ‘canned’ lion (and other big cat species) farming industry has developed into the deceitful ‘commoditisation’ business model recently highlighted in ‘Blood Lions.’

The National Council of SPCAs is not convinced by the High Court’s 26 November 2015 ruling and has been quoted as saying via an NSPCA statement:

“We fear that if the judgment stands, a further consequence will be our rhino will become farmed animals. Unethical practices may be used to increase profits, which are likely to include confining animals to the smallest spaces possible, feeding animals unnatural diets, and physically altering or maiming animals to prevent them from injuring one another when confined in limited spaces.”

“Above all, rhinos are wild animals. Captivity, confinement and manipulation are foreign and stressful to them”.

Could the farming of rhino horn help reduce poaching? The NSPCA think not:

“South Africa cannot control the domestic trade or prevent it from leaking on to the international market and facilitated horn laundering. Legalising domestic trade will undoubtedly allow operations at lower costs, yet this trade is not sustainable and is unlikely to reduce poaching. The risk is the legal trade will stimulate demand and increase poaching.”

The Born Free Foundation also thinks that this move will increase demand and poaching, not reduce it.

The Economics of ‘Legal’ Wildlife Trade

There is a growing body of academic work that also shows the ‘pro-trade lobby’ are relying on simplistic and outdated economic arguments to support their ‘theory’ of the ‘potential upside’ of animals parts trading (including rhino horn harvesting, ivory etc.):

Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand – “We find that a legal trade will increase profitability, but not the conservation of rhino populations” –  Journal for Nature Conservation, October 2015, By Douglas J. Crookes, James N. Blignaut (Department of Economics, University of Pretoria).  

Download PDF – “Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand” – Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA) working paper 520, May 2015, Douglas J. Crookes & James N. Blignaut (Department of Economics, University of Pretoria); Note: ERSA is a research programme funded by the National Treasury of South Africa.

Governments, economists and conservationists who think they can curb poaching by selling rhino horn and ivory legally have little understanding of macroeconomics or the sophistication of international crime syndicates” – “High-level report calls SA wildlife trade policy reckless,” Business Day Live, 13 June 2014

Leonardo’s Sailors: A Review of the Economic Analysis of Wildlife Trade,” The Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value; School of Environment, Education and Development; The University of Manchester, by Alejandro Nadal and Francisco Aguayo, 23 June 2014

Rhino Horn Harvesting Proposals

After South Africa rejected rhino horn harvesting (for now) proposals in April 2016, to legalise the farmed rhino horn trade, we have reports that Swaziland is proposing the very same proposal at CITES CoP17 in the absence of South Africa taking their proposal forward.

South African Petition –CITES, Upgrade our rhino to Appendix I

Event Page  “CITES, Upgrade our Rhino to Appendix I”

Swaziland’s proposal refers to its population of Southern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum), which is currently listed on CITES Appendix II (Swaziland and South Africa only; this species is protected by Appendix I in its other range states). Swaziland is seeking approval to sell its stockpile of white rhino horn as well as “harvest” rhino horns from a “limited number” of White rhinos. Swaziland is home to 73 White rhinos.

This proposal is for Swaziland to sell existing stocks of some 330 kg to a small number of licenced retailers in the Far East and also to sell harvested horn, at the rate of 20 kg p.a., to those retailers. The proceeds from the sale of stocks will raise approximately $9.9 million at a wholesale price of $30,000 per kg.

The proposal states, “Swaziland was expecting South Africa to submit a rhino horn trade proposal to CoP17 and was ready to support it. However, Swaziland was informed on 21st April, 2016 that this was not going to happen. That decision gave rise to this proposal by Swaziland at the 11th hour

So, we will see if the Swaziland’s roposal to CITES CoP17 is rejected, or accepted (2/3 majority required) in September/October 2016. Based on the economics (“We  find that a legal trade will increase profitability, but not the conservation of rhino populations“), I hope and trust Swaziland’s proposal is rejected.

Appendix 1

The South African farm owned by John Hume has the largest privately owned rhino herds in the world.  The farm harvests a rhino’s horns under ‘safe and painless’ anesthetised conditions, after which the rhino is released back into the farm’s protection. The rhino’s horn eventually grows back after about two years. The harvested horns are micro-chipped and currently stock-piled in a very secure vault. Under South African law only rhino horn extracted by a permit (concession) Trophy Hunt, can the resulting rhino horn ‘legally’ be exported.

As John Hume’s argues that under the current law “We are basically telling the Vietnamese that it is fine to kill an animal because our tradition of cutting off a rhino’s head to put on a wall as decoration is acceptable. But your tradition of cutting off its horn to use as ‘medicine’ is abominable

Legalising the rhino horn trade may be one of the approaches that helps reduce poaching. In theory,  ‘legal’ farm supplied rhino horn being released from stock-piles to meet demand will mean that prices paid will fall, thus making poaching less viable, plus making farms like John Hume’s more commercially viable. Changes to the governing law are being mooted in the South African government. There are several different options for extending the ‘legalised’ trade in rhino horn:

  1. One off sale of rhino horn stockpiles
  2. Domestic trade in rhino horn
  3. (Semi) permanent international CITES regulated sale

On John Hume’s farm, the rhinos’ existence is perhaps rather ‘synthetic’ but better than no existence. However, under the current climate, even on John Hume’s farm the rhino are not safe from poachers, with regular incursions.  Either way, there is no doubting the human ‘commoditisation’ or ‘canned’ business opportunities presented by the plight of the rhino.

In terms of rhino horn, then harvesting the horns (in a sustainable way, that doesn’t kill the ‘donating’ rhino) and allow legal export from farms ‘might’ (note: the economics say rhino horn harvesting will not help ‘conserve’ rhino(5)) help reduce illegal poaching, but what sort of world is that we are condoning? On the other hand, pandering in any shape or form to the preposterous demand side is not any sort of long term answer to anything. It will not necessarily save the rhino from poaching – I can see that a ‘South African sanctioned, farmed rhino horn trade’ could also be infiltrated/corrupted easily by the poachers if the profit share is favourably ‘negotiated’ via this dubious ‘self-approved route’ somewhere within the supply chain.


  1. South Africa Lifts Rhino Horn Ban,“ IOLScitech, 27 November 2015
  2. Rhino Horn Trade Ruling Divides Opinion,” Saturday Star, 28 November 2015
  3. Legalising Rhino Horn Trade Will Add to Poaching – NSPCA,“NEWs 24, 30 November 2015
  4. The Economics of Poaching, Trophy and Canned Hunting,” IWB, 2 September 2015
  5. Debunking the myth that a legal trade will solve the rhino horn crisis: A system dynamics model for market demand” – Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA) working paper 520, May 2015, Douglas J. Crookes & James N. Blignaut (Department of Economics, University of Pretoria); Note: ERSA is a research programme funded by the National Treasury of South Africa

Comments 21

  1. Post
    Stephen Wiggins

    It has also been suggested that this ‘self-approved’ South African route for rhino horn (if not successfully challenged) could also set a precedent for ‘canned’ lions (and other target species) to become exclusively farmed used/abused/exploited to increase profits from the bone trade for hypothetical ‘medicines.’

    If support for ‘canned’ lion and big cat hunting is truly being withdrawn (, then this could be the South African animal exploitation fall-back position.

    The message this ‘strategy’ sends to the poachers, is that it’s OK to farm and make money meeting the preposterous (and increasing) Asian demand for unsubstantiated ‘medicines’ made from animal parts, so why should the poacher be deterred from also continuing to try to ‘cash-in?’

  2. Pingback: BBC News’ Extinction Warning for Rhinos | International Wildlife Bond

  3. Pingback: ‘Canned’ Industry Deceit, Intimidation and Threats – International Wildlife Bond

  4. Pingback: Rhino Poaching in South Africa – International Wildlife Bond

  5. Pingback: Rhino Poaching in South Africa | Cecils Pride

  6. Pingback: The ‘Theatre’ of Wildlife Decimation – International Wildlife Bond

  7. Pingback: The ‘Theatre’ of Wildlife Decimation | Cecils Pride

  8. Pingback: Is South Africa a Worthy Host for CoP17? – International Wildlife Bond

  9. Pingback: Is South Africa a Worthy Host for CoP17? | Cecils Pride

  10. Pingback: “The Ghosts of Africa” lost to Hunting and Poaching – International Wildlife Bond

  11. Pingback: Feeding the Hunters’ Addiction in South Africa – International Wildlife Bond

  12. Pingback: Feeding the Hunters’ Addiction in South Africa | Cecils Pride

  13. Pingback: Who’s Actually Killing and ‘Making a Killing’ from Rhino? – International Wildlife Bond

  14. Pingback: South Africa’s Rhino Dilemma | Cecils Pride

  15. Pingback: New Twist in South Africa’s Rhino Horn Trade – International Wildlife Bond

  16. Pingback: New Twist in South Africa’s Rhino Horn Trade | Cecils Pride

  17. Pingback: Proposed trade in rhinoceros horn – South Africa | Cecil's Pride News Network

  18. Pingback: Proposed trade in rhinoceros horn – South Africa – International Wildlife Bond

  19. Pingback: The Unsustainable Excuse – International Wildlife Bond

  20. Pingback: The Unsustainable Excuse | Cecil's Pride News Network

  21. Pingback: Rhino Horn Trade in South Africa – International Wildlife Bond

Leave a Reply