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Date: 16 April 2017 By: Isabel Venter
Will the Constitutional Court’s recent verdict be able to help save the rhino?
Local rhino owners seem to think so, confirming this week to the Zoutpansberger that they welcome the court’s decision.
Last Wednesday, 5 April, the court upheld a previous ruling that the 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn, should be lifted. It is widely regarded that the ruling is in favour of private rhino owners and makes it legal to buy and sell rhino horn within South Africa.
Conservationists, however, believe such trade could be disastrous for rhinos. They question whether the government has the funding, capacity or expertise to regulate a legal domestic trade and at the same time continue to police an illegal one.
Dr Jo Shaw from the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) was cited in several news reports this week saying that she is “concerned by the court’s decision … law enforcement officials simply do not have the capacity to manage parallel legal domestic trade on top of current levels of illegal poaching and trafficking.”
Backing the court’s decision is the Private Rhino Owners’ Association, saying in a press statement this week that they believe the lifting of the moratorium will help protect the rhino. “We, as the private sector, bought and own a third of the national rhino herd. We have a huge vested interest in their conservation and have spent billions of rand protecting and managing our herd – sustainable utilisation is in the constitution,” said the Association.
Local rhino owners Mr Derick and Mrs Sylvia Fick echoed the association’s feelings. “We are delighted with the decision and believe that more owners will now see a way forward to take care of rhinos,” said the couple. “If the sales are properly regulated, the illegal trade will eventually subside, even though we think that rhino poaching will never be completely rooted out, we believe that the legal trade will dramatically decrease poaching because there will now be legal rhino horn stock available for those who want to buy it,” said the Ficks.
The couple was, in fact, considering selling off their rhinos if the situation remained unchanged this year. “What the public and for that matter the NGO’s and conservation groups don’t realize is that private rhino owners can also be considered as conservationists,” explained the couple. Taking care of rhino is getting exceedingly expensive, especially in parts of the Soutpansberg that had little to no rain the past two years. “Apart from heavy security measures, we also had to feed our rhino, and we do it – like most other private owners – without any financial assistance from the government,” said the couple.
Another private rhino owner and avid advocate for the conservation of rhino, Me Carmela Lattanzi, this week also welcomed the court’s decision. “I think there are a lot of people who, like me, don’t like the site of a dehorned rhino; but even that is preferable to a poached rhino,” she said.
Another local group, the Limpopo Rhino Security Group (LRSG), that represent several private owners in the Soutpansberg, concerned solely with the protection of the rhino said: “All members of LRSG are custodians of rhinos and are on the forefront of the war against rhino poachers. We are on the ground fighting. We come face to face with poachers, risk our lives, and risk our families all to protect this beautiful animal.”
Isabel joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2009 as a reporter. She holds a BA Degree in Communication Sciences from the University of South Africa. Her beat is mainly crime and court reporting.