A decision on whether South Africa will go ahead with a once-off sale of its massive rhino horn stockpile will be taken in April next year, Environment Minister Edna Molewa said on Tuesday.
Briefing the media in Parliament, she said government had not yet taken a position on the international proposal.
“We shall not do so until the committee has completed its work and presented its findings,” she told reporters.
The committee referred to is a 22-member commission of inquiry, appointed to make recommendations to government on a range of rhino-related matters.
The most important one is whether a proposal for the legalisation of trade in rhino horn should be made at next year’s 17th Congress of Parties (COP17) to the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Molewa announced on Tuesday – through the commission’s chair, Nana Magomola – the names of its members. They include representatives from law enforcement agencies, the scientific community, immigration services, the conservation industry, private wildlife owners and nongovernmental organisations.
The minister said any proposals by the commission “will be based on sound research, and will have been reached after canvassing as wide a range of views as has been possible”.
Responding to a question, she said the decision on whether or not to go ahead with the proposal to Cites would be made six months ahead of the 2016 conference, to be held in South Africa in October that year.
Not yet at ‘tipping point’
Molewa said government’s rhino horn stockpiles now totalled 21 tons, a figure which did not include horns in private stockpiles.
The 21 tons could be worth as much as $1.36-billion, based on reports that rhino horn currently sells, illegally, for about $65 000 per kilogram in Vietnam, where demand is high.
Referring to her commission’s terms of reference, Magomola said it would look at incentives to promote trade in live rhino.
“We will also consider incentivising the trade and possession of rhino, as a live commodity, by developing and enhancing an understanding of current forms of investment, drivers and incentives.”
The commission would look at all facets of trading in rhino horn.
“Among some of the things that could be looked at is strict controllable trade, where there will be a once-off sale of stockpiles; possible government-to-government trade, or more open regulated trade; the benefits and the risk associated with the different options; and, possible trade partners and the criteria to be met by these states, [as well as] the conditions and the financial mechanism would also have to be considered.”
Such markets and mechanisms would be examined closely.
“There will be a consideration of the response or change in the market, looking at the implications and the mechanism we will use to respond to the change in the market and supply and demand in the trade,” she said.
A total of 1 214 rhino were poached for their horns in South Africa last year.
Molewa said the poaching rate had not yet reached a “tipping point”, where it exceeded the birth rate. – Sapa