South African judge lifts domestic ban on rhino horn trade

De Horned Rhino. PHOTO:

De Horned Rhino. PHOTO:

A South African judge on Thursday lifted a domestic ban on trade in rhino horns, in a direct challenge to government policy put in place in 2009 to try to stem rocketing poaching numbers.

The government gave no immediate reaction to the judge’s ruling, which was delivered in the Pretoria High Court after two South African game breeders fought a legal battle to overturn the moratorium.

The court decision came ahead of a meeting in Johannesburg next year of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which could lift the global ban.

South Africa’s rhino poaching epidemic saw a record 1,215 rhino killed last year for their horn, and some private rhino breeders say selling legally harvested horns could stifle the lucrative black market trade.

“The moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horns is hereby reviewed and set aside,” said the ruling from judge Francis Legodi.

The environment ministry said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

“Our lawyer is now studying the judgement,” ministry spokeswoman Roopa Singh told AFP.

John Hume and Johan Kruger, the two game breeders who launched the legal action, say it is their constitutional right to sell rhino horn — what they describe as a renewable resource.

“It is a total success. Factually it is legal to trade rhino horns in South Africa,” said Hume’s lawyer G.H. Heyns. “There is no moratorium in place.”

South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhino, or 80 percent of the world population.

The number of rhino killed rocketed from 13 in 2007 to 1,215 last year.

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