A South African court on Thursday legalized the domestic rhino-horn trade, saying a six-year ban imposed by the government appeared to have worsened poaching of the endangered animal.
Rhino poaching had soared to “alarming levels” since the moratorium was imposed, judge Francis Legodi said in his his 37-page judgment after receiving applications from two local game farmers to legalize the trade in rhino horn.
“What disastrous implications would be brought about by the immediate lifting of the moratorium? I cannot think of any,” Legodi said.
“In fact the level of rhino poaching since the moratorium is quite alarming.
“In 2008 before the moratorium was imposed the number of rhino poached was just below 100, in 2009 between 100 and 200, in 2010 just below 400 and in 2011 just below 500.”
John Hume, who runs a farm in the area south of the Kruger National Park, told the court he could no longer afford to spend 5 million rand (350,000 dollars) a month to preserve his herd of rhinos.
He said he would be forced to dispose of 1,200 rhinos if the ban remained in place.
The moratorium was directly to blame for a sharp spike in rhino poaching since 2008, he said.
The court was told that rhino horn was selling for as much as 65,000 dollars per kilogram.
Hundreds of South African rhinos are poached each year to meet the large demand for their horn, particularly in Asia, where it is believed to boost sexual potency, but it also used in traditional medicine to cure cancer and other illnesses.
A staggering 1,215 rhinos were slaughtered last year in South Africa, which is, with an estimated 25,000 black and white rhinos, home to the world’s largest population of the animal.
Legalizing the trade will help to save the threatened species, Private Rhino Owners Association chair Pelham Jones told dpa in June.
“We clearly see that the trade ban has not diminished poaching in any way. In contrast, it is stimulating the black market trade,” said Jones.
Rhino-horn sales have been banned internationally since 1977.
The legalization of the domestic trade means that rhino horn purchased by commodity speculators will have to be genetically coded and stored in security vaults until the international trade ban is lifted.