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In a somewhat bewildering announcement today, South African Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has declared that she plans to permit the trade in rhino horn domestically and, in what looks like a loophole big enough to drive a tractor through, the export internationally of horn for ‘personal purposes’. This after years of repeated attempts by her in court to resist applications by local rhino farmers to trade horn on the domestic market.

©Simon Espley

Anyone wanting to take advantage of the proposed legislation will need to acquire the necessary permits, and the rhino horn has to be genetically profiled by a suitably registered scientific institution. Non-South African citizens and residents may also apply for the necessary permits, so long as their home country provides a letter stating that domestic legislation is in place to prevent the contravention of the relevant ‘provisions of CITES’.

Those wishing to export rhino horn (for ‘personal purposes’ only) are limited to two horns per person. Not long ago similarly flimsy regulations relating to trophy hunting were famously massaged by members of the trophy hunting industry and wildlife trafficking kingpin Chemlong Lemtongthai (currently residing in jail as a result), in order to illegally trade in rhino horn – by the use of Thai strippers and prostitutes posing as huntresses, each there to bag their rhino kill and export the horn as a ‘trophy’, again for ‘personal’ purposes.

Anybody in contravention of the proposed legislation will be fined up to R5 million or sent to jail for up to 5 years, or both. Repeat offenders will receive double those punishments.

The focus in this proposed legislation on permits to control this extremely lucrative industry could be a concern for informed conservationists – in a country that has a notoriously bad implementation of permit requirements and rampant and rising fraud and corruption amongst government officials.

Interested parties have 30 days to make representations or to object, to Ms Magdel Boshoff at

Read or download the relevant government gazette notice.

Also read: Farmed vs wild rhino horn – what the research tells us

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