Twenty-eight leading wildlife organisations have sent a desperate appeal to the King of Swaziland, His Majesty Mswati III, imploring him to withdraw his country’s proposal to legalise the international trade in rhino horn.
Just days ahead of World Rhino Day (22nd September) and the 17th meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa (24th September – 5th October ), the groups warn that demand across Asia for rhino horn is driving the species towards extinction.
International trade in rhino horn has been banned under CITES since 1977, in recognition of the precarious status of all five species of rhino. Only around 25,600 rhinos remain in the wild, and with about three rhinos poached for their horn every day in Africa, rhinos could become extinct.
Despite the rhino poaching crisis, Swaziland wants CITES Parties to approve international trade in horns from Swaziland’s southern white rhinos – including poached Swazi rhinos, horns from Swazi rhinos who died of natural causes, and those removed from living rhinos by non-lethal means. Regardless of their source, however, placing any rhino horn on the global market risks further stimulating trade and could have catastrophic consequences for rhinos.
Teresa Telecky, Director of Wildlife at Humane Society International, who leads HSI’s wildlife delegation at the CITES meeting, said: “With poaching at such devastating levels, the future survival of rhinos in the wild is already uncertain. Legalising the trade in their horn could very well be enough to tip the scales towards certain extinction. We urge the King of Swaziland to withdraw this death sentence proposal, and if he doesn’t, CITES Parties should reject it.”
Jason Bell, IFAW’s Southern Africa Director, said:
Swaziland’s proposal is not only biologically unsound, but politically naïve too.
“The international community has made it clear that there is no room for discussion when it comes to proposing trade in rhino horn in any form whatsoever. There are so many things wrong with this proposal, all of which definitely leave Swaziland out on a limb at CoP17.”
Mark Jones, Associate Director of the Born Free Foundation and co-chair of the Species Survival Network’s Rhino Working Group, said: “Talk of legal trade sends a message to consumers that it’s OK to buy rhino horn, undermining demand reduction efforts and bringing swathes of new buyers to the market. This market will never be satisfied by legal horn, so poaching will inevitably increase. We cannot trade our way out of this crisis. We urge the King of Swaziland to withdraw this proposal and send the world a clear message that rhino horn is not for sale.”
Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency – US, said “We appeal to His Majesty, the King of Swaziland, to permanently reject selling rhino horn as the rhino horn trade has driven the mass slaughter of rhinos around the world. Trade increases demand and the powerful and violent criminal syndicates that drive the poaching will put a target on the world’s last rhinos should trade be legalised.”
Support from two thirds of the 183 CITES Parties would be required for adoption of the controversial proposal, which bodes well for rejection of the proposal. As rhino poaching has dramatically increased over the past ten years – with 1,342 African rhinos poached for their horns in 2015 – countries around the world have stepped up conservation efforts on the ground as well as consumer demand reduction programmes in countries such as Vietnam.
Past ‘one off’ legal sales of African elephant ivory masked the laundering of illegally acquired ivory, and consequently, African elephant populations have experienced a catastrophic one-third decline from 2007 to 2014.
HSI’s wildlife delegation will be in Johannesburg for CITES CoP17 advocating for proposals to protect a range of species.