Legalized Trade in Rhino Horn: Solution or Smokescreen?


Should trade in rhino horn be legalized?

A vigorous debate about the controversial idea of legalizing trade in rhino horn has erupted and is now in full swing on social media networks and the blogosphere.

Supporters such as Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) claim that legal trade would be tightly monitored and a way to raise funds for rhino conservation. Opponents point out that legal trade would increase demand for rhino horn products and make poaching even more profitable by creating avenues to launder illegal rhino horn.

In this article, we take a look at some of the existing opportunities for limited legal trade relating to rhino horn and how they may already be contributing to illegal trade, and ultimately, killing rhinos.

1. Trophy hunting

Although trophy hunting of rhino is legal in South Africa, several troubling incidents point to trophy hunting as a laundering vehicle for illegal rhino horn.

For example, two high-profile professional hunters, George Fletcher of Sandhurst Safaris and Gert Saaiman of Saaiman Hunting Safaris, were found to be at the center of a rhino poaching syndicate bust.

According to a report filed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), professional hunters Saaiman and Fletcher are among those awaiting trial in October 2010 for racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft, malicious damage to property and contraventions of the various provincial Conservation Acts and the Aviation Act.

A helicopter and small Aerostar plane belonging to Saaiman were among the assets seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU)

It is alleged that the accused committed these offences as members of a group consisting of hunters, a pilot, middlemen (agents) and buyers, who illegally hunted rhinos and traded in the horns stolen from the rhino carcasses.

The Aerostar was used to locate the rhinos in various National Parks around the country. It was also used to transport poachers to different national parks where the rhinos were spotted. The rhinos would be shot and dehorned.

The Aerostar would then be used to transport horns to George Fletcher’s farm in Tosca.

Investigations by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC also revealed Vietnamese nationals gained access to rhino horn by posing as trophy hunting “clients” in South Africa.

The findings strongly suggest that the trophy hunt operators were aware of this pattern and were enjoying additional profits because of their clients’ intentions.

The frequent involvement of a small number of Vietnamese nationals, often on the same game ranches repeatedly; numerous cases whereby Vietnamese “trophy hunters” paid above market price for rhino hunts, but then had to be instructed how to shoot and would completely forego any proper trophy preparation; the issuance of export permits for rhino trophies to Vietnamese nationals who had previously been identified in ongoing rhino crime investigations …

In a recent rhino horn smuggling case, a Vietnamese court sentenced Tran Van Lap of Hanoi to three years in jail for attempting to transport five rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam.

It is noteworthy that four of the horns were obtained by Lap via a “legal” trophy hunt – however, authorities suspected that the documentation had been falsified. Next page >>

Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, an educational nonprofit organization which provides news and information about wildlife crime and endangered species. I am the Editor of Rhino Horn is Not Medicine and Project Pangolin, author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine, a writer for the environmental news blog Planetsave, the host of Behind the Schemes, and Producer for the upcoming documentary The Price. When I'm not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, I enjoy gardening, reading, designing, and rocking out to live music.

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  1. From what I have read in the above article it just shows that unfortunately money is the main enemy here in the fight to save our beloved rhino. It is a sadness that the hunters have now taken advantage to gain more with the trophy hunting and as you say the Vietnamese are willing to pay more so the hunters are jumping at it. It is totally unbeleivable how these murderers have open access to fly into the National Park of their choice and drop poachers and pick out their rhino delight of the day. My mind boggles at the thought, these hunters must be laughing at how easy it has all been over the years, picking their choice and raking in the bucks.
    It must be so hard for the conservation guys to try and control all this, these hot shots have got the money and they unfortunately have ruled. These reports need to go to the top to reach someone there who will care and put forward legislation to ban all this and control it. The Save the Rhino organisation must get disheartened daily with each culling and little done or said. My heart goes out to you.

  2. Hi Ann –

    Thank you so much for your comment and for helping to spread the word.

    This activity has been thriving in secret for too long. We are working towards the opportunity to pull back the curtain and hold people responsible for their actions.

    – Rhishja