Opponents of the legislation say the move will only increase poaching, while advocates say flooding the market with a legal supply will take pressure off populations in the wild.
While rhino poaching in South Africa has dropped, debate rages over the country’s High Court upholding a decision to legalise the domestic sales of rhinoceros horn.
Rhinos are listed as endangered and are targeted by poachers who sell their horns to overseas markets.
The Wall Street Journal has reported South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs had unsuccessfully appealed to the court in Pretoria over a November ruling that lifted the domestic ban on trade in rhino horn, essentially re-legalising sales that have been banned in the country since 2009, and internationally since 1977.
However, the government plans to lodge another appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal, which will put the moratorium back in place until that court rules.
Opponents of the legislation say the move will only increase poaching and put further pressure on wild rhino populations, while advocates, like rhino farmers say flooding the market with a legal supply will take pressure off populations in the wild, The WSJ reported.
International conservation organisation, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported the news came a day after South Africa announced its first decrease in rhino poaching since 2007, with 1,175 rhinos poached in South Africa in 2015 – slightly down from the record 1,215 in the previous year.
“After seven years of increases, a decline in the rate of rhino poaching in South Africa is very encouraging and the result of the government’s leadership and the tireless efforts by so many committed people – but sadly the overall rate remains unacceptably high,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa.
WWF expressed disappointment that the High Court appeal was not successful.
“We supported the Minister’s appeal and are disappointed by this decision, there is no market for rhino horn in South Africa so lifting the domestic ban is likely to encourage more illegal activity,” said Du Plessis.
“It will also make it even harder for already overstretched law enforcement agents to tackle rhino horn trafficking.”
While international organisation Save the Rhino said it had not yet reached a conclusion on whether the trade in rhino horn should be legalised, but was considering the cases for and against the proposal, its website said.
It said the debate on legalising the trade tended to “polarise opinion” but said both sides agreed that they wanted to see more rhinos in more viable populations in the wild and that were is no silver bullet that will solve the rhino poaching crisis.
Save the Rhino said legal trade on its own will not work while anti-poaching patrols on their own will not work.