By Graeme McNaughton
Signatories of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are meeting in Thailand over the next two weeks to discuss the future of banned animal products less than a week after South Africa announced it is considering lifting the ban on the sale of rhino horn.
The World Wildlife Fund said the amount of animals being poached, particularly rhinos and elephants, is on the rise to meet the growing demand for the illegal product in the Asian market.
As many as 30,000 African elephants are killed every year by poachers to get their ivory, according to numbers from the WWF.
“Illegal wildlife trade is a serious crime, and needs to be treated as such,” Heather Sohl, the chief species advisor for WWF UK, told Humber News.
“Countries need to hold other parties accountable to the responsibilities they signed up to with CITES.”
Sohl is part of a delegation from WWF in Bangkok for the summit.
The summit comes days after South Africa’s Ministry of Water and Environmental Affairs announced they would be looking into the legalization of the sale of rhino horn as a way to prevent illegal poaching.
“The reality of the matter is rhino horn is being poached in South Africa right now,” said Edna Molewa, South Africa’s minister of water and environmental affairs, according to Agence France-Press.
“There’s a moratorium on trade in South Africa but they still get it out of South Africa. So we are saying let’s look at other mechanisms.”
Rhino horn currently sells for around US$60,000 per kilogram on the black market.
“The idea here is that South Africa has a large number of rhinos, they have horn in stock, and those in the Far East want it,” Dr. Mike Knight, the chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s African Rhino Specialist Group, told Humber News. “The idea is that we can provide it to them in a regulated frame work.”
Dr. Knight, who is based in South Africa, said the current risks to poachers, which can include heavy fines and jail time, is outweighed by the high price of rhino horn, which can fetch more per pound than gold.
Sohl said the proposed legalization of rhino horn sales from South Africa would do nothing to curb illegal poaching, adding a similar approach by Thailand that saw the legalization of domestic ivory production lead to poachers using the country as a base to distribute smuggled African ivory.
“We believe there shouldn’t be a legal trade because it would stimulate demand,” said Sohl. “It would provide the possibility for the laundering of illegal horns.”
A recent investigation by Al Jazeera found several farms in China licensed to hold rhinos for research purposes, although it is believed they are being kept for the production of their horns.