Pretoria – A full bench of the High Court in Pretoria has overturned government’s moratorium on rhino horn trading because there was not enough adequate public consultation.
Judges Francis Legodi, Vivian Tlhapi and Myron Dewrance granted an order to rhino breeders John Hume and Johan Krüger to set aside the moratorium, which came into effect early in 2009, because of “substantial non-compliance” with the consultative and participatory process by members of the public contemplated by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.
Hume is the largest rhino breeder in the world, but said he would have to dispose of his herd of 1 200 rhinos if the open-ended moratorium remained in effect.
The moratorium was put in place to back up an international ban on rhino horn trading until regulations on how to deal with rhino had been put in place.
Hume and Krüger maintained the moratorium should be set aside because Environment Minister Edna Molewa did not give proper notice of her intentions to members of the public and South Africa’s 400 registered rhino breeders and owners.
Complex reasons for poaching
The minister maintained the moratorium was a legitimate and rational conservation measure based on extensive and wide consultation.
Molewa conceded that the ban might be considered as one of the factors contributing to increased rhino poaching, but said there were other complex reasons involved.
This included dwindling rhino populations in neighbouring countries, which made South Africa an attractive destination and improved economic conditions in Asia, which meant more people could afford to buy rhino horn, leading to increased demand.
She pointed out that the moratorium was put in place because the domestic market and real permits were being used to smuggle rhino horn out of the country, which was easy where stockpiles of rhino horn were not identified.
The moratorium was kept in place so that the department could check and mark rhino horn through regulations and conduct an audit of existing stockpiles to know “who has what”, the Minister maintained.
Judge Legodi said the level of rhino poaching since the moratorium was “quite alarming”.
“For example, in 2008 before the moratorium was imposed, the numbers of rhinos poached were just below 100, in 2009 between 100 and 200, in 2010 just below 400, in 2011 just below 500.”
The updated report on behalf of Hume is as follows: In 2012 the number of rhino poached was just above 600 in 2013 about 1 000 and about 1 200 in 2014.
Effective implementation of measures
“The exact percentage attributable to the moratorium is not known, but clearly its role in adding to the surge in poaching cannot be excluded.
“Furthermore, the extent of smuggling or illegal export of rhino horns due to lack of implementation of the applicable measures is not known.
“The next question is, on what basis should this court suspend the setting aside of the moratorium.”
“Put differently, what disastrous implication would be brought about by the immediate lifting of the moratorium? I cannot think of any.
“The solution appears to lie in the effective implementation of applicable and envisages measures,” Judge Legodi said.