Number of killed rhinos in S Africa drops slightly

AP, JOHANNESBURG

Sat, Jan 23, 2016 - Page 7

South Africa on Thursday reported a slight drop in the annual number of killed rhinoceros, but conservationists said rhino poaching remains unacceptably high and some warned that a South African court ruling in favor of a domestic trade in rhino horn could further imperil the threatened animals.

Poachers killed 1,175 rhinos in South Africa last year, down 40 from the previous year as a result of law enforcement efforts to protect wildlife, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said South Africa reported 13 poached rhinos in 2007 and 83 in the following year as demand for rhino horn in parts of Asia, particularly Vietnam, began to accelerate.

Despite the surge in poaching within the last decade, Molewa said at a news conference that a “much-feared, year-end spike” in rhino poaching that usually happens in December did not occur last month, and she described South Africa’s rhino population as “stable.”

Kruger National Park, the nation’s largest wildlife reserve, has between 8,400 and 9,300 white rhinos and 826 were killed there last year, government data showed. South Africa is home to most of the world’s rhinos.

Meanwhile, a Pretoria court dismissed a government effort to preserve a ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn, prompting the government to declare it will try to take the case to South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal.

The South African government had sought to appeal a decision made in November last year by a Pretoria court that rescinded a moratorium on the local trade, but a court rejected that bid on Wednesday.

In the November ruling, North Gauteng High Court Judge Francis Legodi said the government had failed to properly consult the public before imposing the ban in 2009.

The legal battle pits those who say legalization would spur poaching in South Africa against rhino breeders and others who believe a regulated trade would undercut poaching. The regulated trade would likely allow the sale of horn stockpiles and the harvesting of horns from living rhinos.

“With immediate effect, anybody who wishes to purchase a rhino horn here in South Africa can do so,” Private Rhino Owners Association Pelham Jones said.

Horn buyers would require a permit, would be subject to a periodic audit and cannot export a horn, he said.