Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:
The Rhino Horn Auction. Shame on SA.
Later this week, South African rhino farmer (yes, that is a thing) John Hume, will be allowed to run an online auction for 264 rhino horns.
You read that correctly. Actual rhinoceros horns.
The 264 rhinoceros horns will be sold at auction. It should be made very clear here, that John Hume has approximately 1,000 rhino on his farm, and their horns are trimmed every couple of years, and allowed to grow back (LINK). According to some sources, Hume has a stash of rhino horn worth US$50m (LINK).
There is absolutely nothing illegal about what Mr Hume is doing. The rhino are not killed to dehorn them, and the South African Constitutional Court overrode the pleas of the SA Department of Environmental Affairs and conservation groups on 5th April 2017, and ended the eight year moratorium on domestic rhino horn sales in South Africa.
Any guess why?
A technicality in the consultation process.
There was a requirement in the enabling legislation (the 2004 National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act) that in order to satisfy the requirement for public participation, the consultation for the moratorium needed to be published in a national newspaper. The High Court ruled in 2015 that this was not done, and set aside the moratorium. The current case was the culmination of a series of attempted appeals to the High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court.
John Hume was one of those who brought the case against the moratorium to the High Court (as he stood to lose a colossal fortune if it stayed in place). The others were Johan Krüger, and two bodies, Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) and the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA). The two bodies are so closely linked that Pelham Jones, the current Chairman of the PROA (LINK) is also the contact for the Rhino committee of the WRSA (LINK). According to a 2016 National Geographic report (LINK) by Brian Christy, Krüger is a game farmer, but has close ties to a neighbouring rancher called Dawie Groenewald:
“He and Krüger have been in the buffalo business together; they hunt together; Krüger’s photograph has appeared in Groenewald’s hunting brochures; and Krüger’s lawyer is also Groenewald’s lawyer.”
Dawie Groenewald was indicted in 2014 by the United States DOJ on charges of “conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts in South Africa in order to defraud American hunters, money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns” (LINK). He was arrested by Interpol, and bailed in June 2017 (LINK). He had previously pleaded guilty in the USA of selling an illegal leopard hunt, and fined $30,000.
Groenewald is part of a group of 10 people who are currently facing over “1,800 charges, including racketeering, money laundering, illegal hunting of rhino, dealing in rhino horn and contravening the Biodiversity and Prevention of Organised Crime Act” (LINK). In light of the Constitutional Court’s decision, the trial has been postponed and the charge sheet amended.
Back to the sale. In addition to being available in English the site is available in Vietnamese and Mandarin, which is no great surprise as Vietnam and China are the two largest consumers of rhino horn. It is still illegal to export rhino horn from South Africa, although there is pressure being brought to change this.
I have to admit, irk me though it does, that there are several points on the auction site which seem to make initial sense, and it is all couched in very reasonable terms. However, none of them stand up to particular scrutiny – Wildlife ACT has done an excellent job of spiking the comments (LINK) and I would urge you to read their blog post.
If the statistics on poaching represent a rise in demand, then there has been an almost exponential growth. SA Department of Environmental Affairs data shows that 122 rhinoceros were poached in the whole of 2009. This had risen to 1,020 by 2014 and the trend does not look to be slowing. According to the environmental group IFAW, “[w]ithin the first six months of this year , 529 rhinos were poached across South Africa” (LINK) However, as we saw with the disastrous CITES-backed sale of elephant ivory in 2009, the main impact of the same was to trigger a massive resurgence in demand for ivory, and there is no reason to suspect that will not be the case here.
What will happen to the rhino horns? Unless there is a sudden uplift for demand in the domestic South African market, the inevitable result will be that the rhino horn is smuggled to Vietnam and China. We know it, they know it. The Organised Crime groups which Mr Hume correctly states on his auction website “have control over the market and generally either team up with or threaten government officials to help them with their crimes” (LINK) will simply shift their attention from the dangerous and difficulty stage of the process (killing the rhino) to the aspect they know best (smuggling things). Organised Crime excels at smuggling – everything from people to ivory to luxury goods to guns, smuggling is the lifeblood of organised criminality.
For those involved in the auction to ignore the obvious is a deliberate tactic. It is the tactic used by everyone from the gun lobby (“guns don’t kill people, people kill people”) to those who sell essays online (“they aren’t for cheating with, just for background reading”). That is clearly a fatuous argument – people don’t buy a 9mm handgun for decoration or pre-written essays for research purposes, any more than the Vietnamese and Chinese buyers of this rhino horn will start hosting horn parties in Johannesburg or Pretoria.
What no-one is saying is that the auction is illegal.
What many people (bar the vendors and purchasers) are saying that it is utterly inexcusable that this action is not illegal.