Judge Francis Legodi of the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa yesterday set aside a moratorium on the in-country rhino horn trade, causing consternation in conservation circles worldwide. Two prominent wildlife farmers (including John Hume, the world’s largest rhino owner) had applied to the court to overturn the moratorium, which they claimed was irrational, unreasonable and a violation of their constitutional rights.
The moratorium was imposed in 2009 by the environment ministry because of its view that the domestic trade was providing a loophole through which poached horn was flowing into international trafficking networks. Supporters of the moratorium argue that because there is no substantive consumer market for rhino horn in South Africa, there is little incentive for South Africans to trade horn unless it is ultimately being sold on highly profitable Asian black markets.
Judge Legodi set aside the moratorium because of procedural errors made by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) just prior to it coming into effect and not because he agrees with the wildlife farmers’ substantive arguments regarding the rationality, reasonableness and constitutionality of the moratorium.
In crude terms, the judge struck down the moratorium on technicalities, not because he found the rhino farmers’ core arguments to be valid.