Pretoria — Commercial international trade in rhino horn is and remains prohibited, the Department of Environmental Affairs clarified on Friday.
The department said the prohibition is in terms of the international protocols that South Africa is party to, particularly the Convention on International Trade in Species of fauna and flora (CITES).
The department was responding to inaccurate reports on rhino horn trade, which have surfaced recently.
It said the draft regulations published for public comment in February 2017 are not meant to circumvent any CITES process, which would tantamount to non-compliance.
The planned sale of rhino horn by private rhino owners, the department said, is for domestic trade only. The department said domestic trade in rhino horn is subject to the issuance of the relevant permits in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA), its regulations and applicable provincial legislation.
In terms of NEMBA, a permit is required to possess, transport and trade in rhino horns and any derivatives or products of horn.
"The Constitutional Court judgment in April 2017 confirming the setting aside the 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn retrospectively does not mean that persons are allowed to trade (including selling, donating, or in any way acquiring or disposing of rhino horn) without a permit issued by the relevant provincial conservation department," the department said.
Application forms for permits to authorise the regulated activities must be submitted in the province in which the applicant intends to carry out the restricted activity (including selling, trade in, donating or accepting as gift,) until further notice.
The department has developed an electronic database that will capture extensive details on all individual rhino horns in private and government-owned stockpiles and all newly acquired horns (which will be entered into the database on a monthly basis).
For the database to be populated, the department's Directorate of Biodiversity Compliance and Enforcement is conducting an audit of all existing stockpiles of rhino horn.
The directorate has conducted audit inspections of government-owned rhino horn in all provinces and of privately-owned horn in two provinces to date.
Six provinces have conducted audit inspections in respect of privately-owned horns, as the department is currently conducting ad hoc inspections to verify the provincial audits.
One province is still in the process of inspecting privately owned rhino horn stockpiles. Once the inspections and audit are complete, the department will conduct ad hoc inspections to verify the information.
"Through the audit, the department intends to ensure that every horn is tagged with a micro-chip, that DNA testing has been conducted on the horn, and that all horn is measured, weighed, marked and captured on the national database. This will ensure that the Department has full and accurate information on the number of horns in South Africa at any given time and the registered owner of each horn," said the department.
This move, it said, is vital to prevent the smuggling of illegally-obtained horn out of the country.
Comments on publication of notices
Meanwhile, the department is evaluating the comments received from the public and interested parties following the publication of the three draft notices relating to the management of the domestic rhino horn trade.
The notices were published for public comment on 8 February 2017 and related to, among others, the draft regulations to regulate/control the domestic trade in rhino horn, as well as the prohibition of the intentional powdering of shavings of rhino horn and the domestic sale and export thereof.
Once all comments have been considered and evaluated, the department will set in motion the process for approval of the final legislation. Once approved, it will be published in the Gazette for implementation and to announce the commencement date.
"Again, the department reiterates that commercial international trade in rhino horn is and remains prohibited, in terms of the CITES provisions and would not be authorised in terms of any domestic regulations."
The draft regulations include provisions relating to the regulation and requirements for the domestic trade in rhino horn, as well as export under very specific circumstances consistent with the provisions of CITES.