South Africa’s department of environmental affairs said on Tuesday it would study and respond later to a court ruling last week which dismissed its bid to uphold a seven-year ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn.
The decision has no bearing on a ban on international trade in rhino horn. Potential domestic buyers could include those who see rhino horn as a store of wealth that could appreciate in value and those who want it as a decoration.
“The Minister of Environmental Affairs is considering the implications of the judgment and will brief the public in due course,” the department said in a statement.
Possibilities open to the department include changing legislation or making the issuing of permits – required to buy, sell or possess rhino horn – so onerous that the domestic trade is effectively stifled, officials have said off the record.
It was not clear if the department could lodge a final appeal with the Constitutional Court.
The court action was initiated by private rhino ranchers and associations. According to the latest figures from South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association, about 6,200 rhinos are in private hands, about a third of the national population.
Rhino horn can be harvested as it grows back and it can be removed from a tranquilised animal.
Supporters of rhino horn trade say the money earned could be used for conservation and to pay for security. Opponents counter that a legal trade could tempt poachers who kill rhinos to launder their “blood” horns with clean supplies.
Thousands of South African rhinos have been slain in recent years to meet demand for the horn in Asian countries, where it is coveted as a cure for cancer or treatment for hangovers.
The government has not revealed the size of its rhino horn stockpile but the PROA estimates its members have around 6 tonnes and reckons the state has close to 25 tonnes. The combined 31 tonnes could fetch $2 billion by some estimates.