South Africa’s department of environmental affairs said on Wednesday an on-again-off-again moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn had been reinstated after it appealed to the top court in the land to render judgment on the thorny issue.
The outcome 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.
Conservationists have expressed concerns that domestic buyers could also illicitly supply markets in Vietnam and China, where demand for rhino horn – coveted as an ingredient in traditional medicine – has triggered a wave of poaching.
In May, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s bid to uphold a seven-year ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn. The Constitutional Court is its last judicial option.
“The moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn, or products or derivatives thereof, is once again in place,” the department said in a statement.
“No permits will be authorized to … trade in rhino horn and any derivatives or products of horn until the matter is finalized by the Constitutional Court,” it said.
The saga is playing out just months ahead of a major U.N. conference on wildlife trade that South Africa will host.
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.