South African Court Legalizes Rhino Horn Trade

Some claim it could help conservation

A critically endangered northern white rhino missing its horn, with its own bodyguard to protect it from poachers.

White Rhino

A critically endangered northern white rhino missing its horn, with its own bodyguard to protect it from poachers.via @cespur

Rhino horns, a traditional Vietnamese cancer and hangover cure, are now legal to buy and sell in South Africa, for the first time since 2009.

With just three terse sentences, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal has legalized rhino horn trade in South Africa again, rejecting an appeal by the government to keep a ban on domestic trade in place. The decision opens a door to criminal activity that some say is necessary to save a species—and others say will doom it.

There's almost no market for rhino horns in South Africa, according to the article, so legalizing domestic trade could cause smugglers to sneak the horns into countries that want them. Horns can cost as much as $300,000 in Vietnam, where they're ground up and snorted as a cancer or hangover cure, according to the Atlantic. You still can't legally get rhino horn powder in Vietnam with the new ruling, though; international horn trade has been banned since 1977 thanks to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). That hasn't stopped poachers from stealing the horns, which grow back, or from killing rhinos.

The South African government banned any horn trade at all in 2009 to prevent poaching, leaving rhino farmers like John Hume with stockpiles of horns and nothing to do with them. He and safari operator Johan Krueger sued the government to overturn the ban. A report released by Minister of Environmental Affairs Bomo Edna Molewa in 2015 revealed that poachers were still killing record numbers of rhinos.

Still, supporters of the rhino horn trade feel that horn money could help fund rhino conservation, according to Reuters. While the southern white rhino is listed as nearly threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list, the northern white rhino and black rhino are both critically endangered.

You yourself probably shouldn't snort horn powder, even if you can get your hands on it. Rhino horn is made from the same stuff your fingernails are made out of, keratin, and snorting fingernails doesn't cure cancer or hangovers.