A court in South Africa has lifted the ban on the sale of rhino horn in the domestic market.
South Africa’s Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal by the Department of Environmental Affairs in April to keep a moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn.
Reuters reports that the legal suit was initiated by private rhino ranchers and other associations that say they need to sell the horn in order to afford spiraling security costs, which include armed patrols, helicopters, and electric fencing.
With 20,000 rhinos, South Africa boasts nearly 80 percent of the world’s rhino population; however, about a third of that number are held by private owners who keep the animals in ranches across the nation.
South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA), which serves as an umbrella body for the country’s rhino owners, was a respondent in the court case.
A court document read in part, “This court … has concluded that the application should be dismissed with costs as it lacks reasonable prospects of success.”
PROA Chairman Pelham Jones hailed the court’s decision, saying, “We welcome the Constitutional Court ruling, we believe it is a right we have been entitled to.”
Jones said that with the court’s decision, the sale of rhino horns was now legal in South Africa and the revenue generated from the business would help private rhino owners to offset some of the cost of maintaining ranches.
The ruling, however, does not lift the ban on the international sale of rhino horn, which continues to remain in force.
A United Nations convention enforces the global ban on the sale of rhino horn, meaning horns legally harvested in South Africa cannot be exported from the country.
The international trade in rhino horn is largely fueled by the demand from Asian countries, such as Vietnam and China, where it is valued as an aphrodisiac in traditional medicine.
Over a six-year period, the numbers of rhino poached in South Africa climbed from 83 in 2008 to a record 1,215 in 2014.
The numbers have fallen in recent years, however, with government data showing that the number of rhinos killed in the first half of 2016 came down to 702 from 796 in the previous year.
Conservationists say they fear the new ruling will trigger cross border trafficking in rhino horns and ultimately lead to a renewed spike in poaching levels.
Jones said the PROA was consulting with security firms to ensure “blood horns” did not enter the market.
“We are in an advanced stage of setting up a domestic trade desk and are consulting with economists to determine market prices,” he added.