Friday is the last day on which South Africans can register their approval, or disapproval, of a draft law permitting trade in rhinoceros horn. Private rhino owners welcome the bill, conservationists are worried.
Last month South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs published details of draft legislation which would allow rhino horn to be traded domestically, or exported. South Africans were given 30 days to express their views on the draft law.
Trade in rhino horn would be permitted but there would be restrictions. A domestic buyer would only be allowed to purchase two horns which would be solely for personal use. Personal data of the buyer and vendor would be recorded and the sale documents would include the genetic profile of the horn, serial or microchip number.
People wishing to export rhino horn would require a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permit. Exports would be permitted via just one point of departure - South Africa's OR Tambo International Airport.
The introduction of the draft legislation follows a legal battle in the courts. In 2015, two independent rhino breeders won a case overturning the government's 2009 moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn. The government appealed, but its application was dismissed.
Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association has welcomed the draft legislation. In an apparent bid to fend off criticism, he told DW that no living rhinoceros would be affected as they would only be trading from existing stock piles. He also said his association had failed to see any proof that the moratorium, or the international CITES ban, had reduced rhino poaching. The reverse was more likely. "We believe that it has helped to create a very substantive illegal or so-called black market," he added.
Doubts about law enforcement
Conservationists generally oppose the draft bill, arguing that legalization of the trade in rhino horn will reinvigorate the black market and boost poaching. Jo Shaw from the WWF's Rhino Program in South Africa said he doesn't believe that law enforcement "will be able to regulate this legal domestic trade alongside the existing levels of illegal trade in horn."
But Jones believes legalizing the trade "will bring revenue back into rhino conservation." He says that up to 1.4 billion rand (99 million euros, $105 million) is currently being spent every year on protecting the rhino.
South Africa continues to lose to as many as a thousand rhinoceroses a year to poachers who are eager to sell their horn to Asian countries where it used to treat various despite a lack of medical evidence of any tangible benefits and despite a four-decade international export ban.
South Africa has 18,000 white rhinos and close to 2,000 black rhinos. Together they account for more than 80 percent of the global rhino population.