A South African court has lifted a domestic ban on trade in rhino horns. The move is a direct challenge to government policy, and comes ahead of a meeting that could see a global ban lifted.
The High Court in Pretoria on Thursday lifted a 2009 moratorium on therhino horn trade,
after two rhino breeders brought a legal challenge against the ban.
The court found that the state, which introduced the ban in an effort to stem illegal poaching of animals in the wild, had not carried out sufficient consultation before it imposed the restriction.
"The moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horns is hereby reviewed and set aside," said the ruling from Judge Francis Legodi, who delivered a 37-page judgment.
Breeders John Hume and Johan Kruger argued it was their constitutional right to sell rhino horn, claiming it was a renewable resource. Hume said that the moratorium was - contrary to intention - directly responsible for a rise in illegal poaching.
The breeders say they hope to influence the outcome of a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which takes place in South Africa next year. That meeting could see the global ban lifted.
"Lifting of the domestic ban in South Africa is not the entire war won, but it is at least a battle that has been won," said a statement from Hume's lawyer.
Record numbers killed
South Africa's environment ministry said no decision had been made about whether it would appeal. "Our lawyer is studying the judgment," ministry spokeswoman Roopa Singh told the AFP news agency.
Earlier this month, South African President Jacob Zuma urged the country to unite against rhino poaching. Zuma spoke during a visit to the country's Kruger National Park, where poachers have been killing record numbers of rhinos for their horns.
"None of us here want a future where the only rhino we see will be on the back of a banknote or a postage stamp, or in pictures in a library book," the South African president said.
South Africa is home to 22,000 rhinos - more than 80 percent of the world's rhino population.Legally dehorning a rhino
would involve the horn being sawn off while the animal was anaesthetized. Each horn would be given a permit and logged in a database.
rc/jil (AFP, Reuters, dpa)