Environmental Affairs ­Minister Edna Molewa has thrown her weight behind controversial calls for the legalisation of trade in rhino horn.

Molewa said for the first time in an interview that she believes it “is the right direction” to take and could be the key to saving South Africa’s increasingly threatened rhino population from extinction.

The stage now seems set for South Africa to push ahead with trade proposals at the next conference of the 178 member countries to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which will be hosted in Cape Town in 2016.  If so, it will be South Africa’s third attempt since 1994 to convince Cites to open trade.

“We believe it is the right direction as one of the measures [to curb rhino poaching],” Molewa said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian in Bangkok during the recent Cites meeting. “The model that we have is based on pure law of supply and demand. Economics 101. Our rhinos are killed every day and the numbers are going up. The reality is that we have done all in our power and doing the same thing every day isn’t working. We do think that we need to address this issue of trade in a controlled manner so that we can at least begin to push down this pressure.”

It is a move born out of desperation. If poaching levels continue to rise, South Africa’s rhino population will begin to fall, with deaths outstripping the birth rate by 2016, what conservationists describe as the “tipping point”. Fundisile Mketeni, the environment department’s deputy director general, said South Africa had “not yet decided to sell rhino horn”.

“We say we must talk about it. Because all other things are spoken about, but this one seems taboo. We are saying we have tried everything, let’s start talking about this one.”


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