Rhinos are facing extinction in the wild, yet South Africa is to allow the sale of rhino horn, even though it knows that much of the horn will be directed into the illegal trade in Asia. The first sale will take place later this month, despite the fact that South Africa remains theoretically committed to a worldwide ban on international trading.

Network for Animals (NFA) is extremely concerned that legalisation of the domestic trade will make it easier for smugglers to export horns to Vietnam and other Asian countries, where there is a thriving trade in rhino horn. Horn, consists of keratin, the same stuff fingernails are made from but in some cultures, it is touted falsely as a cure for conditions ranging from headaches to cancer.

“Rhinos are facing extinction in the wild, making it easier to trade their horns will make the crisis worse,” said David Barritt, NFA’s chief campaigner. “There is no domestic rhino horn market in South Africa and so obviously the most interested buyers will be those who want to sell it elsewhere and that can only be done through smuggling.

“What is needed is for the South African government to step in and pass new legislation that will prevent such sales.”

Official statistics from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs show that 1,054 rhinos were killed by poachers in 2016 — nearly three a day on average, a pattern that has persisted into 2017.

The South African move to trade horn domestically comes despite the country’s ratification in 1975 of an international trade ban under the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, a multilateral treaty intended to protect endangered plants and animals.