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Rhino Horns Are Legal To Sell, South African Court Rules

South Africa's highest court has overturned a national ban on domestic sales of rhinoceros horns. Here, rhinos are seen at a breeding farm near Klerksdorp, South Africa.

Siding with plaintiffs who want to legalize the market for rhinoceros horns, South Africa's Constitutional Court has overturned the government's blanket ban on selling horns from the endangered animals. The ruling will allow legal domestic sales; international sales of rhino horn are banned.

The decision follows years of legal wrangling over the national ban that was enacted in 2009. Despite the change, the Department of Environmental Affairs says, South Africa's rhino horn trade would be subject to strict rules.

The court's ruling "should not be construed to mean that the domestic trade in rhino horn may take place in an unregulated fashion," said environmental minister Edna Molewa. For instance, anyone possessing or selling the horns must have a permit, she says.

Responding to the ban being overturned, the International Rhino Foundation said that it was "completely irresponsible" without controls in place.

From Durban, South Africa, Peter Grantiz reports for our Newscast unit:

"Rhino horn grows back when cut, and ranchers raise the animals like livestock and stockpile the horn like a commodity. Private owners sued the government over its ban. They have long argued that, with their stockpiles, they can flood the market with legally harvested horn, meet demand, and curtail poaching.

"Critics dismiss the idea because there is no local demand — and any horn harvested legally will be illegally smuggled to Vietnam and China, where demand has risen in recent years."

The ban on rhino horn commerce is being set aside after a year in which poachers killed more than 1,000 rhinos (a slight drop from 2015) and authorities arrested 680 poachers and traffickers (more than double the number in 2015), according to government data released in February.

Last month, the Department of Environmental Affairs issued a proposal to legalize and regulate the domestic sale and limited exports of rhino horns, in a move that raised alarm among conservationists.

As Merrit Kennedy reported for the Two-Way, "Rhino horn is in high demand for its use in traditional Asian medicine, though rhino advocates argue it has no medicinal value. Demand has driven up the price — a French zoo that was victim to a recent poaching attack said that in 2015, a kilogram of rhino horn sold on the black market for nearly $54,000."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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