South Africa’s top court has dismissed an appeal by the Department of Environmental Affairs to keep a moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn.
Pelham Jones, chairman of South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA) which was one of the respondents in the case, said it means the sale of rhino horns was legal in South Africa.
“We welcome the Constitutional Court ruling, we believe it is a right we have been entitled to,” he said.
A global ban in the horn trade, which is regulated by a UN convention, remains in place.
In May, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s bid to uphold a ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn put in place in 2009. The Constitutional Court was its last judicial option.
A spokeswoman for South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs said it would issue a statement shortly.
The court action was initiated by private rhino ranchers and other associations, who say they need to sell horn to afford spiralling security costs.
According to the latest figures from PROA, over 6,500 rhinos are in private hands in South Africa, over a third of the national population.
Rhino horn can be harvested as it grows back and it can be removed from a tranquilised animal.
Conservationists have expressed concerns that domestic buyers could also illicitly supply markets in Vietnam and China, where demand for rhino horn – coveted as an ingredient in traditional medicine – has triggered a wave of poaching.
But Jones said PROA was consulting with security firms to ensure “blood horns” did not enter the market.
“We are in an advanced stage of setting up a domestic trade desk and are consulting with economists to determine market prices.
Potential domestic buyers could include those who see” rhino horn as a store of wealth that could appreciate in value and those who want it as a decoration.