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S. Africa's first online rhino horn auction opens

By AFP
media The owner of the world's largest rhino farm says his technique of dehorning the animals under sedation is humane and discourages poachers AFP/File

South Africa's first online auction of rhino horn opened Wednesday, despite protests by conservation groups that the legal, domestic sale would encourage poachers.

The three-day selloff, organised by the owner of the world's largest rhino farm, kicked off after a last-minute legal tussle pushed its start back two days.

"It has started and the seller will only be available for comment after the auction," a representative of Pretoria-based Van's Auctioneers who declined to be named, told AFP after the auction website went live.

John Hume, who owns 1,500 rhinos on his farm north of Johannesburg, has stockpiled six tonnes of rhino horns and wants to sell 264 pieces weighing a total of 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds).

He harvests the horns by tranquilising the animals and dehorning them -- a technique he says is humane and wards off poachers.

Activists opposed to the sale fear it will fuel trafficking and undermine a 40-year global ban on the rhino trade.

WWF said it is concerned that South African police "do not have the capacity to manage parallel legal trade on top of current levels of illegal poaching".

"It's hard to understand why anyone would buy rhino horn within South Africa when there are limited numbers of local consumers and it's still illegal to export rhino horn," said Jo Shaw of the WWF.

The divisive sale comes after South Africa's top court lifted an eight-year moratorium on the domestic trade of rhino horns in April.

A legal challenge delayed the auction for two days, but Hume was given a permit on Monday.

Environment Minister Edna Molewa said the government was closing "any possible loopholes that could pave the way for a circumvention of (international) regulations".

- No 'blood horns' -

Speaking on Monday, the minister said an audit of existing rhino horn stockpiles was underway to "prevent the smuggling of illegally-obtained horns out of the country".

Private rhino owners say so-called "blood horns" from poaching will not enter the market, as each horn is micro-chipped and their origins can be DNA-traced.

Breeders believe open trade is the only way to stop poachers from slaughtering the endangered animals.

They argue that the auction helps to promote "sustainable" use of resources and raise funds for protecting and conserving the rhino.

South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhinos, or about 80 percent of the worldwide population, but in recent years the country has suffered record slaughter by poachers.

Rhino horns are highly prized in Asia, where they are estimated to fetch up to $60,000 (50,000 euros) a kilo ($27,250. 22,700 euros a pound) on the black market, exceeding the price of gold or cocaine.

They consist mainly of keratin, the same component as in human nails, and are sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases -- as well as a purported aphrodisiac -- in Vietnam and China.

Bidders need to pay 100,000 rand ($7,570) to register for the auction.

Commodity speculators would be able to buy "but may not export the horns," Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, told AFP.

Any registered buyer will not collect the horns until they obtain permits.

 
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