Published: Friday 15 March 2002

In a move that is inviting the wrath of animal rights activists, South Africa is seeking permission to trade in white rhino horns. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (cites), such trade is prohibited. "If permission is granted, it would enable South Africa to have limited sales of white rhinoceros horns," said Phindile Makwakwa, a spokesperson for the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. In June 2002, a final draft of the South African proposal will be presented to the cites secretariat ahead of its next meeting in Chile in November 2002.

Although conservationists say the ban has helped check the slaughter of rhinos, South Africa maintains that its population of white rhinoceros has always been healthy, growing and well-protected and that the cash raised will be used for conservation programmes. But animal welfare activists contend that lifting the ban would create a legal market that poachers could exploit to sell illegal horns. Other controversial draft proposals being mooted by the South Africans include one to sell the stocked ivory from elephant tusks at the Kruger National Park.

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