Veterans for Wildlife are extremely saddened to note that, despite vociferous opposition to last month’s abortive rhino horn auction, its organisers are already working on plans to hold a second such sale.

Veterans for Wildlife applied to attend the physical auction, which we understand never took place with the entire affair taking place online, in order to ascertain who was buying horn and why. Significantly, prospective buyers were required to pay a R100,000 upfront deposit in order to take part in the auction. The purpose of this payment isn’t entirely clear and seems to be nothing more than an additional revenue generating scheme for greedy organisers.

Private Rhino Owners’ Association (PROA), Chairman Pelham Jones is reported to have described the first auction as a breakthrough for rhino owners and their efforts to fight poaching. Noting that the second auction could take place within a matter of months, Jones has said:

We want to congratulate John Hume on what he achieved. We believe this was a big step in the right direction for expanding the domestic trade in rhino horn. We are looking to keep a close eye on the trade and make sure no illegal dealings take place.

However, Veterans for Wildlife has serous reservations about this comment and what the PROA are suggesting. Firstly, how does lining the pockets of one or two wealthy land and stock owners correlate to addressing poaching? Are their profits being channelled to demand-focussed projects and increased protection for rhinos not under their own control? Secondly, what domestic trade is Jones referring to? There is simply no realistic trade and utilisation of rhino horn in South Africa.

As such, Veterans for Wildlife is campaigning for details of the auction(s) to be made public. Who is buying horn domestically, for what purpose and where is this horn ultimately ending up? That’s why we say #DontHideTheHorn! Knowing what is happening to our country’s natural heritage, especially if nefarious foreign agents are complicit in its exploitation, is of national concern.

The PROA go on to suggest establishing an independent control body mandated to manage such auctions going forward. Such a body would ostensibly keep track of horns through a central database, providing international agencies with ‘accurate information’ should illegal trading be suspected. But who is going to fund and manage this body? It is far easier said than done.

Jones concluded by saying that:

We know domestic trade won’t save our rhinos, but if we show the world it can be done, then perhaps we can open the international market and create a legal supply of horns that will undercut illegal traders and poachers.

In the opinion of Veterans for Wildlife, this statement fails to account for the extremely complicated process of preventing poached horn from entering the supply chain. Moreover, the underlying motivation seems not to be conservation and the protection of a species, but rather wholly economic. Jones et al want to undercut their competitors and cash in on a lucrative business opportunity. An opportunity that has already netted the controversial John Hume an estimated R1,55 million.

Veterans for Wildlife are extremely interested to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please take the poll below and give us your support and direction. Should we campaign for full disclosure on who is fueling this so-called domestic trade? #DontHideTheHorn!