As the first ever legal rhino horn auction in South Africa concludes, Veterans for Wildlife stands completely against the commodification of wildlife and will be campaigning for transparency of who the buyers were and where the horns have now gone. #DontHideTheHorn

Conservation-focussed charity Veterans for Wildlife said today South Africa’s first legal domestic auction of rhino horn was about nothing other than greed.

Veterans for Wildlife CEO Wesley Thomson said the auction would, at best, line the pockets of rich speculators and, at worse, give ‘front men’ for criminal gangs the opportunity to illegally export more rhino horn.

“This auction is a slap in the face for the South African National Parks rangers, South African Police Service, South African National Defense Force and private anti-poaching unit members who put their lives on the line to protect rhinos every day,” Mr Thomson said.

“The regulators are telling the warriors who fight the war on poaching that rather than trying to protect its wildlife South Africa will let high net worth individuals play with it, like Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko dabbling on the stock exchange.”

Mr Thomson said the decision to allow the auction to go ahead commodified wildlife, sending a message that rhinos, elephants, pangolins, vultures and other endangered creatures were not national treasures to be protected and conserved, but rather money spinners for a few wealthy people.

Further, Mr Thomson said the auction sent dangerous mixed messages to the end user countries for rhinos.

“South Africa is telling countries such as Vietnam, where much of the illegal rhino horn ends up, to keep trying to enforce the international ban on trading rhino horn, while at the same time saying it’s OK for a few players in South Africa to wheel and deal with the same product.”

Mr Thomson said South Africa needed a cohesive, sensible, workable strategy to fight poaching on the ground in the bush, and to work with user countries to try and reduce demand.

“Allowing this auction to proceed achieves none of those strategic aims,” Mr Thomson said.

“Rather, it will allow criminals to potentially get their hands on more rhino horn and fuel demand, rather than slowing it.

“There are clear parallels with the last legal auction of elephant ivory a few years ago.  That move, which allowed stockpiled ivory from several African countries to be traded, is widely believed to be a major contributing factor to the subsequent upsurge in demand for illegal ivory.

“We want to shut this market down, once and for all, by fighting poaching on the ground and reducing demand internationally, not kick starting it.”

There is also strong evidence from the battlefield in the war against poaching that legalisation of the rhino horn trade may, in fact, not even satisfy demand, existing or future, in user countries.

“Anti-poaching operators are coming across rhino carcases where the ears and tails of the dead animal have been removed.   This indicates two things – firstly that the users of rhino horn are demanding proof that the horn has come from a wild animal that has been killed; and secondly that stockpiled harvested rhino horn has already been illegally finding its way into the market.”

Mr Thomson said the auction also sent a confusing message to rural communities, from which poachers were often recruited, that while it was illegal for their communities to profit from rhinos, wealthy speculators and breeders could get richer from trading in endangered species. In a country with huge socio-economic issues, this merely adds more cause for concern.