Proposed changes to South Africa’s regulations on the trade in rhino horn were a slap in the face to rangers, police, soldiers and anti-poaching units putting their lives on the line to protect rhinos, Veterans For Wildlife CEO Wesley Thomson said today.

The new regulations, flagged by South Africa’s environment minister Edna Molewa in the government gazette this month, would allow the domestic trade in rhino horn and for locals and foreigners to export two horns per person at a time.

“This is a betrayal of the men and women in the field at a time when their hard work in protecting rhinos and stopping poachers has started to pay off,” Mr Thomson said.

“Further, the minister’s proposals send confusing and dangerous mixed messages to the countries where rhino horn is consumed, most notably Vietnam.

“On one hand we’re saying killing rhinos is illegal and on the other the minister is going to line the profits of a few high-net-worth individuals in South Africa and the far east by allowing the trade and export of rhino horn.”

Veterans For Wildlife is a non-governmental organisation which pairs experienced military veterans from overseas with local anti-poaching forces in training, mentoring and support roles. 

South Africa has seen a decrease in the number of rhinos killed in recent years and an increase in the tally of poachers who have been arrested or killed. 

“South Africans are fighting a war to save the rhino and at the same time their own government is, literally, going behind their backs and selling them out.  This is disgraceful,” Mr Thomson said.

Mr Thomson said the proposed regulations were a strategic blunder in the overall fight to save the rhino. 

“Modern warfare relies on strategic communication aimed at influencing people’s minds, as well as guns and bullets,” Mr Thomson said.

“What the South African government should be doing is helping countries which consume rhino horn to convince users to change their behaviour through targeted advertising, public relations and education campaigns.

“These new regulations send a clear message that it is OK to use rhino horn, so the poaching of rhinos may as well continue.”