John Hume, a South African who runs the world’s largest rhino farm, is selling his stockpile of rhino horns. Starting from today, Hume is selling about 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of horns in an online auction. He plans to hold another sale in September.
The move may be a step back for South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s rhinos. Poaching of the animals there has decreased as a result of local authorities stepping up arrests.
All international trade of rhino horns has been banned since the 1970s, under the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A healthy black market still exists, with the horns ending up mostly in Vietnam and China, where they can sell for as much as $95,000 a kilogram to be used in medicine or as decoration. (Rhino horns are made mostly of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails, and have not been proven to have any medicinal benefits.)
In April, South Africa lifted a ban on domestic sales of rhino horns, provided that both buyers and sellers hold permits and the horns remain in the country. Traders like Hume argue that a legal trade of rhino horns would drive down prices and reduce poaching. Critics say that demand for rhino horns in South Africa itself is low and the legally sold horns will likely be trafficked to Asia. While Hume’s sale is only for South African residents, the website for the auction includes both a Vietnamese and a Chinese version.