SA rhino baron’s online horn auction gets under way

23 August 2017 - 18:43
By Tony Carnie
File photo.

The world’s first online rhino horn auction by South Africa rhino baron John Hume has kicked off‚ with no public indication of the prices that bidders have offered so far.

The 72-hour long global electronic auction‚ conducted by Pretoria-based Van’s Auctioneers‚ began at 2pm on Wednesday‚ after a series of court battles involving Hume and national Environment Minister Edna Molewa.

While Hume asserts that selling horns “openly” will help to curb illegal poaching‚ opponents fear that the sale of an initial 264 horns on the domestic market will undermine rhino conservation‚ inflate consumer demand and open new loopholes for horns to be smuggled to the primary markets in China and Vietnam.

Animal welfare advocates have also posted photographs on Facebook depicting Hume’s herd of 1‚500 rhinos as dairy cattle‚ arguing that one of the world’s most iconic wildlife species should not be commodified.

While end of supply chain black-market prices as high as US$60‚000 per kg have previously been quoted by wildlife crime investigators‚ observers think it unlikely that Hume’s auction will attract prices close to this level.

Although the names and other identity details of the registered bidders are known to auctioneers‚ the sale is being conducted out of the public realm and the main auction website is open only to registered bidders who are required to pay a R100‚000 refundable deposit.

Pelham Jones‚ head of the Private Rhino Owners Association that is pushing to scrap the 40-year old ban on international horn trading‚ confirmed late on Wednesday that the auction was under way.

“All I can say at this stage is that we have a good number of registered buyers‚ all of whom have had to provide us with their CVs and FICA (Financial Intelligence Centre) compliance. If any of the buyers are found to be in violation of the relevant environmental legislation they will be disqualified.”

Jones said the national Department of Environmental Affairs‚ along with the National Prosecuting Authority and SA Police Service‚ would scrutinise the profile of bidders who applied for permits to buy horns domestically.

Reacting to suggestions that proxy buyers could mask the identity of foreign buyers‚ Jones said: “There is a name and other details provided by the buyer‚ so if they are acting on behalf of a criminal boss‚ the permit holder remains ultimately accountable.”

The horns had been packaged into a variety of lots “so that there is something for everybody”.

For example‚ some lots consisted of larger horns for ornamental purposes with others comprising smaller horns more suitable for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine or for carving into libation cups.

Buyers were able to view digital images of each lot‚ along with the total weight in kilograms.

Following an urgent High Court application on Sunday‚ Hume was issued with a permit to sell the 264 horns domestically‚ though Molewa reiterated in a statement this week that none of the horns could be traded internationally.

She also said a precondition of sale was that officials in her department be granted access to the auction for monitoring purposes.

The department did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday on the progress of the auction or monitoring process.

While the current sale involves about 500kg of horn‚ Hume says he has a stockpile of 6‚000kg of horn in a secure holding facility – derived from natural deaths or from “trimming” horns from his animals under sedation.