PRETORIA - Legalising the rhino horn trade would legitimise criminal activity, according to wildlife experts attending the Risk Assessment of Rhino Horn Trade conference in Pretoria.
The latest statistics show that more than 250 rhino have been poached in South Africa since the beginning of the year.
Experts say legalising the trade would be impossible to control, and could hasten the animal’s demise.
"Effectively what you're doing is legitimising the criminal acts and the criminals will be the same people who are the traders in illegal trade. So it seems, just because you're struggling to enforce a system and you feel that you can't, that to then make it legal," said Environmental Investigation Agency's Mary Rice.
Rhino horn sells for hundreds of thousands of rand on the black market.
"The illegal market might be enforced, demand might grow and you might also have other sorts of effects, like market development, product differentiation... especially the illegal suppliers are highly flexible, highly resilient criminal organisations and it's very likely that they will find their way into the market," said independent economist Francisco Aguayo.
Conference speakers believe enforcement is needed in the space occupied by middlemen and syndicates.
Meanwhile, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa was unable to attend the talks. The department said there are adequate channels available for engagement, and the minister's absence is not an indication of the department's position on rhino horn trade.