JOHANNESBURG– South Africa’s first-ever online auction of rhino horn kicked off at midday Monday after the Department of Environmental Affairs finally granted the world’s biggest private rhino breeder, John Hume, the necessary permit to proceed.

Bidding was delayed because the Environmental Affairs Department had stalled for months to issue the permit, compelling Hume to approach the courts, lodging an urgent court application and late on Sunday afternoon, the Pretoria High Court ruled in his favour.

This means stockpiled rhino horn can now be sold within South Africa’s borders, for the first time in almost a decade, but certain conditions have to be met before the sale.

Rhinos are a critically endangered species and thousands have been butchered since 2008 for their horns which are worth more than platinum and gold on the black market.

After an 8-year-long moratorium, rhino breeders are now more than ready to make back all they have invested in breeding rhinos and possibly flooding the market with legitimately traded horns, seen by some as a way to off-set the demand in the black market, which has seen rhino poaching spiralling out of control in recent years.

Hume, a private rhino breeder, spoke of the motivation behind the auction. “If I don’t sell rhino horn, in ten years’ time, rhinos out there are all going to be dead. If we threw six tons of rhino horn onto Vietnam every year, how will that increase the poaching in Kruger National Park? I think it will decrease it.

Prospective buyers have until Wednesday afternoon 2 pm to register according to details on the auction website. A buyer has to pay a 100,000 Rand (about 7,600 US dollars) just to register, while other documents such as a buyer’s permit are also required.

Bidding is expected to start on Wednesday, but experts are not as confident that the legal sale of rhino horn will curb poaching.

Professor Melville Saayman of Tourism Research in Economic Environments and Society at North West university says: There are only a few people who are really big players in the market and they will dictate what the price will be. So, we need to be more careful, otherwise we are going to walk straight into the ivory problem and the end result of that … we are still struggling with the same issue. Ivory is still a problem today and rhino horn will be a problem tomorrow if we don’t manage it properly.

The department has indicated that it will not appeal the court’s ruling. Its acting Spokesperson, Moses Rannditsheni, said Monday that one of its conditions for having granted the permit was that the department should have access to the online bidding process, which it would monitor closely.

Furthermore, an electronic database on all individual rhino horns in private and government-owned stockpiles has been developed to prevent smuggling.