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South African law allows the export of rhino horn without an import permit, and South African authorities have routinely granted export permits for rhino without requiring a corresponding document from the receiving nation.  To demand an import permit would be a violation of South African law.

An Import Permit is Not Required for an Export Permit to be Issued

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To be clear, South African law does require an import permit as a prerequisite to the issuance of an export permit when CITES Appendix I specimens like rhino horn are the objects considered.  Except when it doesn't. And there are a lot of situations in which it doesn't. 


One such situation is when the specimen comes from a captive breeding operation - a designation for which the majority of rhino alive in South Africa today would qualify, under both South African law and CITES rules.

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Let's start with CITES.  The key principle is shown here, in Resolution 12.10 - the same resolution that is so often cited incorrectly by those who mistakenly contend that registration of South Africa's rhino breeding operations with the CITES Secretariat is required prior to trade in horns commencing.  (For more on why that is incorrect, click here.)

The key portion of this resolution is highlihghted in blue, and reads,

"... in accordance with Article VII, paragraph 5, the import of specimens of Appendix-I species bred in captivity not for commercial purposes that are covered by a certificate of captive breeding does not require the issuance of an import  

permit and may therefore be authorized whether or not the purpose is commercial."

There is so much of value in this one paragraph that we must break down each of the four elements separately.

First, it  highlights the hugely important category of breeding operations recognized in CITES Article VII, paragraph 5 -- captive breeding operations breeding for non-commercial purposes aimed primarily at conservation.  This is important because this is the designation that applies to the private reserves in South Africa engaged in rhino conservation.

Second, it is clear that such captive breeding operations require nothing more than a certificate attesting to the nature of their operations.  At least four private reserves in South Africa have already obtained such

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certificates, and one such document is shown here.  Note the clear language recognizing its orientation for "non-commercial purposes."

issuance of an import permit."

The fourth element, and perhaps most important information found in this one incredible paragraph, is its clarification that even the product of captive breeding operations whose orientation is non-commercial may still be exported when, "the purpose IS commercial." 

Third, Resolution 12.10 is explicitly clear that any importation done with specimens from one of these qualifying operations, "does not require the

My children tell me this is when one does a mic drop, so....


Every once in a while, somebody opposed to trade tries to argue that South African law diverges from the CITES rules in ways that limit the rights of South African reserves to trade internationally.  Lest someone try that here, let's consider this email from the South African national CITES Management Authority.  Note his instruction to, "apply for the export permit first as it's [sic] a legal requirement".

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This was not unusual advice.  Indeed, it is standard practice in South Africa, whenever dealing with Appendix-I specimens whose captive-bred origins result in Appendix-II rules applying, that an export permit is ALWAYS granted without requiring an import permit.

Anyone who doubts the veracity of that statement is advised to consider the collection of export permits shown here.  All are for rhino to be exported.  All were issued without import permits having been granted.

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South African rules and practices are clear: No import permit is required prior to issuance of an export permit whenever the specimen's origin is a captive breeding facility.

This is as true for rhino horn as it is for any other specimen.

Captive breeding is not the only situation in which an import permit is not required.  South African regulations also allow for the waiver of that requirement whenever the export of the horn is for "Personal" purposes.  This is applicable whenever a non-citizen obtains horn legally in South Africa and wishes to move it out of the Republic. Note the specific language requires an import permit, "or a letter from such Management Authority,


confirming that it will issue the import permit."

Even when the material is NOT from a captive breeding facility, an import permit is not a requirement for the issuance of an export permit.

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