John Hume is a South African rhino farmer. He owns more rhinos than anyone else in the world—around 1,160. At his farm in Klerksdorp, about 100 miles southeast of Johannesburg, he has a vet who works year-round dehorning them. That’s allowed him to build up a four-ton stockpile of horn, which is more valuable than gold.
South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhinos. Poaching has grown substantially, from 13 rhinos in 2007 to 1,175 last year. It was a slight drop from 2014, but still an “unacceptable” number, according to conservationists.
Trading rhino horn across international borders has been banned since 1977, but it remained legal within South Africa until 2009. A spike in rhino horn poaching to meet demand from Asia (mainly Vietnam, where a politician claimed rhino horn cured his cancer) encouraged the environment ministry to pass the ban.
But that meant rhino farmers like Hume, who in part made their living from the rhino horn trade in South Africa, suddenly saw the value of their product drop to zero. They couldn’t sell horn anymore. So they sued the government. And in December 2015, a court overturned the ban.
The trade in rhino horn isn’t legal in South Africa just yet—the ban is staying in place while the government appeals. But only yesterday, a court ruled against the government. Still, the government gets a second chance at filing an appeal, which the minister of the environment says will happen soon.
National Geographic photographer David Chancellor got an inside look at Hume’s farm.
[UPDATE: On April 5, 2017, South Africa's Constitutional Court rejected the government's application to appeal, exhausting the government's appeal options. The domestic trade will be legalized. Read more here.]
This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to email@example.com.