By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Swaziland has submitted a proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell its rhino horn stocks to help pay for anti-poaching efforts, according to a copy of the submission obtained by Reuters.
Swaziland's bid is a surprise after neighboring South Africa, which will host the next major CITES conference in September, decided not to push to loosen a global ban in trade in rhino horn in force since 1977.
It also comes against the backdrop of a surge in poaching of rhinos for the animal's horn, which is coveted in Vietnam and other Asian countries as an ingredient in traditional medicine. A record 1,305 rhinos were illegally killed in Africa last year.
African leaders and environmentalists were meeting in Kenya on Friday to dnL5N17W47Biscuss ways of combating elephant and rhino poaching.
For Swaziland's proposal to succeed, it will need to get two-thirds of the countries attending the September meeting to support it - a difficult task as the issue is a red-button one that sharply divides conservationists.
Opponents of opening up the trade argue it could lead to more poaching by criminal gangs seeking to launder "dirty" horns in clean markets.
Supporters of a regulated trade say it could stem poaching by bringing licit supplies directly to the source of demand. Currently that can only be met illegally.
The Swazi proposal seeks "a limited and regulated trade in white rhino horn which has been collected in the past from natural deaths, or recovered from poached Swazi rhino."
It also wants to sell horn "harvested in a non-lethal way from a limited number of white rhino in the future in Swaziland." Rhino horn grows back after it is cut off and the animals can be darted for such operations.
"This proposal is for Swaziland to sell existing stocks of some 330 kg (700 pounds) to a small number of licensed retailers in the Far East ... The proceeds from the sale of stocks will raise approximately $9.9 million at a wholesale price of
$30,000 per kg," the submission says.
Swaziland also wants to sell 20 kgs on an annual basis of horn harvested from live rhinos. Funds raise will be used to help boost security in the parks where its population of 73 rhino reside, the submission says.
"Proceeds will also be used to fund much needed additional infrastructure and equipment, and to cover supplementary food during periods of drought. Swaziland is currently enduring the worst drought in living memory," the submission says.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)