Rhino africa
A rhino that was dehorned by a veterinary surgeon and rangers to prevent poaching is seen at the Kruger national park in Mpumalanga province September 16, 2011. Reuters/Ilya Kachaev

In an attempt to curb the burgeoning illegal trade in rhinoceros horns and prevent poaching, the South African government is considering a controversial proposal to legalize the trade, according to media reports. International trade in rhino horns has been banned since 1977 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

South Africa is home to 83 percent of Africa’s rhinos and 73 percent of all wild rhinos in the world, according to U.K.-based Save the Rhino International. In recent years, a growing demand for rhino horns in Asian countries, mainly China and Vietnam, for their purported medicinal properties, has led to a drastic surge in rhino killings, according to figures released by conservation groups.

“For any proposal to be confidently put on the table for other parties to even support, I think one needs to be clear with the facts,” Rose Masela, a senior official at the Department of Environmental Affairs, or DEA, reportedly said. “There's very little we can do about the belief in the use of rhino horn that exists in other countries. Legalization would be a more medium-term solution.”

According to media reports, supporters of legalization believe that it would bring down the prices of the horns and make the trade less lucrative for poachers. However, many wildlife conservationists and activists disagree.

“There are two lobbies. The government is working with the pro-trade lobby to legalize rhino horn and there's a whole lot of people that simply believe it's not going to work,” Dex Kotze, a South African activist campaigning for rhino conservation, told Agence France-Presse, or AFP.

Kotze told AFP that a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rhino horns sells for $100,000 in Vietnam, which, he reportedly said, is double the price of gold. He added that even if the trade is legalized, demand would still outweigh the supply.

“The massive buildup of wealth in Asian countries is a huge deterrent to making the trade legal...the numbers just do not make business sense from that point of view,” he reportedly said.

Despite implementing several stringent measures to curb poaching, the number of rhinos killed in recent years in South Africa has continued to rise. According to figures released by the DEA, a record 1,004 rhinos were killed last year and so far, in 2014, 996 rhinos have been killed.