South Africa is investigating dehorning its rhino population and stopping legal trophy hunts to fight a poaching crisis that has killed 279 animals this year, the environment minister said Monday.
Officials are considering putting a moratorium on rhino hunting to deal with abuses in the allocation of permits, which were issued to around 130 people last year and some 140 this year, Edna Molewa told reporters.
"Illegal hunting and abuse of (the) permit system may be the main threats that could impact on the survival of rhinos in the wild in the near future," the minister said.
The ministry has also commissioned a study to look at the possibility of removing rhinos' horns, a measure believed to deter poachers selling to the lucrative Asian blackmarket.
"We haven't said that we are going to dehorn. The dehorning possibility impact study has been initiated and will be concluded in the next three months," said Molewa.
South Africa allows the hunting of white rhinos, which number around 18,800, and allocates five permits for the critically endangered black rhino per year.
Legal hunts drew 49 million rands ($6.9 million, 4.8 million euros) in revenue in 2009, said Molewa.
To address permitting abuse, officials are already planning to require hunt supervision by provincial officials and the collection of post-kill DNA samples.
"If there is still a problem and if we are still seeing something wrong in the system, this is the only time which will lead to that moratorium," said Molewa.
"We are saying that we will do everything in our power to deal with this scourge of rhino poaching."
She said the ministry is also commissioning a study into the viability of legalising the trade in rhino horn, which is internationally banned.
Poaching wiped out 333 rhinos last year in South Africa, up from 13 in 2007.