Marking an unprecedented moment in the world of rhino conservation – South Africa's Competition Commission approved the largest private rhino conservation transaction in history on 05 September 2023. When this approval became public knowledge, South Africa's Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy hailed the transaction as a conservation success and congratulated the parties involved. 

John Hume, an entrepreneur who made his fortune in the time-share property sector, will hand over the reins of his Platinum Rhino Conservation Project, home to around 2,000 Southern White Rhinos, and including nearly 80 square km of agricultural land, to the new owners, a prominent non-profit entity dedicated to conservation. 

This monumental sale is not just a business transaction – it represents the end of an era for Hume whose unwavering passion for these magnificent creatures, saw him investing an astonishing USD 150 million of his personal wealth towards their preservation. His efforts were unparalleled in the conservation arena. Unlike any other large rhino conservation project in Africa, Hume achieved a remarkable record of zero losses to poaching in a period of more than six years while at the same time achieving the birth, through natural, non-selective breeding, of more than 150 healthy rhino calves, annually. 

In negotiating and concluding this transaction, the legal experts from both Barnard and the purchaser emerged as more than just legal representatives – they shared an intrinsic passion for conservation, mirroring the fervour of their respective clients. Project Lead for Barnard, Izak du Toit has acted as John Hume's counsel for around fifteen years and is an expert in environmental law. Du Toit and his colleagues, Conri Botha and Derek Brits combined their expertise in M&A, environmental law, property law and conveyancing to assist Hume's Platinum Rhino Conservation Project in this massive task. 

In the controversial world of conservation, every move counts. Debate about the ideal model for rhino conservation has raged for many years. Philosophies around how to “Save the Rhino” in Africa have been the subject of polarised public debate for decades. John Hume's initial vision for the Platinum Rhino Conservation Project was to shield rhinos from poachers while boosting their numbers through breeding, but this endeavour faced massive financial hurdles. His self-funded, hands-on approach – rooted in Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa – harnessed the idea of sustainable use and development for rhino conservation. He courted controversy by lobbying for the well-regulated, legal sale of rhino horn to further finance his project's successes and hopefully negatively impacting the illegal trade. 

Whatever the correct belief and approach to conserving rhino populations may be, there's no denying the alarming decline of white rhinos in Africa. Poaching, habitat loss, and political apathy have converged, casting a dark shadow over rhino conservation efforts.

In picking up where Hume left off, the new owners of the remarkable 7,800-hectare Platinum Rhino Conservation Project plan to reintroduce these magnificent creatures into the wild. It will be a colossal task, but with their track record in managing 22 national parks across 12 African nations, the prospects seem promising.

Barnard congratulates the purchaser and wishes John Hume and his team everything of the best in their next big adventure. 

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