Rhinos could be extinct within the next 25 years if they are not protected, an environmental affairs rhino issue manager said on Thursday.
"At the rate at which these animals are being slaughtered, over the past 20 years or so — if that continued there would be no rhino to talk about in another 25 years or so," Mavuso Msimang told reporters in Johannesburg.
"The rate at which they are born currently is higher than the rate at which they are taken out, for now. They are not about to be extinct, not next year or shortly... But how do we contain this to have natural growth rates?"
Msimang was addressing reporters at the Johannesburg Country Club on the consultative dialogues the department of environmental affairs has had with various parties in the rhino industry.
He said the purpose of the dialogue would be to report back to government and make various recommendations in order to save the rhino.
South Africa had a responsibility to conserve and protect rhino because it had the biggest rhino population in the world. The rhino was also one of the "big five".
Msimang said there had been serious consultations which he hoped, at the end of all the discussions, would influence policy.
"Government is serious in seeking solutions," he said.
The issuing of permits, legalising trade, technology, intelligence and safety and security were among topics discussed.
"Security has to be priority number one... Security must be beefed up and it must be treated in a very sophisticated manner," he said.
"You require a combination of activities to save rhino... that includes good conservation strategies."
Msimang said the arguments for and against trade also raised important issues including the estimation of the demand for rhino horn.
"If it could be established that trading is going to increase security for the rhino, it is going to encourage propagation of the rhino species — if it could — I would find it difficult to recommend against it."
Msimang said the trade and ownership of rhino horns was a fad internationally.
"The use of a horn is a symbol of wealth.
"As long as you have people who have money to dispose of and as long as South Africa produces rhino and is unable to protect them — the threat to the population will continue," he said.
Msimang said the consultations continued and would formally end in September.
This year 339 rhino had been killed in South Africa, the department said on Wednesday.