Rhino horn trophies can no longer be traded in the UK.
The European Commission has taken additional steps to crack down on abuse of legal trade loopholes: Effective immediately, it is now illegal to sell antique rhino horn trophies and mounted rhino horns in the UK.
Authorities became suspicious after a surge of buyers from the Far East were found to be paying unprecedented prices for mounted rhino horn, with the intention of exporting the horns and having them manufactured into Traditional Chinese Medicines.
Last year, a buyer from mainland China paid a record £106,000 (USD $164,046) for a mounted rhino horn trophy.
According to the Antiques Trade Gazette, the most recent ban does not apply to antiques that have been “sufficiently and obviously altered”.
Taxidermy rhinoceros heads will be included in the ban, but the trade in antique rhino horn works of art (such as Ming and Qing dynasty libation cups) is unaffected.
The Wildlife Licensing Unit admitted that despite previous efforts made in October 2010 to tighten restrictions around antique rhino horn sales, Chinese buyers had still managed to find a loophole.
Caroline Rigg, office manager at the Wildlife Licensing Unit, conceded that a loophole quickly exploited by Chinese buyers was the derogation that exports of mounted horn were permitted if the item was being moved alongside other personal effects or as part of a family relocation.
Although the EU CITES Management Authority had planned to discuss the total ban on rhino horn trophies on March 22nd, it was decided to act sooner rather than later.
Laundering rhino horn
Legalized trade in endangered species, such as rhino horn, often ends up being used as a smokescreen by dealers and traders who forge paperwork and launder illegal wildlife products. For example, South African trophy hunts have become a common way to launder illegal rhino horn.
Regarding antiques and taxidermy items, rhino horn dealers profit by selling legally acquired products for processing into traditional medicines. Rhino horn is in still high demand for use in traditional medicines in China and Vietnam, despite the fact that rhino horn has been extensively analyzed and actually contains no medicinal properties.
In 2010, CITES warned that antique rhino horn leaking into the illegal market could have serious consequences for the eventual consumer, since the use of arsenic was a common practice in older trophy preparations.
Sources: “New rules make it illegal to trade rhino horns in the UK.” Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 18 February 2011
“Ban on rhino horn comes into force immediately.” Antiques Trade Gazette. 21 February 2011
Photo courtesy of Pam Krzyza