THE ban on selling rhino horn trophies, scheduled for introduction over the next couple of months, has been brought into force with immediate effect.
The announcement was made on Friday, as ATG went to press.
A call to Animal Health's Wildlife Licensing and Registration
Service (WLRS) confirmed that auctioneers with the correct CITES
permissions who were advertising mounted trophies could go ahead
with their adverts and sales provided those adverts had already
gone to press. Thereafter, the ban would be total.
The sudden ban came after the WLRS decided to act immediately on
European Commission guidance changing the definition of what
constitutes a work of art in relation to rhinoceros horn. It brings
to an end the lucrative legitimate trade that saw some specimens
sell at auction for over £100,000.
European regulations have long allowed the sale of rhino horn
only when specimens are 'worked items' prepared and acquired in
such condition prior to June 1947. Until recently, mounted rhino
horns in their natural state were considered to be 'worked' meaning
they could be legally traded.
The new EC guidance is that "a rhino horn mounted on a plaque,
shield or other type of base has not been sufficiently altered from
its natural state" to qualify under the 'antiques' derogation.
It also advises that "the conditions which require any
alteration to have been carried out for "jewellery, adornment, art,
utility, or musical instruments" will not have been met where the
artistic nature of any such alteration (such as significant
carving, engraving, insertion or attachment of artistic or utility
objects, etc) is not obvious".
WLRS chief John Hounslow said: "The new EC guidance has been put
into practice and we will no longer give approval for the sale of
mounted, but otherwise unaltered, rhino horn under the antiques
derogation. Neither will we allow sales of rhino horn to take place
where the artistic nature of any alteration is not obvious."
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 law has changed only in
relation to rhino horn and will not affect antiques fashioned from
other endangered species, such as elephant ivory or
The new guidance reverses a ruling made two years ago that
deemed rhino horn trophies permissible as works of art. Vendors
responded positively to a raft of conspicuously high prices paid by
Far Eastern bidders, but circumstantial evidence suggested that the
horns were being bought as a raw material by the Chinese medicine
trade where the price of powdered rhino horn is (according to one
recent report) now $50,000 a kilo.
It was the surge of rhino horn sales to Far Eastern buyers at
both UK and continental auctions that has encouraged the European
Commission to look again at the issue. Specimens such as that sold
by Tennants of Leyburn last year for a record £155,000 now have no
legal commercial value in the UK.
By Roland Arkell