RESTRICTIONS surrounding the export of rhino horn from countries within the European Union have been further tightened to include all items, whether or not they have been ‘worked’.
In practice this means that, while it is
still legal to sell rhino horn works of art in the UK, they will no
longer be granted licences to be sent overseas.
The new emergency guidance, issued to CITES
(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)
management authorities by the European Commission, came into effect
on March 12. It will apply until at least the end of 2012, at which
time the controls (that constitute an expression of best practice
rather than a change in the law) will be reviewed.
In its latest and strongest attempt to stem
the illegal medicine trade in China, the Commission now advises
that: "No export or re-export permits are delivered for worked
items of rhino horn, except in cases where it is amply clear that
the permit will be used for legitimate purposes, such as cases
where: the item is part of a genuine exchange of cultural or
artistic goods between reputable institutions (i.e. museums); the
item has not been sold and is an heirloom moving as part of a
family relocation or as part of a bequest; or the item is part of a
bona fide research project."
In each case the UK's Wildlife Licensing and
Registration Service (WLRS) say they will now require all
applications to be supported by detailed information, with the
burden of proof for demonstrating the legitimacy of a transaction
resting wholly with the applicant.
Importantly the WLRS say that, regardless of
merit, they will now refuse any application to export rhino horn
objects to mainland China*.
It will still be legal to sell a Ming or
Qing dynasty rhino horn libation cup (or an Edwardian big game
trophy or a tribal club) within the UK, providing the authorities
agree prior to sale that an item has been 'worked'. But the
intention is now to exclude buyers from the increasingly affluent
market where such things are most highly prized. It remains to be
seen by how much this will impact prices.
The Commission are keen to close a number of
loopholes with the new guidelines. Since the UK and Germany adopted
a strict reading of Union legislation on trade in rhino horn in
September/October 2010 and February 2011, the authorities have seen
the problem move to other, less assiduous, parts of the Union.
They now stress the need for a common
approach to be followed by all member states and have recommended
maximum scrutiny in handling applications for intra-EU
The Commission justifies suspending exports
for worked rhino horn under the "precautionary principle" it is
permitted to advise in regards to wildlife policy and the need to
combat organised crime. In parallel to a surge in poaching (448
rhinoceros were illegally killed in South Africa in 2011) there
have been more than 50 rhino horn-related thefts across 13 EU
member states and instances of money laundering, corruption of
officials and smuggling across international borders.
There are indications that one crime group
in particular may be responsible for the majority of illegal
transactions designed to feed the market for powdered rhino horn in
China and Vietnam, where it is used as a remedy for fever-related
illnesses and is purported to have curative properties against
The consensus within CITES is that increased
supply stimulates demand and imperils further the remaining
*On paper, at least, domestic
legislation within the People's Republic prohibits the import of
and internal trade in rhino horns. This measure, implemented by
Chinese authorities in support of initiatives taken by other
countries to minimize illegal trade, includes pre-Convention and
artistic items but does not apply to hunting trophies.
This legislation applies in relation to mainland China, but not
to Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, whose legislation authorises trade
in rhino horns in compliance with CITES rules.