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Experts on the subject have told ATG that guidelines from the European Union have made the situation yet more complicated and are undermining efforts to clarify the issue.

The international CITES convention, which applies in the UK, means that items containing materials such as ivory or tiger skin can only be traded without a licence if they date back further than 60 years. The regulations state further that certain specimens “worked” prior to 1947 also require no sales licence.

This means that highly-prized Imperial Chinese rhino horn libation cups can be traded legitimately since they were hand carved well before the proscribed date. However, mounted horns pose more of a problem because it is less clear whether or not they have been “worked”.

The CITES guidelines are embodied in the European Commission’s regulations and member states can voluntarily strengthen the existing regulations if they so wish. The UK have chosen to do so with regard to rhino horn and elephant tusk but permit the trade in certain items to continue on a case-by-case basis.

Kim McDonald, former chairman of the Guild of Taxidermists, who continues to advise them on legal issues, told ATG: “The guidelines for this at the moment are open to pure interpretation. The definition of ‘worked’ appears to mean when something has been changed from its raw natural state. As such, grey areas present themselves regularly.”

Mounted rhino horns tend to generate strong demand when they appear on the market. West country auctioneers Greenslade Taylor Hunt, for instance, sold a Rowland Ward rhinoceros horn mounted on a shield for £14,500 on April 12. Tennants also offered a Rowland Ward rhino horn on March 30 which was knocked down at £9000.

Tennants specialist-in-charge Adam Schoon told ATG that he receives about one rhino horn every month at the North Yorkshire saleroom.

He said he believed the mounted horn could be deemed to be “worked” because of a flap of skin uniting the upper and lower horn. This means it can be classified as taxidermy, just as tiger skin rugs with mounted heads (which often have glass eyes as well) can also be deemed as “worked”.

However, when Kim McDonald contacted DEFRA regarding a c.1920 Rhino horn with surrounded skin mounted on a shield, he was told that this was not considered to be a “worked” item and so could not be sold.

In a similar case regarding a disarticulated tiger skeleton by Van Ingren, Mr McDonald was told it was also deemed as unworked and thus could not be sold.

He added: “We will have to wait until these interpretations are challenged in a court of law before we can come up with a definitive answer.”

Kim McDonald will soon be making details on all aspects of taxidermy and the regulations governing the trade available at www.taxidermylaw.co.uk.