Aug 22

The UK has secured an international agreement to clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is now in such high demand that it is being sold for more than diamonds, gold and cocaine.

Photo of southern white rhinoceros eating grass

Southern white rhinoceros

“Conservation crisis”

With myths about its medicinal properties fuelling high demand in Asia, rhino horn is now worth over £50,000, or $82,400, a kilo. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of rhinos killed for their horns in countries such as South Africa, in what conservationists have called a “poaching crisis”.

The new agreement, reached at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva, will involve countries and conservation groups sharing policing techniques and working on awareness campaigns. The UK will also lead global talks to fight the myths about the medicinal properties of rhino horn.

Photo of confiscated black rhinoceros' horns

Confiscated black rhinoceros horns

The UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, described the illegal trade in rhino horns as “cruel and archaic”.

Criminals trading in rhino horn have lined their pockets while bringing this magnificent animal to the brink of extinction, but their days are now numbered,” she said.

We will be leading global action to clamp down on this cruel and archaic trade, and to dispel the myths peddled to vulnerable people that drive demand for rhino products.”

Photo of mutilated Indian rhinoceros

Mutilated Indian rhinoceros with its horn removed

Tighter export rules

Last year, after detecting a rise in the number of rhino horn products being sold through auction houses in Britain, the UK’s Animal Health agency warned that it would be refusing almost all applications to export rhino horn items.

The tighter rules come amid fears that the legal export of “worked items”, created and acquired before 1947, is being used to send rhino horn to Asia to be powdered down and used in the medicine trade. This could further increase the demand for illegally poached horns.

Under the new rules, export licences for rhino horn products will only be granted under special circumstances.

Photo of black rhinoceros feeding

Black rhinoceros feeding

As part of the clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horns, the UK will also be supporting a workshop in South Africa in September, to help develop better co-operation between countries where rhinos are poached and the countries where the horns are sold.

Read the BBC News story – UK to lead international rhino horn clampdown.

View photos and videos of rhinoceros species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author