Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
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Animal Health to Prevent Export of Rhino Horn from UK

Animal Health will refuse nearly all future applications for the export of rhinoceros horn after the agency detected a worrying increase in the number of horn products being sold through UK auction houses.

Evidence suggests rhino horn and horn products are being imported from across Europe for re-sale in the UK, a trade driven by the higher prices that can be realised on the UK market. Once sold these products are often re-exported, typically to East Asia where powdered rhino horn is used for medicinal purposes.

Fuelled by fears that the burgeoning UK trade in rhino horn will encourage poachers to trap and kill more wild rhinos, export licenses will only be granted in future if buyers and sellers meet stringent criteria.

Richard Benyon, Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, said:

“I am extremely concerned about the increase in the number of rhinoceros horn products being sold through UK auction houses. We believe this is providing a financial incentive for poachers and encouraging the use of rhinoceros horns in Asian medicine.

“The Government is committed to protecting endangered species, and in order to do this it has become necessary to take steps to refuse future applications for the export of rhinoceros horn.”

John Hounslow, Head of Animal Health’s Wildlife Licensing Team, said:

“There is evidence that comparatively poor examples of taxidermy containing rhino horn have been selling for £40,000 - £50,000 far exceeding their worth as art objects.

“To protect wild rhino populations it is important that future applications for the export of rhinoceros horn, with a small number of notable exceptions, are refused.

“This decision is based on evidence that such applications, if approved, could potentially fuel demand for rhino horn, which may lead directly to an
increase in poaching.”

Animal Health will be contacting all auction houses and major antique trade associations in the UK to highlight the implications of trading rhino horn, and explain why most applications to export such items will be refused.

Animal Health’s parent department, Defra, will make the case with the appropriate EU committee to help ensure that a co-ordinated EU approach to the problem is agreed.  

In future all applications to re-export products made from rhino horn will be examined on a case-by-case basis. Applications will no longer be granted unless they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • The individual item is of such artistic value that it exceeds its potential value on the illegal medicine market.

  • The item is part of a genuine exchange of cultural goods between reputable institutions (i.e. museums).
  • The item has not been sold and is an heirloom moving as part of a family relocation.
  • The item is part of a bona fide research project.


Note to editors:

1. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments that came into force in 1975. Under this agreement the import, export and use for commercial gain of certain species is strictly controlled and requires a CITES permit.

2.  UK application of CITES is implemented via EU Regulations. These allow the sale of the most highly endangered category of wildlife specimens (Annex A) providing they meet the derogation that they are ‘worked items’ prepared and acquired in such condition prior to June 1947. For the UK to subsequently grant a re-export certificate for such specimens the management authority must be satisfied on two main points:

    a. that the specimen was legally introduced into the Community, or was introduced prior to the introduction of the CITES regulations;

    b. there are no other factors relating to the conservation of the relevant species which militate against the issue of a (re)export permit. It would be on this latter point in particular that a presumption against the granting of a re-export permit for rhino horn parts and derivatives would be based.

 3.  Animal Health's Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service is the UK’s CITES Management Authority responsible for regulating the trade in endangered species.

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Page last modified:20 September 2010

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Animal Health is an Executive Agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and also works on behalf of the Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly Government and the Food Standards Agency