defra logo
Start of content

New rules make it illegal to trade mounted rhino horns in the UK

Release date: Friday 18 February 2011 at 10:00

New European Commission guidance implemented by Animal Health’s Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS) has made it illegal to sell mounted, but otherwise unaltered, rhino horns in the UK.

European regulations allow for the sale of rhino horn provided specimens meet the derogation (known as the ‘antiques’ derogation) that they are ‘worked items’ prepared and acquired in such condition prior to June 1947 and unaltered since then.

Until recently, mounted rhino horns in their natural state were considered to be ‘worked items’, meaning they could be legally traded. Now, however, it will be illegal to sell a mounted rhino horn unless it has been sufficiently and obviously altered to qualify under the ‘antiques’ derogation.

“The new EC guidance has been put into immediate effect and we will no longer give approval for the sale of mounted, but otherwise unaltered, rhino horn under the antiques derogation,” said John Hounslow, the head of the WLRS.

“Neither will we allow sales of rhino horn to take place where the artistic nature of any alteration is not obvious.”

In future, mounted rhino horns will be considered to be ‘unworked’.

Given that all ‘unworked’ specimens of rhino horn are already banned from sale in the UK, it will no longer be possible to offer mounted rhino horns for legal sale.

In respect of exporting such items, Animal Health would also be unlikely to grant a CITES re-export certificate under the export restrictions brought into force in the UK in September 2010.


1. The newly implemented EC guidance states that a rhino horn mounted on a plaque, shield or other type of base has not been sufficiently altered from its natural state to be included in the derogation for ‘worked’ specimens in Article 2(w) of the EC Regulations (the ‘antiques derogation’). The EC also advises that the conditions in Article 2(w) 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.

2. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 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.

3. All species of rhinoceros (except certain populations of southern white rhino) are listed on Appendix I of CITES / Annex A of the EC Regulations implementing CITES in the EU, affording rhinos the highest level of protection. Poaching is one of the main threats for the survival of the species.

4. Animal Health introduced restrictions on exports of rhino horn in September 2010 (see, refusing to grant applications unless they met 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.

5. Animal Health is an executive agency of Defra.

A large part of the agency’s work involves minimising the risk and impact of notifiable animal diseases for the protection of the economy and public health. In this capacity, it works on behalf of Defra, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Scottish Government and the Food Standards Agency. Animal Health also encompasses the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS).

WLRS is responsible for regulating the trade in endangered species. It is the UK’s Management Authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and comprises over 70 wildlife inspectors who work across the country undertaking compliance inspections and supporting law enforcement agencies in wildlife crime investigations.

phone Media enquiries: 01905 765 214
Web News releases are available on our website:
twitter Follow us on Twitter:
Page last modified: 25 February, 2011