Press release

Days are numbered for criminals illegally trading rhino horn

The temporary suspension of trade in 'artistic items' will mean nearly all future applications for the export of rhino horn will be refused.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Ongoing pressure from the UK for tougher controls to tackle the illegal trade in rhino horn has proved successful, as the European Commission announced further restrictions on the export of rhino horn across the EU today.

The temporary suspension of trade in ‘artistic items’ will mean nearly all future applications for the export of rhino horn will be refused. Licenses will only be granted if buyers and sellers meet stringent criteria.  We do not expect the suspension to be lifted until it is successful in reducing poaching and demand.   

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:

“These magnificent animals are on the brink of extinction, suffering horrific deaths at the hands of greedy poachers.  We’ve been pushing for firmer restrictions to put an end to this cruel trade in the UK, and so I am really pleased to see this important step being taken. 

“But of course our efforts will not stop there. We will continue to lead the way internationally to ensure the rhino has a chance of survival.”  

Evidence suggests that criminal groups are targeting rhino horns in all their forms, including ‘artistic items’, such as carved ivory, and re-selling it on the black market. 

In September 2010, following a surge in the number and value of horns being exported from the UK, Defra increased restrictions on their sale.  Since then, the UK has been working with the European Union to ensure that all Member States take the same approach.

From today, all applications to re-export products made from rhino horn will no longer be granted unless they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • The item is part of a genuine exchange between reputable institutions (i.e. museums);
  • The item is an heirloom moving as part of a family relocation; or
  • The item is part of a bone fide research project.

Three out of the five species of rhinoceros are critically endangered, with only around 28,000 remaining in the wild.  The UK will continue to work with countries where rhinos are poached and countries where their horns are sold, on enforcement and educational measures and look at ways to improve cooperation.


The revised guidance can be found on the European Commission’s website

The European Union plan to review this Guidance at the end of the year.

All species of rhinoceros (except certain populations of southern white rhino) are listed on Appendix I of CITES and 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 to the survival of the species.

The UK is chairing a rhino working group to discuss and identify measures that could be taken by CITES Parties to reduce the impact of illegal trade on the conservation of rhinoceroses and to enhance existing controls on trade in rhinoceros horn products.

Published 12 March 2012