Press release

UK secures international agreement to combat illegal rhino trade

Three out of the five species of rhinoceros are critically endangered.

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

The UK has united the international community to clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horn and fight the archaic myths that fuel the continued demand for rhino horn products.

Britain’s leadership at the latest CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species) in Geneva will mean countries and conservation groups across the world will work together by sharing intelligence, policing tactics and public awareness campaigns against the illegal trade which is now more profitable than drug smuggling.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“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.

“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.”

The UK will lead the new steering group providing the evidence which will dispel unproven beliefs that rhino horn can prevent a range of diseases such as cancer, or help in the treatment of strokes.  The group will also bring in further enforcement measures needed to prevent and control the illegal trade to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

Three out of the five species of rhinoceros are critically endangered. Recent rumours have falsely suggested that that rhino horn can cure cancer and help in the treatment of stokes, fuelling demand around the world to supply markets in Asia.

This has seen an increase in demand and more animals are now being poached and more horns stolen from private collections, museums and auction houses. Rhino horn is now reported to be worth more than £50,000 per kilo - more profitable than diamonds, gold, heroin or cocaine.

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, Britain has been working with the European Union to ensure that all Member States take the same approach.

The UK will also support a workshop in South Africa in September to help develop better cooperation between countries where rhinos are poached and countries where their horns are sold.

Steering group members will include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, USA, UK, South Africa, India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, China, IUCN, WWF, TRAFFIC, SSN and the Safari Club.


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.

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.

Last year in South Africa alone over 330 rhinos were poached out of a global population of 17,000 white rhino and around 4000 black rhino. Around 2000 Indian rhinoceros survive in the wild along with even smaller numbers of Javan and Sumatran rhinoceroses.

Next month’s planned South Africa workshop on the rhino horn trade will also be supported by South Africa, the United States and TRAFFIC International.

Published 20 August 2011