Australia on rhino horn sales route

The Age | March 3, 2013

HORNS of the endangered black rhino are for sale at Australian auction houses – and European police have named Australia as a key destination in the international black market.

At least 32 rhinoceros horns and horn carvings have been offered for sale in Australia in the past three years – and many of them exceeded their maximum estimated value by hundreds of thousands of dollars with auction houses reporting a jump in demand.

Under Australian law, it is illegal to import or export rhino horns without a certificate issued by the government in Australia or overseas that shows the horns were acquired before 1975.

But as rhinoceros numbers dwindle – in a paper published in Science last week, two Australian researchers forecast that wild rhinos could become extinct within two decades – wildlife groups have called for a ban on all sales, saying they fuel appetite and the risks of poached horns being disguised as ”antique” are too great.

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Humane Society campaigner Michael Kennedy said: ”Smugglers are very smart people and a lot of the time in Africa and Asia those [antique] certificates are forged. Corruption reaches every level in some African countries. These things are not hard to achieve. It is part of the game that international crime plays when it comes to this highly valuable commodity.”

European Union authorities, in a presentation on the international wildlife protection treaty in 2012, highlighted the ”road to Australia” as a key avenue for the rhino horn trade, with figures showing a dramatic increase in re-export applications since 2008 to China, Hong Kong and Australia.

The material said: ”In 2010 a Chinese buyer made 11 separate applications to re-export mounted rhino horns from the UK to Australia”, in a case that was ”instrumental in alerting [the] UK to increasing magnitude and trends of rhino horn trade”.

It said a significant increase in demand for rhino horn had resulted in a rise in illegal killings.

A record number of rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa last year, National Geographic reports, with more than 600 killed in 2012 compared to about 15 recorded in 2007.

An Australian father and son were arrested in Portugal in late 2011 attempting to smuggle six rhino horns to Ireland and Europol has noted that a notorious Irish ”traveller” gang called the Rathkeale Rovers is believed to have horn-smuggling links here.

The Australian Department of Sustainability has confirmed it is monitoring several ”persons of interest”, is working with overseas enforcement agencies to examine reported Australian links to international trafficking and has seized 16 horns since 2010. Assistant secretary of wildlife Deb Callister said trafficking was ”something people should be aware of”, but she said she did not believe Australia was a major part of rhino horn trafficking.

Damien Mander is an Australian commando who, after fighting with a private security company in Iraq, has turned his sniper skills against rhino poachers in Africa through what he calls a ”military approach to conservation”. He believes the trade for the horns is so rapacious that it cannot be stopped, saying mostly Asian consumers are ”crushing it up and snorting it at parties, they are taking it as a hangover cure”.

”What it says to people around the table is that ‘hey, I’m crushing up something worth $75,000 and putting it up my nose’. It’s a status thing.”

He said bans on acquiring new rhino horns were driving up prices and said horns should be harvested from live rhinos with the proceeds to benefit conservation.

British and European regulations ban the trade in unworked rhino horns. The then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in November last year that buying products from endangered animals should be ”unacceptable, socially unacceptable”.

Sydney auction house Theodore Bruce sold seven rhino horns, all labelled antique, for a total of more than $620,000 in 2011 – more than double their estimated value.

Leonard Joel, Mossgreen and Sotheby’s auction houses in Melbourne have advertised numerous rhinoceros horns and Chinese ceremonial cups carved from the horn.

Mossgreen sold an ”extraordinary large and rare” white rhino horn in June 2011 for $207,400. It also has sold at least four carved rhino horn cups since the beginning of 2011. Sotheby’s has sold four carved horn cups in that time.

 

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About endoftheicons

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

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