Rhino horn trade crackdown sought
Countries are being urged to take steps to crack down on the trade in rhino horn which "has brought a majestic species to its knees" and put it at risk of extinction.
UK officials warned that the sale of rhino horn, which at a reported £50,000 a kilogram is now worth more than gold, diamonds, heroin or cocaine, is being driven in part by a belief that it can cure cancer or reverse the effects of stroke.
The UK government has led the way on proposals submitted by the European Union to a meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES.
The plans call on countries to tighten the regulations on the trade in rhino products, clamp down on illegal sales and raise awareness on the lack of health benefits.
Environment minister Richard Benyon said: "We need to act now if we want the rhino to survive and we need a global effort to ensure the strongest possible restrictions are placed on this archaic, cruel and completely unnecessary trade."
There has been a significant increase in the number of rhino killed in countries such as South Africa since 2010, in what conservationists are warning is a "poaching crisis", along with a rise in demand for rhino horn.
Last September, after the UK's Animal Health agency detected a rise in the number of rhino horn products being sold through auction houses in the country, it issued a warning that it would be refusing almost all applications to export such items from the UK.
It was feared that the legal export of "worked items", such as ornaments, created and acquired before June 1947, was being used to send rhino horn to Asia, where it is powered and used for medicinal purposes. The trade could stimulate the market for products from the endangered animal, fuelling poaching, officials said.
Under rules brought in for the UK and then backed by the EU, export licences are now only granted if the item is of such artistic value it exceeds its potential value on the black market, it is part of a genuine exchange of goods between institutions such as museums, it has not been sold and is being taken as an heirloom by a family moving country or is part of a bona fide research project.
The EU proposal calls for such measures to be implemented in all countries which are part of CITES.