UK seals deal over rhino horn trade

Britain has secured international agreement to clamp down on the illegal trade of rhino horn, which has become so sought after it is now worth more than diamonds, gold, heroin and cocaine.

The UK will lead a global steering group to dispel the myths that rhino horn can cure cancer or help with strokes, which are fuelling demand for it in Asia so much that it is now worth £50,000 a kilo.

Countries and conservation groups across the world will also work together by sharing intelligence, policing tactics and public awareness campaigns against the illegal trade.

The agreement was reached at the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva.

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."

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.

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

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 powdered 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.