TIGER BONES, BEAR BILE, RHINOCEROS HORN AND CHINESE MEDICINE

TIGER PARTS AND CHINESE MEDICINE

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Tiger bone medicine
Almost every part of the tiger is utilized in Chinese medicine. The whiskers are consumed for toothaches and strength; the eyes are taken to reduce convulsions and as treatment for epilepsy, malaria, nervousness and cataracts. Tiger noses are also eaten for epilepsy and convulsions. Tail is taken for various skin diseases. Tiger claws are taken to treat insomnia, to tiger fat, for leprosy and rheumatism.

Modern products include the Nourish the Ovary Defer Decrepitude pills and Only Smart-Brain Liquid. Crushed and powdered tiger bone is mixed in wine and soup. Tiger bone potions are believed to cure rheumatism and arthritis, strengthen muscles and prolong life. Tiger wine is supposed to bring strength, prowess and virility to any man who drinks it.

An adult tiger generally yields about 24 pounds of bones. Tiger bone like all mammal bones are comprised mainly of phosphorous, calcium and iron. There is no scientific proof that tiger bone offers any health benefits. Some samples contain sensation-causing arsenic and mercury to make users think it works. Many medicines that purport to contain tiger bones or parts actually don't.

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Tiger bone wine
Asians also consume the teeth (for rabies, asthma and penis sores), brain (for pimples and laziness), blood (for strength and willpower), skin (for mental illness), flesh (for nausea, malaria and energy), testes (for tuberculosis), stomach (for upset stomachs), bile (convulsions in children), and gallstones (for weak or watery eyes). Even tiger feces are taken as a treatment for boils, hemorrhoids, epilepsy, malaria, and ulcers. No scientific evidence says they work.

A bowl of tiger soup, selling for as much as $320 a bowl in Taiwan, is thought to enhance sexual prowess. Balms and pills with tiger parts are taken as remedies for rat bites, typhoid fever, dysentery, strong teeth, strong will, and to keep centipedes away. Some people eat tiger meat. They say it taste like pork except it is leaner and lighter.

In Taiwan in the 1990s, tiger penises and eyes sold for $1,700. Powdered tiger bones went for $500 a gram. Forelimbs brought in as much as $500 per pound.

Book: Tiger Bone and Rhino Horn, the Destruction of Wildlife for Traditional Chinese Medicine by Richard Ellis (Island Press, 2004)

Tiger Part Pharmacies and Sellers

Tiger parts are sold at Chinese medicine shops in China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chinatowns in North America and Europe. According to Eugene Linden of Time magazine: "tiger bone remedies" are "so ingrained in these cultures that it is not certain their government could control the trade."

Describing a Tibetan medicine man at a market in Guizhou Province of southern China, Patrick Tyler wrote in the New York Times, he "displayed his wares on a red cloth laid on the ground before him. On porcelain saucers lay his herbal delights: red angel hair from a Tibetan flower, yellow sawdust from a medicinal tree. And in the center of it all, the grizzled, amputated right foreleg of a tiger and other equally grizzled parts...Some of the skin had been pulled back from the tiger leg to expose the bone, which the medicine man cuts into wafer-thin slices with a hacksaw.”

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After mixing some tiger slices and herbs for another customer the Tibetan medicine man said, "if you put this in liquor and drink it three times a day, you will have magic power in bed." When the customer demanded a thicker slice, the medicine man asked, "A thicker slice? How many wives do you have that you need a thicker slice." When Tyler confronted the medicine men about the illegal nature of his trade in tiger parts, the medicine man said, "This is a Bangladesh tiger. I didn't shoot it myself. I'm a medicine man?

Tiger farms were banned in China in 1993. In December 2007, a small zoo---the Three Gorges Forest Wild Animal World---in Yichang in Hubei Province was forced to close down after two stillborn Bengal tiger cubs were found in the zoo’s refrigerator a week after a beheaded adult Siberian tiger with its skin and legs missing was reported at the same zoo. A total of seven tigers died at the zoo over a four year period. Three died from starvation in December 2003. Four others died of sickness or fight wounds. The bones and hides of these tigers had been kept and preserved. The deaths however seems to have been more the result of neglect (the zoo had 100 species of animal but only five employees) than deliberate attempt to make money from selling animal parts.

Tiger Parts Market

20080311-7CobraLeuthaiTiger2004-WildAid.jpg Through the 1980s there was not a large demand for tiger parts and the stockpile of tiger parts was enough to meet the demand for traditional Chinese medicine. In the previous years the market was supplied by thousands of Chinese tigers killed as pests and threats to human life. For a while there was an even a glut of tiger bone products.

As of 2008, a set of tiger bones sold for about $7,000. When the stockpiles became exhausted in the 1980s the amount poaching began to dramatically increase and took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s when tigers were poached at a rate of one a day, primarily to supply to supply the Asian tiger medicine and product market.

One of the biggest factors bringing about the sharp decline in the number of tigers has been the rising income in Asians. Many more people in countries like China, Korea, and Taiwan, who couldn’t before, now can afford expensive tiger medicines, which has created more demand and caused prices to rise on the supply end.

These days many Chinese and Koreans have been educated about the costs of the tiger-based medicine but at the same time many more who are not educated about such matters or don't care are getting money to buy tiger-based medicines.

China and the Tiger Bone Trade

Indian officials have blamed Chinese medicine for “fueling tiger poaching” in their country. One reason so many tigers were poached in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that many Chinese could afford tiger-based Chinese medicines as the Chinese economy began to take off.

Between 1990 and 1994, China reportedly exported more than 70 tons of tiger bones from 5,600 tigers (more than the number of tigers that remain in the wild). During the winter of 1993 it was estimated that about one quarter of the population of 400 rare Amur Siberian tigers were killed, and nearly as many were killed in the winter of 1994.

Some people in China have suggested raising tigers in captivity---tiger farming if you will---to supply the traditional medicine market, but conservationist argue that this wouldn't work because there is no way to tell the difference between bones from captive and wild animals.

An estimated 4,000 tigers are being raised in “tiger” farms in China to supply the Chinese medicine trade in violation of international CITES agreement which prohibits such practices.

In December, 2002, one hundred rare Bengal tigers were donated by Thailand to China. There were reports in newspapers that the tigers were going to be raised like cattle for meat. One newspaper reported that a place called “Love World” on Hainan Island planned to offer tiger meats dishes while people watched tigers roaming around. Government officials said there was no truth to the reports.

Ending the Tiger Bone Trade

Countries like China, South Korea and Japan have had success reducing the demand for tiger bones. But although the sale of tiger parts is banned almost everywhere a significant black market continues to exist.

Taiwan and China have banned he sale of rhinoceros horn and tiger bones. A U.N. conference in March 1994, demanded that Taiwan uphold an international ban on tiger parts but backed off on tough measures against China.

Conservationists have worked with Chinese medicine practitioners to find substitutes for tiger-based medicine. One option si to it to substitute the bones of an Asian rodent called the sailong, which is common in China and reportedly offers the same benefits as tiger bone products. Dog bones have also been recommended as a substitute. Experts say that trying convince Chinese medicine users that Chinese medicine is a bunch of superstitious nonsense is a policy hat is doomed to failure considering its popularity and long tradition of use.

Sentiments to save tigers are high among ordinary people. Even among those involved in the illegal tiger trade, A Muslim butcher who was arrested for selling toger parts told the Washington Post: "I am all for the tiger saved. He is king of the jungle, and once he is gone, the forest will go with him. Then we will have nothing.”

Bear Parts and Chinese Medicine

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Bear paws
Bear gallbladder, liver, bile and testicles are prized in Chinese medicine, mostly as aphrodisiacs. A gall bladder can fetch up to $3000. Most bear parts are smuggled into China, Taiwan, and Korea from the United States, Canada and Russia. The Chinese also collect bile from bears in cramped cages with a tube stuck directly into the animal's liver.

Bear meat is valued as sexual-performance and health booster. A bowl of bear paw soup---prized delicacy at restaurants in China, Hong and Taiwan’sometimes sells for hundreds of dollars. Bear paw is supposed to be especially tender from pawing for salt.

South Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese tourist go to restaurants in Thailand where, one environmentalist told AP in the 1990s, "The bear is tortured to death in front of the diners. They say it makes the meat taste better. the coast of the bear banquet is now about 9,000 U.S. dollars."

The Patrons restaurants that serve bear and other endangered animal in Thailand are usually from South Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. In 1996, five South Koreans were arrested in central Thailand with 24 severed paws and six carcasses from two endangered bear species---the Malayan sun bear and Asiatic black bear. The Koreans planed to sell the paws and meat for soup. The suspects faced four jail terms and $1,600 fine. Until the mid 1990s, some Korean restaurants served dished like bear paw soup and braised bear palms.

Conservationists say that efforts to help the bears are mitigated by the fact that black bears that produce most of the bear parts are not as cute as pandas or glamorous at tigers, which get more attention in the world animal rights forum. There is also the widespread belief that bear parts work. A Korean environmentalist told the New York Times, "Koreans are concerned about bears...but at the same time, bear gallbladders are so good for health that people's can't resist using them."

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Bear parts sold on the street in China

Bear Gallbladders and Chinese Medicine

It is estimated that 90 percent of all the gallbladder taken from the world's shrinking population of bears find their way to South Korea. Traditionally bear gallbladders have been used as a treatment for diabetes, stomach and bowel problems, liver diseases and heart problems but over the last few years, they have been promoted as a magical cure-all capable of increasing sexual stamina. Bear gallbladders can sell for up to $45,000 a piece.

Some bears are poached solely for their gallbladders. Bear gallbladders sells for around $1,100 an ounce or $100 a gram at oriental pharmacies. The fist-size organs are hung up to dry, diced, mixed with wine or liquor and ingested. Koreans believe that if a bear is frightened or in pain its gallbladders get bigger and as a result the animal is often tortured or forced to suffer before it is killed.

According to AP reporter David Crary, "Unlike rhinoceros horn, which has a mythical reputation as an aphrodisiac, bear's gall bladders have proven medicinal value. They produce a substance called ursodeoxycholic acid, which is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat intestinal, liver and cardiac-related diseases. Synthetic substitutes are available, but profit margins are much higher for authentic bear gall products."

One Canadian conservationist, originally from Hong Kong, told AP, "In the old way of Chinese thinking, a patient would take a real gall bladder every time. It's a mystique, a way of superstitious thinking. They believe a powerful animal should make a powerful medicine."

Bear Bile and Chinese Medicine

Black bears have their gallbladder bile extracted and crystallized as a futile cure for hangovers and hemorrhoids. Bear bile is regarded as a cure for liver disease, blood disorders, digestive ailments, cancer, fevers, liver problems, sore eyes and other illnesses and is said to be able to rejuvenate dead brain cells. By one count a total of 123 different kinds of Chinese medicines, including eye drops, contain bear bile or powdered bear bile.

Bear bile is amber brown in color. Like bear gall bladders it contains ursodeoxycholic acid, which dissolves human gallstones and is more abundant in bears than any other animal,. Chinese physicians used bile as a treatment for jaundice as early as A.D. 649.

A gram of bile from a bear gall bladder sells for more than a gram of gold or cocaine. Some of the bile is exported to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, where it sells for as much as $1,400 an ounce.

In the late 1990s, there was such an oversupply of bear bile it was added to shampoos, anti-wrinkle creams and even wine. Critics of use of the substance say there are many Asian herbal medicines and Western medicines that can provide the same function.

Bear Bile Farms

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Bear in a bear farm
As many as 10,000 Asiatic black bears were kept in small cages at legal Chinese "bear farms," where drainage tubes and metal catheters have been surgically implanted in their gallbladders to milk gallbladder bile over a period of several months. The bile is dried and made into medicine. A single bear can produce about five pounds of dried bile over a period of several months.

Bile is “milked” with rusty metal catheters permanently implanted through a puncture made in the bear’s gallbladder. The tubes are painful and the cages the bears kept in are so small that the bears can barely move around.

A typical bear farm has 32 bears kept in four rooms in an apartment building. A typical bear is kept in a 60-x-120-x-75centimeter cages. Some are kept in smaller cages that force them to lie spread eagle on the floor. Many of bears have teeth cracked from gnawing on the bars and paws covered with sores. Some are reportedly driven crazy by confinement and have terrible wounds from self-mutilation. Particularly cruel is the practice of leaving a bear in a snare, allowing to storm around and get angry to increase the amount of bile in its gallbladder.

Catheters have been banned in 1996 and replaced by the more humane, state-approved “free drip” method to drain bile straight from the bears’s gallbladder.

According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, about 7,000 kilograms of bear bile and 14,000 gallbladders collected from dead bears is produced annually by Chinese bear farms. Of this about 4,000 kilograms is consumed domestically. The remainder is transformed into crystalized powder and exported to other Asian countries or places where Asians live.

Opening and Closing Bear Bile Farms

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Bear bile tapping began in the 1980s when farmers began using primitive surgery to insert the catheter. This lead to infections and trauma that often killed the bears. The "free dripping" method---which involves drilling a hole in the abdomen and pushing a plastic tube to milk the bladder---was developed because it was "more humane."

In 1984 and 1985, licenses were issued to farm 2,000 bears. The original goal was to issue 40,000 licenses by 2000. In that late 1990s a deal was worked between the government and animal rights groups to phase out the practice. No new licenses have been issued since 1996.

Responding to critics, the Chinese government closed down a third of the nations legal bear farms and tried to improve conditions at the remaining ones. There are concerns that if the farms were closed down, poaching of wild bears would increase.

Bear farming is banned in Japan and South Korea. In December 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for China to end “cruel; ad uncivilized” bear farming before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. China responded by basically saying it wouldn’t. A conservation specialist at the State Forestry Administration said, “We have introduced painless practices in obtaining bear bile, such as extracting the bile through tubes developed from bear tissue.” The official said improvements has also been made at the farms themselves.

Bear bile is now difficult but not impossible to get. As of 2007, an estimated 7,000 bears were kept on 78 Chinese farms down from 480 in the 1990s.. Bear bile farmers say they have a right to conduct business just as chicken farmers and cattle ranchers---other businesses which sell animals parts---have a right to conduct theirs. They say they help bears in the wild by supplying legal, farmed bile, negating the need for bile from bears poached in the wild. Conservationists disagree, arguing that farmed bile increases the use of bear bile and increases demand for wild bear bile.

Endangered Bears in Asia

20080311-bearcag1.gif Most of the bears kept on farms are Asiatic black bears, also known as moon bears. China has only 16,000 to 25,000 bears left; Japan, 10,000. Taiwan and South Korea have wiped out there bear populations.

There are two types of bear indigenous to Southeast Asia: the sun bear and the Asiatic black bear. Wild bears living in the forests of Cambodia, Thailand and Burma are placed in cages by environmentalists to protect them from poachers.

China is allowed to import bear gallbladders from Japan where 30,000 bears were killed between 1988 and 2004. Even so many of the gall bladders are smuggled Bear parts are also smuggled in from Russia.

Bear Parts and the North American Market

Bears in South American and North American are killed to supply bear gallbladders for the Chinese medicine market. A large number of them are legally imported from bears legally killed in Canada and the United States. A large number are also illegally imported from these countries.

In North America, there are still large numbers of bears in the wild. It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 black bears remaining in the wild in Canada but they are being poached at a rate of about 40,000 a year. There are around 600,000 black, grizzly and polar bears in all of North America. The situatiion is more worrisome in Latin American, where only around 10,000 speckled bears are left. They are being killed for the Asia medicine market.

Bear hunting is legal in Canada and every year about 20,000 to 25,000 bears are taken by hunters with special license. But conservationists estimate that for every bear killed legally two are killed illegally. In the United States, total of 366 bears were taken from the Great Smoky Mountains over a three year period. Many of their gall bladders ended up in Asia. On those that don’t one Hong Kong trader told U.S. News and World report: "Your hunters shoot bears for sport and fun but deny Asians their medicinal benefits.”

Vancouver, British Columbia has become a major center of the illegal bear part trade. One raid by Canadian conservation officers uncovered 191 bear gall bladders. Another found 84 bear paws in a basement freezer. One government official In Vancouver told AP, "The middleman can easily make a ten-fold profit in this business. The penalties (a maximum fine of $US7,500) are enough only to deter small-time poachers. We need penalties to deter the hard core."

Rhino Horns, Asian Culture and Chinese Medicine

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Rhino horn medicine
Asia has a long connection with rhino horns. Some 2,500 years ago carved rhinoceros cups were used in Persian courts too detect poison, a power later attributed to the horn of the legendary unicorn, with which the rhino has been confused. Hindus believe that the rhino got its horn from Lord Vishnu. Nepalese rulers take a bath in rhino blood as part their ritual.

In Asia, the smaller Asian horn is considered more valuable than African horn. Asians prefer it because it's medicinal properties are considered more concentrated. Since there is a shortage of these animals the medicines from African rhinos are more common. Rhino horn is so expensive and rare that many products that claim to have it actually have water buffalo horn or some other substitute. Rhino horn products have been sold at pharmacies in Britain.

In China, rhino horn is regarded as an inflammation and fever reducing agent and is made into pills, potions, and tablets. Contrary to what many people are led to believe rhino is generally not sold as an aphrodisiac in Asia. Dried lizards, monkey brains, sparrow tongues, deer tails, rabbit hair, and tiger penises are sold as aphrodisiacs in Asian folk medicine shops---but not rhino horn. The only time Martin encountered it used in this way in western India where it sold as a love potion to cure importance. There are herbal sexual tonics such as Wild Rhino Sex Enhancement Tablets and Rhino Cola.

A rhinoceros’s horn is not made out of bone, rather it is composed matted hair and fibrous keratin, the same horny substance found in fingernails, human hair and lizard scales. It has been said that Asian people who take rhino horn for a folk medicine could obtain the same results from swallowing hair trimmings or chewing their fingernails. If a rhinoceros loses its horn, the horn grows back at a rate of about three inches a year.

In Asia, rhinoceros the hide is cut into strips and prescribed for fever and skin afflictions and is believed to be a cure for fever and headaches. In Africa, the hide is used to treat snake bites, stop nosebleeds, keep evil spirits out of the houses. . Even rhino urine is sold as a medicine. Zoo keepers collect it from baby rhinos in Rangoon where it is sold as a cure for sore throats and a preventative measure against asthma attacks. The zoo in Calcutta earned US$750 in 1983 selling its urine for similar purposes.

In Indonesia rhinoceros horn it is used as an anti-poison agent and a cure for high fever and typhus. In Africa, the horn is sometimes mixed with dried lice as a treatment for jaundice Rhino elixirs sold in folk medicine shops in South Africa are supposed to attract women if rubbed on the eyebrows.

Many rhino horns have ended up in Yemen where they are made in handles for special daggers, called jambiyya, that can cost several thousand dollars each. These daggers are the ultimate status symbol for a Yemeni man. For a long time only rich elite could afford them but beginning in the 1960s many Yemenis began working in neighboring Saudi Arabia, and earned to afford them. It is estimated that 80 percent of all of Yemeni men wear daggers. Rhino horn is considered the best material. Ordinary ones are made from water-buffalo or cow horn. Omanis also use rhino horn daggers. Some estimates showed that about half off all rhino horns from poached rhinoceroses in Africa in the 1980s ended up in Yemen, many via middlemen in Burundi.

Rhino Horn Market and the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade

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Poster urging Tibetans
not to buy tiger parts
Yemeni demand in the 1970s fueled the initial increase in rhino horn prices and the first wave of poaching, and for a while legal rhino horn sales. The price for a kilogram of horn jumped from US$35 a kilogram in 1974 to US$500 in 1979. An average of eight tons a year of rhino horn a year was sold to Yemen between 1972 and 1979---at a cost of some 22,000 rhino lives.

Asian demand in the 1980s fueled further increase in rhino horn prices and another wave of poaching. One of the biggest factors bringing about the sharp decline in the number of rhinoceros has been the rising income in Asians. Many more people in countries like China, Korea, and Taiwan. who couldn’t before, could suddenly afford expensive rhinoceros medicines, which has created more demand and caused prices to rise on the supply end.

In the mid 1980s a Asia rhino horn was sold for $50,000 a kilogram in Hong Kong and $20,000 in Mandalay Burma; and African rhino horn retailed for US$11,000 a kilogram in Manila and Singapore and $50 a gram in Malaysia. At these price rhinoceros horn was one of the world's most valuable substances, worth almost five times as much as gold, and worth more than platinum, cocaine or heroin.

The black rhinoceros are pretty easy for poacher to kill. They leave distinctive three toed prints and follow regular routes, making them easy to track. They are relatively easy to approach and kill with a rifle or automatic weapon. Most poachers saw off the horn and leave the rest of the animal to rot. In the 1980s horns were sold by the poachers for about US$350, which is equivalent to the average annual income for many people in the countries where rhino are found. The hide is also valuable. In Hong Kong it goes for about US$30 a kilogram which translates to US$3,600 for one 120 kilo hide.

A survey by the U.S. government in 1994 found that half of the 40 pharmacies it checked in Taiwan sold rhino horn. A survey in South Korea in 1993 found 300 kilograms of rhino horn, from an estimated 100 African rhinoceros being consumed. The trade in China was more difficult to investigate. In mid 1994 China admitted that a 8½ ton stockpile of rhino horn but then said six months later it only had 5 tons. A warehouse in Wuchan, China was found with the horns of 500 dead black rhinos worth $13 million. The traffickers were dangerous characters who worked for a state medical company.

The sale of rhinoceros horn was banned in 1976. In an attempt to deter poachers, some countries are deliberately cutting off horn from live rhinos to keep poachers from taking them. In many of the countries park rangers have orders to shoot to kill if they encounter poachers. Poachers don't dare go near the game lodges and parks. Rhino seem to sense this.

All is not lost as far as saving the rhino is concerned. Rhino populations have tripled in Nepal since 1966 with the help of 500 armed soldiers protecting them. In Assam India their population have doubled. Until the late 2000s black rhinoceros populations in South Africa---where they have a motivated and well-trained rhino management team---were growing at a rate of five percent a year and white rhino populations may get be so large they may have to be culled.

Restriction on the Sale of Rhino Horn Art in Europe

Rhino horns are excellent for carving and were crafted into delicate cups, plates and bowls carved from rhinoceros horn by master Chinese craftsmen during the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching (1644-1912) dynasties. Some of these works are among the marque pieces at Chinese art museum in Taiwan and China. Others were bought from collectors and businessmen. made their way to the storerooms of Chinese drug factories, where they were later to be pulverized into medicine. The current record for a rhino horn works of art is the so-called Hoqua gift rhino horn lotus bowl, a carved masterpiece of the 15th century, sold for a premium-inclusive $15 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong in October 2010. [National Geographic Earth Almanac, April 1991].

In March 2011 a new “emergency guidance” banning the export of worked rhinoceros horn was announced that expands restriction on the export of rhino horn from countries within the European Union to all items, whether or not they have been 'worked'. In practice this means that, while it is still legal to sell rhino horn works of art in the UK, they will no longer be granted licences to be sent overseas to the increasingly affluent nations where such things are most highly prized. [Source: Roland Arkell, Antiques Trade Gazette, March 26, 2012]

In its latest and strongest measures designed to stem the black market trade in powdered rhino horn, the European Commission now advises that: "No export or re-export permits are delivered for worked items of rhino horn, except in cases where it is amply clear that the permit will be used for legitimate purposes, such as cases where: the item is part of a genuine exchange of cultural or artistic goods between reputable institutions (i.e. museums); the item has not been sold and is an heirloom moving as part of a family relocation or as part of a bequest; or the item is part of a bona fide research project."

Roland Arkell wrote in the Antiques Trade Gazette, “The UK's Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS) say that, regardless of merit, they will now refuse any application to export rhino horn objects to mainland China.The new measures reverse previous WLRS policy, which provided an exemption for antique works of art made of rhino horn, where the artistic value was far greater than the intrinsic value of the horn when sold into the illegal medicine trade in China. [Ibid]

While previous restrictions surrounding the export of rhino horn have been discussed with trade bodies such as the British Art Market Federation prior to implementation, this measure was deliberately issued without consultation or warning to avoid the need for any 'grace period'. [Ibid]

Environment minister Richard Benyon used highly emotive language in an official statement when he 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." He described the measures as a victory for the ongoing pressure from the UK for tougher controls to tackle the illegal trade in rhino horn but appeared to confuse the issue with elephant ivory when he added: "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."

Rhino Horn Crafts Continue to Be Sold After Restrictions

Roland Arkell wrote in the Antiques Trade Gazette, “The new “emergency guidance” banning the export of worked rhinoceros horn appeared to have a limited effect at the first sale since it was introduced. On March 21, Gorringes of Lewes offered a fine 17th or 18th century example with archaistic decoration, a 'Shang Ming' seal mark and a deep caramel colour. Prior to the sale the auctioneers announced they were unable to accept live internet bids on this lot or any bids, written or on the telephone, from mainland China. As has become common practice for premium Chinese works of art, the auctioneer asked that potential bidders register specifically for this lot and pay a deposit by bank transfer. [Source: Roland Arkell, Antiques Trade Gazette, March 26, 2012

The assembled Chinese and Hong Kong agents in the room watched while a UK-based private buyer outpaced a London dealer at £74,000 (estimate £40,000-60,000). It was not the six-figure sum the vessel might have commanded prior to the legislation but nor did this 'test case' suggest the EU measures (effective until at least the end of the year) will easily extinguish the vibrant European auction market for rhinoceros horn works of arts. There are fears that the tighter measures may drive the wider market underground. [Ibid]

Bidding was more equivocal at Tennants of Leyburn on March 22 when another 17th century example with some damage sold below hopes at £33,000 (estimate £35,000-45,000) and a 19th century rhino horn carving estimated at a very punchy £65,000-75,000 failed to sell.

In London the three major auction houses chose to respond toATG's questions regarding the consignment and sale of rhino horn material for the May Asian series, with official statements unequivocally condemning all poaching and promises to scrupulously observe all local and international laws regulating the sale of endangered species. [Ibid]

Laws that Protect Endangered Animals

In 1993, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) warned China and Taiwan, the two countries where the trade in tiger and rhino parts is most prevalent, to take steps to shut down the trade or face trade sanctions. In response, Chinese authorities said they would assign 40,000 people to enforce laws protecting endangered animals. Conservationist say that Taiwan and China would do just enough to stave off sanctions and then allow the market to resume business.

The CITES treaty has been signed by 130 nations. It protects 25,000 species and enforces bans on a number of items including tiger bones, rhinoceros horns, musk glands and bear gall bladders.

Korea had hoped for exemption on seven species---musks, bears, tigers, pangolins, turtles, mink whales and Bryde's whales.

The politics of the sanctions on endangered animals is tricky. Why, for example, are sanctions imposed for the mistreatment of tigers and not on the torture and imprisonment of Tibetans. There is also the issue of free trade. "Once you impose sanctions," a State department official asked, "then what?"

The U.S. has used a section of the U.S. Fisheries Protective Act known as the Pelly amendment to impose sanctions on nations whose acts hurts endangered species. The amendment was intended to curb the use of drift nets by Korea and Japan.

Image Sources: Weird Meat com; BBC and AFP; Wikipedia; AAPA; WWF; Save the Tiger; Wild Aid; Snowland Great Rivers Associiation; Wild Alliance.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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