Should Rhino Horn be auctioned in Australia?

Early Saturday morning I was scrolling through South African newspapers keeping up to date with the news of a country I adore so much, when I stumbled upon a piece that caught me sobbing uncontrollably.  The SAPeople article titled Stoop: Should Rhino Horn have been Auctioned in Australia? begs the question whether a controversial commodity should be sold in a country such as Australia and whether such actions create the supply and demand of illegal wildlife trafficking.

As the SAPeople article states, on Sunday 25th October 2015 (yes, just a few days ago) a rhino horn libation cup was sold at Leonard Joel Auction House in Melbourne’s South Yarra, fetching $80,000 Australian dollars.  The item was catalogued to sell at approximately $2,000-$3,000 and was apparently greeted with a round of applause as the item sold for an exponential figure.

Two days later Sotheby’s Sydney held an auction at the InterContinental hotel, where a 60.5cm full length horn libation cup was sold for $146,400 Australian dollars.

Rhino horn libation cup sold by Sotheby's Sydney

Rhino Horn Libation Cup sold by Sotheby’s Sydney

Here is my response to Stroop and SAPeople:

I would like to start from the beginning, from where a personal story of mine meets gruesome animal-parts trafficking and illegal wildlife trade.  In an undisclosed area of Southern Africa, late one afternoon I came face-to-face with two delicate rhinoceros, lying in pools of their own blood after having had their faces brutally hacked off.  A mother and eight month old calf lay metres away from one another unable to console each other in their last hours.  The mother died hours before the little girl, who dug herself into a hole before life eventually left her, some nine hours after the attack.
(I have tried to write a more detailed account of this personal story for you numerous times, but cannot seem to put it into words before my emotions take hold – the story will come together and be published in the near future, however, as I am sure you can all understand reliving and writing about such an event is incredibly tough.)

For me, the issue of rhinoceros extinction is personal and agonising.  And as someone living in Australia, even as a rhino advocate, I had no idea such auctions were taking place.  In fact, the majority of Australia’s population probably isn’t aware of these auctions either.


Rhino Horn sold by Leonard Joel Auction House

Australia is considered a world leader regarding animal conservation, and in 1971 signed a treaty restricting the trading of artefacts made from endangered species such as rhinoceros.  However, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald last year (I couldn’t find a copy of this article), items collected/made before the treaty date are allowed to be traded.   Both items mentioned in the SAPeople article were collected before this date, thus, technically are allowed to be sold in Australia.
But does that still mean it is moral or right?

The Australian Financial Review states “Rhinoceros horn might not be the most politically correct of collectibles but it is much in vogue with Chinese buyers.”

So, because a group of buyers fancy the remains of a dead animal as a status symbol, we must continue to trade said dead animal, thus increasing supply and demand?

As the rhino plummets toward extinction, the demand for this rare animal’s horn, and the value of said horn has increased tenfold.

Last year, 1,215 Rhino were killed in South Africa alone, two of which I saw with my own eyes.  By August 27th this year 749 were already poached and it seems we may surpass last year’s figures.  At this rate, conservation experts suggest rhinoceros will be extinct in the wild by 2025.

Some may suggest that by selling older artefacts, we are thus reducing the demand for the slaughter as we can simply recycle the artefacts.  However, I would have to disagree, because the simple rule of supply and demand are at play here.  Create the initial supply, generate the demand and increase the supply.

I decided to take it upon myself to investigate the two aforementioned auction houses.  Not only were the two libation cups mentioned in SAPeople sold over the past week, but also an array of other rhino horn artefacts, ivory carvings and other animal commodities.

In the same auction on 27th October, Sotheby’s also sold a rare rhinoceros horn chalice, which made $85,400.

Rhino Horn Chalice sold by Sotheby's

Rhino Horn Chalice sold by Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s had two rhinoceros horn carvings for sale.  Leonard Joel had a total of four rhinoceros artefacts, including two intact horns and two carvings for sale over the weekend.

Leonard Joel sold a 3kg rhinoceros horn for $40,000 and a smaller horn for $25,000.  As well as the libation cup mentioned in SAPeople, Leonard Joel also had for sale two carved crabs made from rhino horn which remain unsold.

One aspect of Leonard Joel’s advertisements that intrigue me, are that only some of the artefacts are dated.  Those rhino horn crabs do not have a collection or carving date, so how can we trust these were removed before 1971?

Sotheby’s and Leonard Joel are not the only auction houses selling such grotesque artefacts.

I want you to contemplate not only the availability of rhino horn in Australia but also the price for which these artefacts are sold, and the likelihood of where these bought horns will end up.  I would be fairly certain the majority of sold rhino horn will not remain in Australia.

Rhino Horn Libation Cup sold by Sotheby's

Rhino Horn Libation Cup sold by Sotheby’s

A commodity which is now illegal should not be bought and sold.  As an example, marijuana was made illegal in Australia in 1938 – it’d be equivalent to saying you can still buy, sell and use marijuana that was planted before 1938 (although a little implausible), but nothing from this date forward.  It doesn’t make sense, does it?  If it is illegal, illegality should be in place for the entirety of a product.  Like I said, supply and demand.  By auctioning such commodities, we are saying to the world, ‘yes, it’s still okay’ when it absolutely is not, and is driving an unsustainable demand, which, if we are not careful may kill out an entire species.

So, in answer to question posed by Stroop and SAPeople, NO rhino horn should not have been auctioned in Australia.

I am appalled and embarrassed Australia is still allowing such a trade, and as an Australian community, as a world community, it is time for us all to stand together and demand justice for the many rhinos who have gone before – we need to stop historical wildlife trade in order to ensure the end of current illegal wildlife trafficking for the sake of an entire species.





Tell me, did you know auctions like these were taking place in Australia?
Do you think art like this should be traded even though rhino horn is illegal?






© The Travelling Cheetah

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