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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Keeping Rhinos Alive by Watching What Antiques You Buy

Black rhinoRhinos have been decimated by poaching. Credit: USFWS

 People don’t often think about it, but even sales of antiques made from endangered plants or animals can hurt the survival of those species.  Antiques can raise demand for similar products, which really just feeds the destruction of those animals.

A global black market hungers for rhino horn – an NBC report last year estimated the value of rhino horns at $25,000 a pound. They are used in Asian medicines on the misguided notion that they cure diseases, even cancer … of course, no scientific evidence supports that they really do any of that. Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same stuff that makes up hair and fingernails. They are also a sought-after carving material for ceremonial dagger handles and libation cups.

Poaching numbers for rhino jump every day, it seems. Wildlife authorities reported a rhino “death toll” of 668 for South Africa alone in 2012, a level of illegal take that translates roughly into a rhino being killed every 12 or so hours. This year, it’s even worse. As of April 3, 203 rhinos have already been poached in South Africa in 2013.

That is why I taped a segment on Antiques Roadshow talking about the rhino crisis. You can watch it online. You can also see a bonus interview I did.

A few days after my taping, members of our Law Enforcement Office conducted a workshop on wildlife protection laws for 70 Antiques Roadshow appraisers.

We got involved with Antiques Roadshow after one of its appraisers evaluated five rhino horn libation cups for a 2012 episode. The estimated value of the cups set a record for the series. The appraiser also told the owner that rhinos are a protected species and that laws affect the buying and selling of rhino parts and products.

We need to take innovative steps like our partnership with Antiques Roadshow as we fight to make sure rhinos and other endangered species have a place in our world.

Cup made of rhino hornAn Antiques Roadshow appraiser evaluated five rhino horn libation cups for a 2012 episode. Credit: Antiques Roadshow

We support on-the-ground conservation of rhinos in Asia and Africa through administration of the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund. This fund provides grants to strengthen protection of rhinos, conduct surveys of populations and habitat, develop management capacity, carry out environmental education and awareness campaigns, involve local communities in conservation activities, and develop alternative livelihoods.

There has been good news in the rhino crisis lately.

We just enlisted four Wildlife Detector Dogs to help sniff out illegal wildlife shipments at our ports.  And at the recently ended Conference of the Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), proposals were adopted to help rhino range states and consumer countries more effectively combat poaching and illegal rhino horn trade.

And going back to February of last year, we took a giant stand for rhinos and brought down an international rhino horn-smuggling ring in Operation Crash. Agents involved in Operation Crash seized 37 rhinoceros horns, products made from horns, approximately $1 million in cash and $1 million in gold. The investigation and prosecutions are continuing to halt smugglers. Fourteen people have been arrested to date on charges that include conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, bribery, and violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. Six of these people have pleaded guilty.

We all have a part to play in rhino conservation. Antiques buyers must be certain that what they are buying is really a legitimate antique. People can call 1-800-344-WILD if they see suspicious sales of endangered animals and plants or if they are uncertain about laws involving sales. It’s up to us.

Please revoke the Black Rhino importation permit recently approved for Mr. David K. Reinke. There is no reason anyone should be able to pay a fee ($125,000) in the name of rhinocerous "conservation," kill a bull rhino and then be allowed by our Fish and Wildlife Service to bring it home. It is shameful and needs to be fixed. Please rescind the permit. Do not reward this person for killing an individual of an endangered species.
# Posted By Linda Goodwin | 4/19/13 12:14 AM

Learn more about the decision to grant a permit for the Import of a Black Rhinoceros Sport-Hunted Trophy:
# Posted By | 5/1/13 9:46 AM

I whole heartedly support rhino conservation and agree that antique buyers need to be certain that what they are buying is really a legitimate antique. If they do buy something that is non antique they are helping to raise demand for illegal rhino horn and thus contributing to the destruction of these animals. I would like to point out something which the article does not clarify though. Buying something which IS antique does NOT effect the survival of that animal or raise demand for the poaching of that animal. In the case of rhino horns, the demand for poaching lies in it's use as a medicine. They can't make centuries old libation cups out of the poached horn, most is used in the asian medicine trade. We should not cast aspersions on high end antiques collectors for buying legitimate antiques made from rhino horn, we should focus on stopping those who poach the animal and those who are driving the market for the poachers.
# Posted By | 5/13/13 12:01 AM

Education & Awareness is paramount.Illegal trading of Rhino & other endangered species have been ongoing for years & steps taken against poaching hasnt remedied the situation. As a South African I'm at my wits end as this slaughter continues regardless.
# Posted By | 7/7/13 11:57 AM

What does a antique rhino horn created over 200 years ago have to do with the current trend of the rhino hunting of today?


I think its a total joke to put Antique rhino horn items as a illegal substance to trade, deadly drugs such as heroin and so on i can easly see banned for a very good reason, If anything i would of thought that by restricting object you tend to push them into the a darker market which police have ZERO control of.

If a item is over 100 years old then it has taken its place in history, HUNTING TROPHYS i do not approve of but other Rhino horn items should be allowed to be traded between collectors.

I dont see anyone asking the royal family in England to burn the throne which is being restored by seized elephant ivory do you?
# Posted By David | 7/24/13 11:59 AM

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