Bonhams cancels rhino horn auction in Hong Kong after public outcry

  • Environmental group hails auction house’s decision to scrap planned sale of carvings and commitment never again to offer rhino horn artefacts for sale
  • WildAid calls on Sotheby’s and other auction houses to follow lead of Bonhams and Christie’s, which does not sell rhino horn artefacts
PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 11:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 11:38am

Auction house Bonhams has cancelled its sale of a collection of rhino horn carvings in Hong Kong later this month following a public outcry. The privately owned British auction house has also pledged not to sell rhino horn items in the future.

The collection, titled “Exceptional Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Carvings from the Angela Chua Collection”, was due for auction at Bonhams’ Admiralty auction house on November 27.

“Bonhams stands behind the professionalism and expertise of its specialists. We do, however, recognise there are widely held concerns about this issue and have decided that the sale of the rhinoceros carvings will now not take place. In future, Bonhams will not offer artefacts made entirely or partly from rhinoceros horn in its salerooms,” Bonhams chief executive Matthew Girling said in a statement.

He added: “Bonhams fully supports international efforts to protect the rhinoceros. All rhinoceros carvings that have been offered at Bonhams have been antique, with a known provenance and carried CITES licences.” CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international treaty under which animal and plant species are classified according to rarity and the trade in animals and animal parts is licensed.

Environmental group WildAid applauded the moved and called on another big international auction house, Sotheby’s, to follow suit and withdraw rhino horn lots due for sale at its November 29 auction in Hong Kong, and to rule out future sales of endangered species, their body parts or products derived from them, including rhino horn.

“We congratulate Bonhams for taking this important step,” said Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong. “We now call on Sotheby’s to join Christie’s and Bonhams as like-minded and ethical auction houses by cancelling its 29 November, 2018 rhino horn sale in Hong Kong, as well as all future sales of endangered species, including rhino horn.”

Earlier this week, 37 wildlife conservation organisations from around the world wrote to Girling, calling on the company to cancel the auction and refrain from selling items made of rhino horn in future.

He tended to last male northern white rhino. He has a message for China

WildAid managing director John Baker, who collected the signatures, said: “We congratulate Bonhams on its wise decision to stop selling rhino horn items. The rhino will only survive if the trade in their horns, in whatever form, is stopped”.

A petition calling on Bonhams to cancel the auction received almost 10,000 signatures.

The Bonhams sale of carved rhino horn comprised 21 lots, mostly made up of libation cups – communal drinking vessels that were used on important ceremonial occasions in China in the 17th and 18th centuries.

We congratulate Bonhams for taking this important step
Alex Hofford, WildAid

Under Hong Kong law, the import and re-export of rhino horn or rhino horn products that were in existence before the CITES convention came into effect in July 1975 must be supported with documentary proof, such as a certificate issued by the previous country of export.

Verifying the authenticity of rhino horn pieces requires expensive and lengthy carbon testing.

Auction houses are under growing pressure to stop sales of rhino horn items. Christie’s does not sell any items which include rhino horn.

“Christie’s does not accept hunting trophies from endangered species and discourages the sale of hunting trophies from non-endangered species,” the auction house told the Post earlier this week.

Rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners of which claim it has medicinal benefits ranging from boosting virility to curing cancer, despite there being no scientific evidence to back any of their claims. It is also used for carving, and is regarded as a status symbol.