Rare rhino horns seized from auctioneers

 

THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment has seized a quantity of rare and valuable black rhino horns from the premises of Mealy’s fine art auctioneers.

The horns were listed in a catalogue for a two-day sale of fine and decorative art scheduled to take place next week.

However, following an advertisement in last Saturday’s Irish Times, which featured a photograph of “antique trophy rhinoceros horns”, staff from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) visited Mealy’s galleries at Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny last Monday.

Auctioneer George Gerard Mealy said he was “interviewed under caution” and told that the family firm was committing “an offence”.

Trade in rhino horn is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to which Ireland is a signatory.

The Department of the Environment, which is responsible for the NPWS, said that the owner could apply for a certificate which might enable him to have the horns returned but not to be offered for sale.

Mr Mealy had declined to hand over the horns – estimated to be worth up to €15,000 and possibly much more – “without a proper warrant”.

He had previously contacted Customs and Excise for guidance and was told that “if the item was antique there was no issue” and that “to the best of their knowledge, import and export of antique trophy rhino horn was not restricted”.

But yesterday afternoon, an official from the NPWS, accompanied by a garda, returned to Mealy’s with a district court order and took possession of the two separate lots of black rhino horns which had been consigned for next week’s auction.

Mr Mealy said the horns belonged to a man whose father had been a big-game hunter who had shot the rhinos during the Boer War period in South Africa more than 100 years ago.

The horns, along with other trophies, were found in the basement of an Irish stately home of a military family.