British auction house Bonhams has cancelled the sale of 21 rhinoceros horn carvings after a backlash from a wildlife conservation group. The auctioneer was to begin accepting bids in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Matthew Girling, CEO of Bonhams, said in a public statement on Friday that the auction house has halted its sale of the products.

The statement was made after 37 conservation organisations sent a letter to Girling urging Bonhams to permanently halt the sale of rhino horn products. Its parent company, Epiris, said last year that it aimed to reduce its consumption of materials that would likely harm endangered species.

Bonhams’ rhino horn lot was made up of 17th to 18th century and Qing dynasty liberations cups, vases and vessels.

Wildlife conservation NGO WildAid had been circulating a petition that had garnered over 9,000 signatures opposing the auction.

Cached screenshot of a 17th to 18th century “rare and large ‘hundred boys’ libration cup” made from rhino horn sold by Bonham’s. Photo: screenshot.

John Baker, Managing Director of WildAid, who collected the signatures for the letter to Bonhams, 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.”

Matthew Girling, CEO of Bonhams.

Alex Hofford, WildAid Campaigner, said that the decision was a positive step for animal conservation but urged other auction houses to halt the sale of rhino horn carvings: “We now call on Sotheby’s to join Christie’s and Bonhams as like-minded and ethical auction houses by cancelling its… rhino horn sale in Hong Kong, as well as all future sales of endangered species, including rhino horn,” he said.

British auction house Sotherby’s is set to auction its Chinese art collection in Hong Kong on Thursday, which includes several rhino horn products.

A 17th-century rhino horn libration cup sold by Sotherby’s. Photo: screenshot.

Christie’s said in October that it does not sell products made of rhino horn and supports conservation NGO Tusks through charity auctions.

Rhinos are a critically endangered species that have been under increasing threat from poaching for their ivory horns, used in Chinese medicine and carvings. The last remaining male northern white rhino died aged 45 in Kenya earlier this year.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.