Calls For A Complete Ban On The Trade In Ivory
In the effort to control the legal sale of ivory, there is an increasing regulatory and legal squeeze being placed upon Auctioneers and Antique Dealers throughout the UK and Worldwide.
With calls for a complete ban on the trade in ivory, it is fast becoming a topic of debate, and with the slaughter of innocent elephants sadly continuing, the International community, Governments and Organisations such as DEFRA, and CITES are now faced with the daunting task of tackling the illegal trade and smuggling of ivory, but also trying to preserve the legitimate trade in ‘antique’, cultural and historical pieces of ivory from centuries past.
As the current law stands, for a piece of ivory to be sold legally, it must firstly be deemed to Pre date 1947 and importantly to have been ‘worked’. This means that it has to have been significantly altered from it’s natural state, irrespective of date ( ie changed for a piece of jewellery or a paper knife). To many this seems clear, but some argue that current guidance regarding the law is unclear. Only recently Christie’s were fined £3250 for trying to sell a banned Indian ivory tusk with silver mounts .Other auctioneers have suffered a similar fate and some have even been saboutaged by protestors who seek to promote their cause alongside public opinion. As a result of these recent rulings, a number of provincial auctioneers are now taking a very cautious approach regarding the sale of ivory all together.
As a consequence recent forums and discussions have been taking place with Auctioneers, Dealers and Campaigners trying to establish a status-quo/debate to consider the best way forward. All parties agree that the protection of the Wildlife Elephant is paramount, but if a blanket ban was introduced it could have a significant impact on legitimate dealers and businesses. For example it might effect dealers who deal in 18th/19th miniature paintings on ivory, pianos and applied ivory pieces such as ART deco figurines, 19th century Japanese ivory netsukes, inros, Indian Vizagapatam boxes, chess sets and countless other ‘antique items. If implemented, dealers may well go out of business.
In the meantime the slaughter of innocent elephants goes on. The effort therefore must be concentrated at the very source where the demand remains the highest – mainland China. It is here that the demand for ivory is at it’s greatest and until a policy of policing, education, implementation and enforcement is put in place, it will further fuel those seeking to profit from poaching of African elephants. As a correspondent quoted in the ATG (Antiques Trade Gazette) “The battlegrounds now are in the Far East and the killing fields of Africa and Asia where atrocities against elephants take place all the time”.
So as the debate goes on, how does the antiques industry address this issue and somehow seek a compromise with conservationists? Even Government is uncertain despite their pledge as part of their manifesto in 2014 to press for a total ban on ivory sales whilst also not seeking to end the trade in antique ivory. There is a collective responsibility on all parties but it is CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Speciers and Wild Fauna and Flora) that enforces the illegal sale of ivory throughout the UK and Worldwide. It has very strict guidelines, and whilst there might be some uncertainty for some as to what is legal and illegal to sell, auctioneers and dealers should be well advised to understand the regulations and licences required to avoid prosecution.