Could this be the end of the road for ivory sales?

Friday 23 September 2016

Ivory has featured a lot in the news over the course of the past week. Firstly with a the Government announcing tougher rules, then with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Prince William and many other high profile names calling for a total ban on sales of ivory and ivory products.

Defra announced plans for a ban on sales of 'modern day' ivory, which is classed as post-1947, with Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom saying: "The UK has a strong record as a global leader in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade and I’m determined to do all we can to bring an end to poaching and ivory trafficking." 

The tougher restrictions would will cover the sale of items containing ivory dated between 1947 and the present day. Trade in ‘worked’ items, such as works of art and ornaments dating from before 1947 (deemed ‘antiques’) will continue to be permitted. 

The UK already has a total ban on trade in raw tusks, or ‘unworked’ ivory, of any age.

The government says they will consult on plans for the ban early next year, seeking views from conservationists, traders and other relevant parties to ensure clear rules and guidance for those operating within the law, while cracking down on illegal sales.

However, action groups and high profile celebrities across the world have come together saying that the Government proposals don't go far enough and that the only way to eradicate the poaching of elephants is to introduce a total ban on the sale of ivory and ivory products. 

Influential public figures came out in force to add their names to a letter written to Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a total ban on ivory sale in the UK. William Hague, Jane Goodall and Stephen Hawking were among the signatories...

Previous successive Conservative governments have even pledged their support for a total ban, so it appears that their stance has softened.  

Elsewhere both Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Prince William raised the profile of the 'total ban' campaigners further; Prince William by calling a press conference and HFW by securing prime-time interviews on mainstream media including Radio 4 ahead of his forthcoming documentary. 

In a heartfelt plea, Prince William said in a press announcement: 
"In the year I was born there were over 1million elephants roaming Africa. By the time my daughter Charlotte was born last year the numbers of Savanna elephants had crashed to just 350,000.

"At the current pace of illegal poaching when Charlotte turns 25 the African elephants will be gone from the wild.  Compared to last year when his daughter was born it was down to just 350, 000, with an elephant being killed every 15 minutes on average. "

Auctions are not without blame where illegal ivory can quite easily be mixed up legal ivory. UK ivory reworked and ending up in Asia.  Of ivory legal exported from the UK to Asia.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said in a Radio 4 interview: 
"Wherever ivory is traded in the world, in any sort of legal market, illegal ivory mixes in with it extremely quickly. We see that in Asia all the time and we're starting to see it in the UK. So a total ban on any piece that are not beyond doubt from antiquity - they could remain as family heirlooms or museum pieces but not be available to open trade"

"European ivory does make it's way to the far east and that includes UK ivory. In fact of ivory legally exported from Europe to Asia last year, 31% of those pieces came from the UK. Often they are reworked and they then sit alongside ivory that might be legal or might be illegal in Asia."

He went on to say that the UK market is fueling the Asian trade - a connection that has been somewhat denied by the antiques trade, and that UK ivory does end up in the Asian market and it's the Asian appetite for ivory that is resulting in the killing of African elephants. 

THE FUTURE

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September to 5 October 2016 and will see representatives of over 180 governments and interest groups debate and take decisions on critical issues affecting the planets endangered species including elephants and the ivory trade. 

Could it only be a matter of months or even weeks before ivory is banned from the auction rooms completely? Will this cause confusion when selling certain items? As someone said on Twitter said in response to the Fearnley-Whittingstall Radio 4 interview - "What about piano keys? We have a 110 year old Steinway!"