Australia's premier auction house says no to ivory

Our 2016 Under the Hammer report, which investigated the flourishing domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn in auction houses across Australia, put the spotlight on Leonard Joel as the country’s number one seller of ivory and rhino items. While we hoped to speak to the industry and work with them to implement voluntary bans, we never anticipated John Albrecht's (CEO and Proprietor, Leonard Joel Auction House) passion and drive to do just that. In less than three months, IFAW and Leonard Joel had worked together to produce a working policy that saw rhino horn items immediately banned from sale and a strong commitment to phase out ivory sales from his business within two years. 

As Australia’s premier auction house, Leonard Joel’s commitment to banning the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn sends a clear message that the life of an elephant and rhinoceros is worth more alive than dead. Mr. Albrecht has provided the following commentary on what took place to make him move from one of the premier sellers of rhino horn and ivory items, to now being one of the Auction industry’s greatest change makers.

Rebecca Keeble, Regional Director, Oceania


My journey to become an advocate for change happened in a short space of time, has surprised many and yes, it is like a switch has flicked in me and I too am now repulsed by the trade in ivory, predominantly and rhino horn, marginally that I have contributed to as an auctioneer.

For me it was an easier decision to cease the trade in unworked pieces; easier because the distance of time and place we tend to construct between the slaughter-origin, as I describe it, and the object is compressed and immediate and discomforting.

But as these materials are transformed by cultures, by history, by craftsmanship, by author and description, the objects become distanced from the slaughter-origin. Now it has become a thing of beauty; exquisite, intricate, laden with history and scholarly. And all the embellishments serve to repress the conservationist instinct in us all and instead elevate the cold connoisseur in us.

This is my revelation and it happened because the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) quietly and gently explained to me two inescapable truths. Firstly, that global agreements to date have done nothing to reverse or halt the slaughter and secondly, that as long as auctioneers and their platforms create markets for the materials from these grand animals, value is maintained and therefore supply and thus slaughter is encouraged.

Our decision at Leonard Joel to cease the trade in all but the very minimal pieces that decorate, support or serve a purpose in an object of decoration or utility is not a decision to bow to hysteria and diminish the pursuit of the appreciation of decorative arts. It is simply but profoundly a decision to play our part in disrupting the ‘value’ of these items so that we can be sure in our minds that we no longer contribute to the slaughter-origin and so that our hearts are not the cold connoisseur but rather the of the conservationist. 

--John Albrecht, Leonard Joel, Managing Director

International will to close domestic ivory markets is gaining increasing momentum - only a couple of weeks ago, the UK government announced its intention to pursue a ban on the sale of ivory and rhino on its domestic market. Australia is in danger of being left in the wilderness and not fulfilling its role as a Party to CITES. We are urging the Australia government to follow the example set by other countries around the world, with far larger domestic markets than Australia. Our recent polling has shown that a ban in the trade of ivory is a position overwhelmingly supported by Australians with 96 percent uninterested in buying these products when they understood an elephant (or rhino) was killed.  If countries including China, the UK and the USA can ban domestic sales, if the Australian public does not oppose the Australian government taking such action, and if industry leaders such a Leonard Joel can see the benefits of changing its business practices, surely Australia’s policy makers can do the right thing and say NO IVORY IN AU! 

-- Rebecca Keeble, Regional Director, Oceania 


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