Shocking IFAW report reveals how auction houses in Australia contribute to the illegal ivory trade

Wednesday, 28 September, 2016

Can you tell the difference between an antique ivory carving and one that came from an elephant poached just last month?  This is just one of the issues at the heart of a new report published today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). 

The new report “Under the Hammer” reveals IFAW’s investigation into the flourishing trade in ivory and rhino horn in auction houses across the country, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The report is the first-ever in-depth investigation into Australian auction houses.

Over a nine-month period more than 2,400 ivory items were found for sale at 153 auctions conducted by 17 auction houses.  Investigators also found seven rhino horn items for sale at five auction houses. Very few of the catalogue listings for the ivory lots for sale referred to any provenance documentation about the item’s origin, history and authenticity; leaving potential purchasers at risk of breaking the law.  This finding was confirmed on the ground at auction houses after investigators physically inspected 73 ivory lots for sale and found only 2 Lots had any provenance documentation available.  Only two of the 17 auction houses had written policies available to buyers that made specific mention of trade in endangered species.

Rebecca Keeble, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at IFAW, commented: “We were shocked to discover so many grisly totems available.  While no-one would mistake the sound of an auctioneer’s gavel for a poacher’s rifle shot, the distance between the two is closer than most of us realise.  We discovered thousands of ivory and rhino horn items for sale, with a conservatively estimated value of $635,000.”

This table shows the top three auction houses in Australia surveyed in this investigation, based on total sold price achieved for the ivory lots that were confirmed as sold.


Australian Auction House & Location

Total Sold Price* AUD


Leonard Joel (Sydney and Melbourne)



Mossgreen (Melbourne) and Martyn Cook (Sydney)



Lawsons (Sydney and Melbourne)



*Based on information available, as not all auction houses provided sold price information.

Top 10 Australian auction houses selling the highest number of ivory lots offered and sold during the investigation*:


Australian Auction House & Location

Number of Ivory Lots Offered for Sale

Total Number of Ivory Lots Sold*


Leonard Joel (Sydney and Melbourne)




Lawsons (Sydney and Melbourne)




David Barsby (Sydney)




Mossgreen (Melbourne) and Martyn Cook (Sydney)




Aalders (Sydney)




Vickers and Hoad (Sydney)




Raffan, Kelaher and Thomas (Sydney)




Bonhams (Sydney)




Bargain Hunt (Sydney)




Sotheby’s Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and a Brisbane representative




*Based on information available, as not all auction houses provided sold price information

IFAW believes that whilst elephants and rhinos are still being killed for their ivory and horn, auction houses should stop selling these items, to prevent the legal market from providing a cover for illegal sales.  In the interim, IFAW is calling on the auction industry to clean up its act and ensure proper documentation is provided at the point of sale.

Although the vast majority of retailers may not intentionally traffic poached ivory, without displaying provenance at all auctions, there is no way of knowing if an ivory carving on the auction block is antiqued or chiseled from the tusk of an elephant recently killed by poachers.  In 2014 Australian authorities seized carved ornaments and jewellery worth an estimated AUD$80,000 in Sydney, while 110kg of ivory was seized by Perth customs in 2015. Poaching is currently causing a huge problem for elephant and rhino populations, especially African elephants. On average, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory, their tusks are then sold to the ivory trade where, later, the material can be used to make items such as statues, carvings and jewellery – put simply you buy, they die.

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are available at


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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