UK ivory trade ban would have minimal impact on antiques industry

Of the dealers surveyed in a Portsmouth University report on the antiques industry, 41 percent only sold between one and 20 items of ivory per year.In the world of politics, people sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. We’ve seen this happen only last month in the campaign to stop the UK ivory trade – with news articles reporting that an ivory ban could devastate the antiques industry, force museums to destroy their historical artefacts, and even be akin to book burning.

This kind of hysteria is not helpful, and it’s a distraction from the reason we’re campaigning for an ivory trade ban in the first place. Ivory is killing elephants. We could be facing the extinction of wild elephants - scarily even within my own lifetime - due to poaching, unless we take urgent, global action. It’s a case of past versus the future. There is an irony that future generations may be robbed of wild elephants in order for us to preserve a few antiques.

But the arguments of those opposing a ban on the grounds of protecting the antiques trade aren’t even based on fact.

In the last few days, a report launched by Portsmouth University set the record straight about the impact an ivory ban would have on the antiques industry. Of those dealers surveyed, 41 percent only sold between one and 20 items of ivory per year. Just four dealers out of all those surveyed sold more than 100 items. It is clear that the size and scale of the trade is much smaller than has been estimated and previous figures in relation to the value of the antique ivory trade have been grossly overinflated.

The current law on selling ivory in the UK is barely worth the paper it’s written on. The loophole which allows the sale of antique ivory has allowed unscrupulous dealers to sell stained and artificially aged items, laundering modern ivory as something legal. This loophole is supporting the continued slaughter of wild elephants. Furthermore, we know solid, antique ivory pieces are being sent abroad to feed the desire and demand for ivory elsewhere. By allowing the antique trade to continue as it is in the UK we would be complicit in the continued persecution of this species. It really is as simple as that.

For the record, we at IFAW would not support the forced destruction of museum pieces, as these have nothing to do with the laundering of modern ivory. That is why our campaign calls have always been focused on the commercial trade.

At a time when the Government is coming under increased scrutiny for not keeping its manifesto promises we’re now waiting to find out whether it will honour its commitment to ‘press for a total ban on ivory sales’. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity for the UK to do its part in preserving wonderful, intelligent wild elephants for generations to come. 

--RH

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